February, 2022

Employees struggle to build relationships whilst working from home

A recent survey of 2,500 UK workers found that two thirds of workers felt they struggled to build new relationships and friendships whilst they worked from home. This is important for employers, as relationships within the workplace are often at the core of workplace practices so where employees struggle to form relationships there may be a detrimental impact on the business.

 

What should employers do?

 

Employers are now being encouraged to put workplace relationships at the forefront of their agenda. Detailed below are some examples of what you can do as an employer to help employees build strong relationships whilst working remotely:

 

  • Schedule regular weekly team catch ups
  • Schedule team and individual catch ups which are not work-focused
  • Promote discussion forums amongst employees within different departments
  • Organise company-wide activities
  • Provide the opportunity for in person team activities or meetings and if possible arrange face to face set ups.
  • Prioritise flexible working and a hybrid approach where possible

 

By taking onboard even a few of these suggestions, you can help to prevent social isolation for your employees and encourage a sense of belonging in the workplace culture.

  • Posted on February 22nd, 2022

Long Covid causing difficulties for employers

Nearly half of firms have employees who have experienced long Covid during the last year, according to a poll. The survey, conducted by the CIPD found that 46% of organisations had employees who experienced long Covid symptoms in the last 12 months, with one in four now listing the condition among their main causes of long-term sickness absence.

Long Covid, also sometimes known as ‘post-Covid syndrome’, is where signs or symptoms of coronavirus last for longer than 12 weeks after an initial infection. The most common reported symptoms include fatigue, breathing issues and cognitive dysfunction.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that nearly 2% of the population – some 1.3 million people – reported having the condition last year. The report found that only a quarter of organisations provide line managers  with training and guidance on how to support people with long-term health conditions to remain in work, while just 19% provided guidance for employees.

Long Covid is not automatically classified as a disability, but in serious cases it can meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act which would mean making reasonable adjustments to support the employee.

The CIPD report cautioned that long Covid disproportionately affected those aged 35 to 69, those living in deprived areas, and women. It is also more likely to affect those who work in health and social care, and people who already have an activity-limiting health condition or disability.

  • Posted on February 22nd, 2022

Holiday accrual awarded to worker in landmark ruling

A worker who took unpaid leave because his employer did not believe he was entitled to holiday pay has been allowed to make a claim for his statutory holiday pay entitlement for the duration of his employment.  This case related to someone that the business wrongly regarded as a contractor. It was determined that he had “worker” status and was therefore entitled to accrue holidays.

Overturning a previous judgment from the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), against Pimlico Plumbers, the Court of Appeal found that workers can only lose the right to roll over paid leave if their employer has been transparent about their allowance and encouraged them to take leave.

The ruling confirmed that the employer must “meet the burden of showing [that] it specifically and transparently gave the worker the opportunity to take paid annual leave, encouraged the worker to take paid annual leave and informed the worker that the right would be lost at the end of the leave year.

It went on to state that “If the employer cannot meet that burden, the right [to paid leave] does not lapse [at the end of the year] but carries over and accumulates until termination of the contract.”

This decision also removes the two-year limit for recovery of unlawful deduction from wages where an individual is denied a right to paid annual leave, provided that the claim is brought within three months of termination. This means that employers no longer have the backstop of believing that their exposure could be limited to just two years. It is therefore important that businesses identify all workers who may be entitled to holidays (which may include “contractors” who may be legally regarded as a worker) and ensure that the holiday is provided to them.  Ignorance is not a defence in this situation.

If you are concerned that you may have contractors who could be regarded as workers, it is important to take advice in order that holiday entitlement does not accrue indefinitely!

  • Posted on February 22nd, 2022

Unfair dismissal following whistleblowing

A pet shop worker was unfairly dismissed after she made protected disclosures about colleagues not following Covid measures, a tribunal has ruled.

The tribunal found that, having made numerous complaints about adherence to Covid precautions at work, the employee was regarded as a source of ‘alienation’ by her colleagues

The employee was employed on a zero-hours contract in a pet shop owned and directed by a husband and wife. Around the start of the pandemic, the directors gave instructions to staff about Covid-secure measures in the shop.

However, the employee was “extremely worried” that neither management nor staff were “consistently following the rules”, sharing concerns that her colleagues were not wearing a face covering and failing to follow social distancing.  She was accused of being paranoid and no investigation was done to determine if the concerns were realistic.

Later, the employee was given a warning for harassing staff regarding the wearing of masks and PPE, suggesting that her behaviour amounted to bullying.  She was then dismissed and was told it was because other staff could not work with her.

The tribunal found that the meeting was not compliant with the Acas Code on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, and that the employee was not properly invited to a disciplinary meeting, had no notice of disciplinary allegations made against her and no opportunity to prepare a response. A disciplinary appeal was later held which upheld the original decision to dismiss.

The tribunal found that the principal reason for the dismissal was because of the protected disclosures. By not investigating employee complaints or the previous actions of other employees, the tribunal also said that the company imposed detriment and, eventually, dismissed the emplotee as a direct result of her protected disclosures and the breakdown in working relationships that was caused by complaints that resulted from her disclosures.

This case is a reminder to employers that there are legal requirements relating to whistleblowing complaints. On receipt of a complaint, the employer needs to ask whether the employee has a reasonable belief that policies or the law are not being applied and whether the complaint is in the public interest.  At the very least, a thorough investigation should be carried out prior to a judgment being made.

121 HR Solutions has experience of managing such complaints in the workplace and can be contacted atenquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

  • Posted on February 22nd, 2022

Are your employees “safe” working from home?

Since pre-pandemic days, many employers have struggled to understand DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessment regulations and how they impact working from home health and safety requirements.  A recent study  has revealed that less than 50% of employers fully understand DSE and desk assessment regulations and only 30% fully comply.

 

Over 70% of the surveyed companies took action at the start of the pandemic to help employees improve their home workspaces. Equipment was transported from offices to homes as a short term fix but attention has now turned to longer-term planning for remote and hybrid working, including compliance with regulatory requirements.

 

For the majority of companies, complaints of back or neck painor other musculoskeletal issues are on the rise, yet only 10% of surveyed employers said they fully understand workspace regulations for DSE and desk assessments for hybrid working.

Employers have two main requirements under the regulations:

 

  • Assess the suitability of a desk worker’s workspace, particularly an ergonomic assessment of quality of the workspace.

 

  • Train employees how to work safely in their environment, including ergonomics, equipment and healthy behaviours like taking frequent breaks.

 

Employers who do not comply with both requirements are likely to be in direct breach of the regulations. If you require support to manage the health and safety needs of your home-working staff, 121 HR Solutions can help with home working policies and support to interpret DSE risk assessments. Contact us at enquiries@121hsolutions.co.uk

 

  • Posted on February 22nd, 2022

Forward thinking for recruitment: talent before skill

The well-known phrase, “hiring for potential, train for skills” has been around for a long time, but its particularly relevant now for small to medium sized companies who, in this tight labour market, find themselves competing for a shrinking number of already skilled and experienced job candidates. With the fight for talent becoming fierce, it has been reported that 33% of UK organisations are willing to drop skills’ requirements, adapting to the tight talent pool and taking on high potential candidates with fewer skills. So how does hiring for talent look different from hiring for specific skills or experience?

Whilst some companies and organisations may find the idea of fewer skills for talent risky, especially if they need candidates who can slot into their role with confidence and experience. Hiring for talent provides an exciting prospect of long-term gains over a short-term fix. When you hire for talent, you’re looking at candidates who have the interest and motivation to do a certain type of work, in the knowledge that they still have to acquire the specific skills they need after they are hired. When you shift the narrative of a recruitment process towards looking out for real potential, someone who might not necessarily have experience, but has the ability to adapt to a new skillset quickly, you then become invested in the individual in the hope that the individual will become invested in your company or organisation.

It is thought likely that someone who must learn quickly and prove themselves within a new role will be more motivated and switched on. Hiring for experience or skills and seeking candidates who already have the knowledge and skills to do the job is likely to mean a smaller recruitment pool. When you widen that talent pool and start looking beyond the “norm”, you might just find the perfect candidate, someone whom you would not have come across by limiting the requirements to a skillset or experience.  Considering bringing in new knowledge and new experiences to strengthen the culture of the company will ultimately enable a stronger business.

At 121 HR Solutions, when we support clients in recruitment, we pride ourselves on focusing on behavioural evidence that highlights future talent.  Find out more by contacting us at recruitment@121hrsolutions.co.uk.

  • Posted on February 22nd, 2022

Hospital worker wins case over COVID isolation

A hospital porter whose absence was treated as unauthorised while he awaited the results of his wife’s coronavirus test has won his claim at an employment tribunal. The hospital porter refused to attend work until it was confirmed that his wife had not been infected with Covid-19, as he believed doing so would breach Scottish Government advice. On 22 October 2020, his wife, who also worked at the hospital, was told to take a Covid-19 test as there had been an outbreak of the virus on one of the wards she worked on. Shortly before this, the couple had watched a daily update from first minister Nicola Sturgeon in which people were advised that they should stay at home if they, or anyone they lived with, had been told to take a Covid test.

The hospital porter’s wife took the precautionary test at the hospital before her shift and was told to work as normal while she awaited the result.  The porter was initially told by supervisors that he should stay at home until the test result came back but was then asked to attend work later the same day.  He refused and the absence, on October 23, 2020, was treated as unauthorised and his pay was docked.

He has now won his case at an employment tribunal after claiming that he suffered a detriment for exercising his right not to attend work due to health and safety fears.  He was awarded the sum of £71.34 which is the equivalent of one day’s pay for the loss of earnings.

  • Posted on February 15th, 2022

Hybrid working – have you considered the tax implications?

HM Revenue & Customs has offered various forms of tax relief while employees were required to work from home during the pandemic, but these will soon come to an end.

Following the recent removal of work from home guidance – thousands of employers have begun to see employees return to offices for at least a few days a week.  However, it is more evident that employers plan to adopt hybrid working arrangements on a permanent basis. There are a number of important employment tax and benefits issues that they should keep in mind.

Hybrid working raises the question of where the employee’s permanent workplace is, and if reimbursed travel expenses are considered taxable if they are asked to attend the office.  For tax purposes, a home can be a place of work, but is not always a permanent workplace – to be a permanent workplace, the employee must be required to work from home and perform substantive duties there.

Ordinarily, a permanent workplace is any place where an employee’s attendance is frequent and follows a pattern. Travel between two workplaces is considered business travel; however, if one of those locations is the employee’s home, HMRC may contend this is ordinary commuting (unless home is a “permanent workplace”) and any reimbursements are thus taxable and liable to NIC.

A temporary workplace is where the employee performs duties of “limited duration” or for a “temporary purpose”. If an employee works at the same place for more than 24 months continuously, it is considered their permanent workplace. HMRC defines continuous work as doing at least 40% of your work from a single location.

The key question is whether an employee’s presence at the office has now become temporary or is simply the normal performance of their role. Hybrid working arrangements must be carefully structured for home to be a permanent workplace, and travel to an office may still be taxable. Under hybrid working, an employee may have a pattern of home and office working. In this case, any attendance at the office would be “in the performance of their duties” and the office would be their permanent workplace. Any reimbursed costs for travel from home to a permanent workplace are taxable and liable to NIC.

In contrast, if the company no longer has an office and employees are forced to work from home, their homes may now be considered permanent workplaces. As a result, business travel can be defined as travel from those residences to other temporary workplaces, and tax relief can be given to any expenses reimbursed.

Should any employer wish to have a home working policy developed, please contact 121 HR Solutions on 0800 9995 121 to discuss your requirements.

  • Posted on February 15th, 2022

Receptionist wins race discrimination claim

A receptionist has won her claim for race discrimination after colleagues asked her whether she’d touched an electrical socket ‘to make her hair like that’. The receptionist had been on the receiving end of the remark twice and told the tribunal that she had also heard one colleague use the N-word seven times. As one of only two black employees at the company, she had complained.

Six months into her new job, she emailed her managers to complain about racist remarks made by one colleague.  A month later she sent another email about offensive remarks made by another colleague.

The employment judge noted that the comments made were “similar, remarking about what electrical sockets the receptionist had touched to make her hair like that”.  The comments were made when she had her hair untied and open.

An employee who had used the N-word was spoken to about the inappropriateness of the term and others were given verbal warnings about their behaviour but the receptionist felt that her concerns were not being addressed properly and emailed managers.  She was invited to a grievance investigation meeting. Other than the comments about her hair, which were found to be indirectly discriminatory, her other concerns were dismissed.

Following an operational review, the company was required to reduce costs by 10% and was forced to place several positions in the company at risk, including the receptionist’s role. During her redundancy consultation, alternative roles were discussed and she showed interest in a role as coordinator. A letter was sent to her requesting her CV and confirming her interest. However the reception tendered her resignation, citing discriminatory treatment.

In upholding her claim for race discrimination, the judge concluded that the hairstyle comment, even as a joke would not have been said to a white employee and that it had been made because the receptionist was black with an afro hairstyle and was therefore racial discrimination.

Businesses are liable for discrimination when it occurs in this way which is why it is extremely important to conduct training on discriminatory behaviour and to ensure that all employees are aware of what is unacceptable in terms of comments and treatment of colleagues.  121 HR Solutions can provide onsite training in discrimination and can be contacted at enquries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

  • Posted on February 15th, 2022

Managing the process of getting back to the office

Remote appointments, virtual onboarding and the lack of personal interaction in offices are key factors in recent employee dismissals. For the past two years most employers have been unable to run their normal recruitment processes and onboarding in person. Yet in-person meetings and onboarding are opportunities for the individual and the business to understand the ethos of one another, and to manage behavioural expectations and performance.

Working together in an office allows for new hires to observe their peers and managers, to develop working relationships with one another, receive informal training, and to understand how their peers deal with tricky situations.

Team dynamics will almost certainly be different where the individuals have never met in person and only meet infrequently for formal meetings, in comparison with those developed in person. Although managers may expect the individual to perform to the same standards as a colleague who worked in the office, it must be recognised that working remotely made it more difficult for managers to observe behaviours and training needs, or to speak informally with new hires to rectify issues.

Issues may arise with new hires who have only ever worked from home being unaware of the office culture and commercial needs of their employer or the behavioural standards required of them. Businesses may therefore wish to consider providing induction for all employees returning to the office to set out expected behavioural standards and codes of conduct and to provide a “buddy” for new hires brought in while the business worked remotely.  121 HR Solutions can assist in developing a bespoke induction programme. Contact us to discuss further on 0800 9995 121.

  • Posted on February 15th, 2022

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