April, 2022

Can you really end employment quickly?

The recent action of P&O, in dismissing hundreds of employees without notice or following any means of consultation, has hit the headlines and caused much bewilderment including at government level.

 

Is this action unlawful and if so, is there a safe and legal way of ending employment this quickly?

 

The recent P&O situation is perhaps not the best example of how an employer should dismiss an employee. What can be understood from the information available is that there were no grounds for dismissal due to conduct or performance or any of the other matters which an employer can use to justify a termination.

 

It is understood that in fact none of the employment positions was actually redundant, as the employees were immediately replaced by agency workers. So, did P&O think they would be able to terminate without risk of multiple claims for unfair dismissal?

 

In order to end an individual’s employment with minimal risk of an employment tribunal the employer should follow a specific process. This requires the employer to show that there was a genuine, fair and non-discriminatory reason for the dismissal and that the decision to terminate was reasonable in all the circumstances.

 

Accordingly, steps must be taken and records retained to ensure and prove if necessary at a tribunal, that the employer was acting appropriately.

 

If the employer wishes to expedite the decision to bring the employment to an end with no process being followed when there is a true redundancy this can sometimes be achieved by ‘voluntary redundancy’. However, where there is no actual redundancy, the only way to do this is to use a settlement agreement. Taking this route will invariably contain some incentive to the employee, for example an enhanced ex gratia payment over and above the employee’s normal statutory entitlements. In return the employee agrees to waive all rights to make a claim. The agreement can also cover other matters such as confidentiality and post-termination restrictions, ultimately providing certainty to both parties.

 

In the case of P&O the employees’ comments in the media saying they were unable to comment for fear of losing out on payments, imply that a settlement agreement with both incentive and confidentiality clauses included was on offer.

 

The risk for any employer taking this approach is that there is no guarantee that the employee will accept the offer. This risk is intensified if the employer has already acted unlawfully, for example by making a premature dismissal. This is because the employee’s potential entitlement to compensation if a claim is brought, will increase.

 

It is worth noting that for any agreement to be effective and enforceable, the employee must obtain independent legal advice on the terms before it is signed. The adviser will normally explain to the employee the nature and possible value of any potential claim the employee may have, so that the employee clearly understand what rights are being given up in exchange for the incentive being offered.

 

This in itself poses a risk for the employer who has acted in a tactical way without having first had a proper discussion with the employee. There is never an obligation to accept the terms proposed and the employee may, after having had the advice, decide to make a claim instead.

 

The terms of the agreement should also ensure that all aspects of the offer are fully described and all claims excluded. It is therefore essential to use an up to date, professionally drafted, settlement agreement for this purpose.

 

In conclusion, properly formulated and correctly signed off ‘voluntary redundancy’ settlement agreements can be a useful and secure option for an employer looking for a quick and clean break. However no matter which route an employer decides to take what is always advisable is that they always get the right advice.

 

Termination of employment can involve difficult financial, practical and commercial considerations, 121 HR Solutions(enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk) can help in determining the best options, risks and where appropriate provide and help negotiate settlement agreements.

  • Posted on April 26th, 2022

Employer duty of care for the welfare of employees – are you aware?

An employee who applied for a secondment opportunity abroad then had the opportunity withdrawn because the employer believed that the employee would be at ‘high risk’ if seconded, due to a pre-existing health condition. The employee subsequently brought claims for discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments.

The key issue under this claim was whether the withdrawal of the secondment opportunity was a proportionate step in the circumstances or whether the employer was required to adapt the way in which the secondment was planned with mitigations and protections in place to safeguard her health, safety and wellbeing.

The claim was dismissed by the Employment Tribunal. It was believed that the adjustments needed to make the secondment “safe” were not proportionate.

A later appeal upheld the findings that the withdrawal of a foreign secondment offer did not amount to failure to make reasonable adjustments or discrimination arising from disability. It was held that withdrawing the secondment offer was a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of protecting the health and safety of secondees working abroad, and no lesser measures would have achieved that aim.

This case is important for employers as a decision made to protect an employee’s health and safety will not always be seen as popular! In this case the employer was right to withdraw the secondment, even though the decision was criticised by the very employee it was aimed to protect.

  • Posted on April 26th, 2022

Are meetings in your workplace worthwhile?

Employees across the UK are spending too much time on menial tasks such as sending emails, updating the status of tasks and having unnecessary meetings.

Research has shown that 61% of employees think they spend too much time doing ‘work about work’. In 2021 an estimated 134 hours were spent in avoidable meetings and calls.  Another 107 hours were spent redoing work last year.  Over half of the employees surveyed admitted to multitasking during virtual meetings, suggesting that meetings were distracting from important work.

Over a third of those surveyed said they spent more time on emails compared to 12 months ago. In order to combat these trends, managers should prioritise encouraging teams to share updates rather than defaulting to meetings as a catch-all for team alignment.

Employers must also set clear guidelines on what constitutes a meeting and set clear parameters to ensure that meetings are timely; efficient and productive. By providing training on how to run a meeting effectively and efficiently when it is genuinely required, everyone will have a benchmark to follow.

  • Posted on April 26th, 2022

Training is the answer to skills and retention fears

Two-fifths of UK companies will implement large-scale upskilling or reskilling programmes in the coming year to retain top talent and address skills shortages. According to a recent survey, two-thirds of employees said they are hoping to change job within the year, indicating trouble ahead for employers hoping to retain top talent.

By providing employees with opportunities to develop their skills internally and focus on their unique career development, not only will companies strengthen their talent retention and recruitment efforts in a tough jobs market, but they will also boost the engagement of existing employees.

In the current jobs market, it’s more important than ever that employees feel their employer is invested in their professional growth and career development.  Companies may provide increased salaries but investing and having the belief in their most valuable asset, your people, through opportunities to undertake training will result in loyalty from them.

121 HR Solutions provide a range of management training opportunities which can be tailored to client requirements, email us today to request a copy of our training portfolio – enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

  • Posted on April 26th, 2022

Employees urged to double pension savings

Millions of employees are facing having only a ‘basic’ level of income at retirement because they are not saving enough. The majority (57%) of defined contribution savers say they are paying in the 4% minimum contribution set by the government, according to workplace pension provider The People’s Pension.

Experts predict that auto-enrolment contributions need to be double what they are now for society to avoid a cost of living crisis in the future.The introduction of pension auto-enrolment in 2012 has been a significant step towards financial security for many.  According to the data however, just 7% of people have realised that the default rate of 8% will only deliver a basic retirement – an annual income of £10,900-£20,800.

 

Obviously with the cost of living crisis, people are more concerned about paying their bills today than saving for tomorrow, but it is felt that the Government needs to act to take forward its 2017 review of automatic enrolment.

Pensions are just one of a range of employer benefits which can be considered to attract and retain employees. 121 HR Solutions can help employers evaluate their company benefits and can be contacted on 0800 9995 121.

  • Posted on April 26th, 2022

Stress awareness month

As previously posted, April is Stress Awareness month; organised by the UK-based Stress Management Society. This event has been held every year since1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures for the so-called “modern stress epidemic” and the last two years have been the most challenging many of us have ever faced.

Each annual Stress Awareness Month focuses on a central theme, with this year’s being Community. Organisers have stated on their website “We have chosen this theme because lack of support can cause loneliness and isolation, which in turn lowers people’s wellbeing, impacts mental health and can lead to mental illness”

It has been widely reported that the pandemic has had a hugely detrimental effect on the nation’s mental health and sense of community. Disrupted social lives, the cancellation of large gatherings, travel restrictions and working from home have kept us in one place for long periods of time. However, one of the positives to emerge from this unique situation has been the community spirit and support shown by so many to so many. The hybrid workplace presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Businesses and managers across the UK are working hard to adapt and remind employees of the services available to help them.

Taking steps as a business to support a healthy and happy workforce in a hybrid setting can help to boost morale, increase productivity, and ultimately champion workplace wellbeing. And Stress Awareness month provides employers with the perfect opportunity to establish a conversation and understand how best they can help their teams if they are struggling.

Encourage communication

While some employees will be open about the struggles they are facing, some may feel hesitant. Encouraging open lines of communication, employers can go a long way in building long term trust with staff as they realise their employer is there for them in the tough times as well as the good. Talking can also reduce the burden significantly and therefore expedite an individual’s recovery.

Watch out for employee burnout

Extended periods of stress can lead to burnout. Being aware of changes to an employee’s productivity is vital. Managers need to be vigilant when monitoring how individuals interact or show signs of disengagement. People can hide behind a computer and be unseen very easily. You may notice some employees cannot switch off from sending emails and working long hours, even when they are on holiday. Helping employees to plan their annual leave throughout the year can be a small step with a huge benefit.

The flexibility of hybrid working enables employees to achieve a better work/life balance as they are able to unwind more easily from the comforts of their home and devote more time to activities outside of work rather than commuting. Employers who support employees in and out of the workplace can help ensure both will thrive today and, in the years, to come.

If you have any concerns about your staff and stress in the workplace, contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.ukand we can discuss.

  • Posted on April 15th, 2022

Social Media…. AGAIN!

A teenager has found himself unexpectedly in the limelight after his TikTok video, in which he revealed his enjoyment of working as a delivery driver for a large UK retailer, gained millions of views.

In the clip, he said: “If you want an easy job, just go and work, and do this delivering…It is possibly the easiest job I’ve ever had, the best paying job I’ve ever had, and I get looked after. I don’t do much, I just sit on the side of the road waiting to do these drops.”

However, in a follow-up video, the teenager revealed that the clip had landed him in hot water with senior bosses, mainly due to his frequent bad language throughout the video. Later still he stated that he had lost his job as a result of the video, allegedly due to gross misconduct for bringing his employer’s company into disrepute.

Whether the TikTok user’s claims are true or not, there is a precedent for workers losing their jobs over social media posts. Online platforms including the likes of Twitter, Instagram and TikTok have grown in popularity, therefore it is likely that employees will continue to use social media accounts.

Unfortunately, they may find themselves subject to disciplinary proceedings or even dismissal if their employer construes a post as inappropriate and/or that it poses a risk to the employer’s reputation. This is regardless of whether a post relates to their employer, or whether it was posted during their working hours.

However, employers are more likely to succeed in establishing that the dismissal was lawful where the employee’s (albeit personal) account is accessible by the public and where there is a link to the employer, for example, where the employer’s name is mentioned, the employee is wearing their work uniform, or they have work colleagues as social media connections.

121 HR Solutions always recommend that employers have “a robust and up-to-date social media policy in place.If you have any concerns about your current policies and their appropriateness to your business contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.ukand we can discuss.

  • Posted on April 15th, 2022

‘Good Girl’ – sexist language in the workplace!

An accounts executive was subjected to “unwanted sexual advances” from her “condescending” boss whilst working at the company headquarters in London.

An employment tribunal heard how the employee was repeatedly called “good girl” even after she “showed her irritation” by directly expressing to her manager that it was condescending and that she was an “independent woman”.

The manager was also alleged to have mocked the employee’s weight by showing her photos from her Facebook profile, then laughing, saying “she looked fat”. Whilst on another occasion he is said to have puffed out his cheeks and pretended to be overweight, making her feel “degraded and humiliated”.

On an overnight business trip, the manager “insisted” in joining the employee where he made unwanted sexual advances towards her including attempting to “kiss and touch” her in her hotel room. The employee later felt forced to delete a dating app after he joked about signing up to it. The employee said she felt “shocked, disgusted and threatened” after he suggested it would be funny if he organised a date with her disguised as someone else and turned up instead of the person that she thought she was meeting.

The employee complained about her manager’s behaviour but was told that she had “participated in the behaviour”. The employee resigned, telling senior staff that “the continued bullying, victimisation and less favourable treatment I’ve received as a result of a previous harassment grievance, not creating a safe environment to work in, forcing me to work in a hostile environment and not supporting a reasonable request to move into a different team to allow me to perform well, is the final act and one I can no longer tolerate.”

The Employment Judge ruled: “We are an experienced Tribunal and note that documentary evidence indicating such a discriminatory culture is rare. The harassment started slightly at first with comments, particularly about her appearance and her standing (i.e., good girl) which then escalated into inappropriate advances.”

The tribunal ruled that the employee was sexually harassed and treated less favourably because of her rejection of the harassment. Compensation will be determined later but expected to be significant.

121 HR Solutions can assist in training managers in managing equality in the workplace- simply contact us and we will be happy to discuss enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

  • Posted on April 15th, 2022

Pregnant worker unable to reach the front for ice cream awarded nearly £40,000

In this case, the claimant had worked at a Gelato Café since September 2018.  The owner agreed to reduce her working hours and removed the requirement to work late or to work two shifts consecutively while she was pregnant. The tribunal heard that she found it increasingly difficult to carry out some of the tasks required in the store and by her sixth month of pregnancy “could not reach the front scoops” or “reach cakes to serve to customers”. The tribunal heard that although her job involved pregnancy-related risks such as lifting boxes and bending over to reach for ice cream no pregnancy risk assessment had been undertaken.

When the Claimant was six months pregnant, a colleague saw her struggling in work and told her that if he had a pregnant wife he would not let her work. This caused the claimant to complain about his comment. The store owner responded by telling her that if she was unable to do the work required of her, she would need to look for another job.

The owner also demoted the claimant to a ‘regular team member’ role from her manager position during her pregnancy, stating that it was because the business was ‘quiet’ and that he could no longer pay additional staff for tasks she was unable to fulfil. The claimant submitted a grievance, saying there had been a change of attitude from the start of her pregnancy, and that she had been discriminated against. The employer’s immediate response to this was to remove the employee from the WhatsApp group of employees. Then later, after the pandemic forced the store to operate solely as a fast food and delivery destination, the claimant was made redundant whilst she was on maternity leave.

The employment tribunal ruled that the claimant was mistreated due to her pregnancy which led to her demotion, dismissal and hurtful comments from colleagues. She has now received compensation of £38,677.27.

121 HR Solutions can assist employers with pregnancy risk assessments and advice to support employees during their pregnancy. This can be a very contentious area for employers so for advice, please contact us on enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

  • Posted on April 11th, 2022

Treaty to prevent violence and harassment comes into force in March 2023

Employers will have a new duty to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace; particularly where employees deal with members of the public.

The UK has become the eleventh country to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Violence and Harassment Convention which, when it comes into force next year, will create a duty for employers to protect employees from all forms of harassment, including from third parties such as customers or clients.

The treaty is designed to protect employees “irrespective of their contractual status”, meaning it will protect interns, job applicants, apprentices, and those whose employment has been terminated. It will also apply in all areas of work, including on work trips, in break room facilities, virtual meetings, and during commuting.

Thérèse Coffey, secretary of state for work and pensions, said the UK already had “some of the strongest laws in the world to protect employees”, and that she hoped other countries would follow suit in ratifying the treaty.

The treaty will come into force in the UK on 7th March 2023 and employers who have employees in a position where they deal with members of the public should consider how they can proactively anticipate and address issues such as warning signs relating to the fact that inappropriate behaviour towards employees will not be tolerated.

  • Posted on April 8th, 2022

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