Are managers adequately equipped to deal with absence?
With an average business cost of £522 per employee per year, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the business case for tackling absence at work is clear.
Policies that help managers understand how to deal with employees who are absent, guide them through the process of establishing when they will return and dealing with return to work meetings are essential. Although sickness absence policies that address the return-to-work process are not a legal obligation, they can help establish expectations, roles and responsibilities.
The responsibilities of both managers and employees should be clearly set out, including processes for seeking medical advice when relevant. Absence policies should also outline the circumstances under which an employer may consider dismissing an employee who is on long-term sick leave, along with how cases that relate to disability are managed.
According to research, a third of workers who had a four-week or longer absence in the past five years said they had failed to receive regular communication or support from their employers while off work.
Phased return to work can also help returners cope better with their job demands as well as considering short-term redeployment.
In cases where there’s been a significant change to an employee’s ability to conduct their role due to illness, injury or disability, there’s a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010 to review workplace risk assessments and, if necessary, amend them to identify new hazards. Having sound processes in place and training managers to communicate regularly with absent workers will reduce the extent of absence in the workplace which will inevitably reduce its cost.
Employer obligations following suspension?
Suspension is where an employee continues to be employed but does not have to attend work or do any work and usually occurs when:
Suspension should not be used as a disciplinary sanction and should not be automatic when dealing with a potential disciplinary matter as normally an employee will be able to continue doing their normal role while the matter is investigated.
Suspension should be considered if there is a serious allegation of misconduct and:
In certain circumstances, a health professional may recommend that an individual worker is unfit to work with a particular hazard. If the hazard cannot be immediately removed, the employer should consider:
If it is not feasible to make such adjustments, the employer may have to suspend until it is safe to return to work.
Employee with autism discriminated against
The employee’s manager stated in tribunal that she felt compelled to hold an informal discussion with the employee about his “disruptive and loud behaviour” on his second day. After a further meeting during which the manager warned the employee about his disruptive behaviour she stated that she would hold weekly catch up meetings with the employee but these did not happen.
The employee reported that he “felt subject to distraction”, and the “noise and smells” at work caused him distress. Hefelt he was not getting support from his colleagues so he tried to cope alone and he was not given sufficient work to keep him “occupied”.
The employee went off sick and was diagnosed by his GP with an anxiety disorder. He underwent an autism assessment and was referred to occupational health on 11 April which made recommendations for his return to the workplace, confirming his autism and detailing that he would be regarded as disabled under the auspices of the Equality Act.
A welfare meeting was held to discuss the employee’s ability to attend work and followed it up with a letter stating that his absence “fell short” of the employer’s attendance requirements and mentioned of the possibility of offering him a lower-grade role.
After a difficult return to work in which the employee felt unsupported and ignored in terms of the recommendations to support his return, he brought complaints to the employment tribunal of indirect discrimination on the grounds of his disability and failure to make reasonable adjustments for his autism.
The Judge ruled in favour of the employee saying the employer failed to implement reasonable adjustments, inappropriately used its capability procedure and used “dismissal as a tool to rid themselves of a disabled employee”.
This demonstrates the need to follow professional advice from occupational health, to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with a disability and to ensure that absence is not used in a disciplinary setting when it is directly linked to a disability.
Are employers entitled to make pay cuts?
An employer cannot usually impose a pay cut unilaterally on employees. Generally, it is unlikely an employer will be able to lawfully impose a pay cut without consulting with employees first. An employer would also need to ensure that any reduction in pay did not fall below the national minimum wage requirements for the hours worked.
Sometimes it is necessary to ask employees to take a pay cut to make the business viable, if it is loss-making for example. If more than 20 employees are affected by the proposals to cut their pay, an employer is legally obliged to consult with employee representatives about the changes. If an employer does not do so, the affected employees can bring claims for a failure to properly consult while still employed and claim up to 90 days’ pay as a protected award.
If employers want to reduce pay for another reason – such as the employee underperforming, not meeting targets or earning more than the organisation can afford – they need to consult with employees. If they have more than two years’ service, the employee acquires rights not to be unfairly dismissed and can bring a constructive unfair dismissal claim.
However, with less than two years’ service, if an employer simply reduces pay without consulting with the employee, they may try and argue they been subjected to unauthorised deductions under the Employment Rights Act 1996. Consulting with employees and reaching an agreement is best to avoid these claims.
During the consultation process, employers should explain the business case for the reduction and send this in writing to the employees if required to obtain their agreement. Ultimately, if they do not agree, their employment could be terminated by giving them notice and offering a new contract of employment with the new salary dated from the expiry of the notice period.
What is an employer’s responsibility if an employee is injured at work?
The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) governs the laws on health and safety management in the workplace. Every business should have a policy for managing health and safety and should detail who has specific responsibilities, the general health and safety policy and what practical arrangements are in place, showing how policy aims will be achieved.
Employers must make ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessments. For businesses with more than five employees, risk assessments must be written down and should record the hazard, how that hazard may harm people and what is already being done to control this hazard.
Despite taking all reasonable measures to ensure a safe working environment, there will always be a risk of an accident in the workplace. If an employee is injured at work, there are a number of things an employer should do:
• Report all accidents. Businesses with more than 10 employees must keep an accident book, in which all accidents, no matter how minor, should be recorded. More severe injuries such as serious burns, occupational diseases, gas incidents and death must be reported in a report under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) within 15 days of the accident.
• Notify the employer’s insurance company. It is important to notify the insurance company as soon as an accident occurs. This is so a claims investigator can be appointed to investigate the accident immediately in case it turns out to be much more serious than anticipated and a claim is made against the business.
• Improve health & safety. Revisiting risk assessments will allow employers to prevent similar accidents.
What to do with outstanding holiday at the end of the holiday year?
Often employers find that at the end of the holiday year, some employees have a proportion of holiday entitlement which has not been taken. This means there can be a rush on holiday requests at the end of the holiday year, leaving employers short of staff or unable to fulfil the request. As an alternative, can employees be paid this entitlement? Not according to the working time regulations which specifically state that an employee should not be paid in lieu of taking their minimum holiday entitlement of 5.6 weeks (28 days for an employee working 5 days per week).
Holiday entitlement is there to allow for employees to take time away from work and paying in lieu defeats this object.
There is one exception and this is that accrued holiday entitlement may be paid upon on the termination of employment. Otherwise, employees must be allowed to take their full holiday entitlement during the annual leave year. This means that employers are expected to put in place mechanisms to ensure that their employees take regular holidays throughout the leave year to avoid any claim from an employee that they were prevented from taking their full holiday entitlement.
Are you monitoring your employees’ email activity?
A recent survey reported that employers are likely to monitor emails in the workplace, web history and internal chat systems. The research examined responses from U.K. companies with over 500 employees, finding that 98% of companies monitor their employees’ digital activity.
Whilst most companies will have a policy on IT usage and monitoring in the workplace, outlining their expectations of staff and being open about monitoring certain activity, 11% of employees aren’t aware that their company captures digital activity at all. 11% of respondents said that employees would be “horrified” by the amount of digital activity their companies captured, while 65% of employees would be “concerned.” The survey showed the following:
Remember, if you do monitor then your employees should be informed of your policy, its purposes and circumstances, and the level and areas of control that employees have over their data.
Do you monitor absence and conduct return to work meetings?
Costing the economy £61 billion, three-quarters of ill-health related absence in 2018 could have been prevented with effective management strategies. Employers lose, on average, 35.6 working days per employee per year due to absence. It is becoming impossible for businesses to ignore the link between ill-health and productivity.
According to a survey which sourced these statistics, top performing companies showed common characteristics such as embedding a culture of health and having capable line managers who supported employees with health and wellbeing programmes. In addition, those companies that properly measured absence and regularly monitored attendance using return to work meetings, had a better grip on absence management in general.
The figures serve as a warning to employers regarding the significant effect that absence can have on their workforce and company development overall. Conducting return to work meetings and recording all absence are steps that can be taken to alert managers to the problem of absence, at an early stage. Identifying root causes of absence – such as work-related stress, can also help managers to deal with absence.
How productive are your meetings?
A recent study has found that employees waste almost 13 days a year in unproductive meetings. The survey of more than 2,000 employees found the average employee spends 187 hours in meetings per year – the equivalent of 23 days. However, 56% of these meetings were deemed unproductive by workers.
More than a third admitted to switching off during meetings that lasted too long, while almost a quarter of those surveyed said they had witnessed someone fall asleep in a meeting.
People are most engaged when they are interested in the topic and feel their contribution is valued and so it is imperative that businesses consider how many meetings are planned in any month, the value of those meetings and the contribution that people are making in them.
Meetings are often vital to the efficient running and success of the business but it is important that not too many staff attend and that everyone has a role to play, and can contribute tospecific issues that impact upon the decision.
121 is running a workshop which focuses on this subject. For further information on “Improving Meetings with Effective Communication” in Dundee on 30th May and Glasgow on 6th June click here: https://bit.ly/2H770JQ
Are you doing enough to support the mental health of your staff?
Last week’s Mental Health Awareness week focused on the fact that 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year. It is clear that the issue of employee wellbeing has never been more important.
A poor culture at work can have a significant effect on employees’ mental health. Conducting regular engagement surveys can be a useful tool to obtain feedback on staff experience, helping to identify factors that are likely to create stress among employees and to evaluate general engagement and satisfaction with workplace practices.
The relationship between managers and their staff can have a huge impact on employee satisfaction at work and encouraging managers to adopt a positive and supportive approach not only promotes better mental health, but can drive productivity by improving motivation.
Employees should feel able to raise any issues and concerns with their managers without any fear of a consequence and therefore managers need to be trained to recognise the signs and to be able to deal properly with employee concerns.
Creating a workplace culture that supports all staff and making wellbeing a priority should be an important part of every business plan – and will result in a more effective and productive workforce.