The risks of remote working
Since March, millions more employees have experienced the highs and lows of working at home. While many are enjoying the benefits of avoiding tedious commutes, a better work-life balance and more autonomy over their working day, it hasn’t been without its downside.
There has been copious research relating to employee mental health matters when discussing working from home, but what about the physical health side effects? According to new research from private healthcare company Bupa, working from home is as dangerous to the health of UK workers as smoking. That might seem like a bit of an exaggerated statement to some, but daily tasks that you may not even think twice about when working from home, could actually be affecting your physical state more than you think.
Whilst remote working removes the hassle of the dreaded daily commute to work, it can be said that without this, there is further time spent at the workstation and working on equipment not designed for prolonged usage (i.e., spending hours sitting down in an unsupported position and failing to move around enough) can all have serious health implications. The study showed that almost a fifth of people working from home are exercising less as a result sitting down more, increasing the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and blood clots. This sedentary existence causes a whole number of health issues, and it can be said that sitting for long periods is also associated with poor mental health – people feel their minds work better when they are moving. With research showing that employees are working for an extra 48 minutes a day on average since lockdown, it’s likely they’ll be sitting still for an even bigger part of the day. Working in an office alongside colleagues provides opportunities to get up and move around. Going to meetings, having a coffee break, or collecting printouts are all reasons to move and get the blood circulating. These opportunities are reduced when working at home – often in isolation, with meetings taking place onscreen. In addition to this, people are probably more inclined to eat more often than they would in a working office environment, taking breaks and consuming more food than they normally would leading to further health complications.
As businesses move towards hybrid working, it is worth remembering that there are also benefits of getting back into the office! If you need support to develop a hybrid working policy, 121 HR Solutions can help. Contact us on 0800 9995 121 to discuss your needs.
Could a hot-desking policy be deemed as discrimination?
A House of Commons Commission data manager was treated unfavourably and discriminated against after asking colleagues not to use a desk that had been adapted for her health needs, an employment tribunal has found.
The employee had been provided with equipment including an orthopaedic chair, specialist keyboard and mouse and a reading/writing slope to help with her musculoskeletal condition. She claimed she was subject to disciplinary proceedings for asking colleagues not to use her workstation as a hot desk while she was absent.
She had worked for the House of Commons Commission, which manages the parliamentary estate, since 1991 and had been issued with specialist equipment recommended by the organisation’s occupational health service. She had her own desk that was adjusted in a way that minimised her pain. However, a hotdesking policy existed at the employee’s office as there were not enough desks to accommodate all employees.
In June 2018, the employee fell in the street and injured her knee and was signed off work. When she returned to the office she found all her equipment including her desk, chair and workstation had been “drastically” altered or moved. She claimed it was difficult to readjust all her equipment to suit her needs.
When she raised the issue with her manager she was told that reserving her desk for an extended period while she was away was not practicable. She disputed the need for a hot-desking policy as there were other rooms available for staff to work in. An occupational health report in September 2018 reiterated that the desk should not be used as a hot desk. It said she needed to have her own dedicated workstation as she needed special equipment and a chair adjusted to suit her.
Later that month, the employee took a day off to attend a medical appointment and left a “polite” note on her desk reminding colleagues that it should not be used for hot desking. However, when she returned, she found that someone had adjusted her chair.
The claimant was summoned to a disciplinary meeting about “unreasonably” placing a note on her desk. The employer told the tribunal that this allegation was not pursued; however, the tribunal found the former employee had been distressed by it.
The judgement stated: “She would reasonably have considered that her continued employment was potentially prejudiced. She would reasonably have felt worried and threatened by the commencement of disciplinary action.
The tribunal determined that the employer allowed hot desking on all desks and accepted that the claimant was put at a substantial disadvantage by this practice, in that her workstation and equipment had been adapted for her needs, to prevent injury and discomfort, and other employees altered her equipment so that it was no longer safe for her to use. This exposed her to risk of injury.
The judgment added that “the House of Commons Commission victimised and discriminated against the former employee when it commenced disciplinary proceedings against her. It also failed to make a reasonable adjustment when it failed to prevent her desk being used as a hot desk.”
It is a legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to support employees with a disability; if they are in place, keep them in place and ensure that the support is ongoing.
Fears over skills as visa application times double for spouses
Spousal applications for people coming to work in the UK are being delayed, leaving immigration specialists concerned that the extra waiting times for decisions could exacerbate the skills crisis. Processing times at the Home Office for those wishing to join family working in the UK have doubled, leaving those with job offers in the UK having to renegotiate starting dates.
According to immigration experts, this may have a knock-on effect on UK staff levels and cause businesses to explore sponsorship as an alternative, despite the high costs. The reason for the longer processing times, according to the Home Office, is the amount of applications coming from Ukrainian nationals, fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country.
Individuals have started receiving emails from the Home Office to notify them of a doubling of previous standard processing times. Those looking to accompany to or join family in the UK may potentially face a six-month wait for a decision. Individuals will have plans for housing, employment and education in the UK. These plans may now have to be put on hold with no concrete timeline to work towards. This has unsurprisingly caused concern as this is potentially disruptive and increases uncertainty for those affected.”
The latest guidance from the Home Office stated that applications for family visas may take up to 24 weeks to process.
Calling a man bald is sexual harassment, employment tribunal rules
Commenting on a man’s baldness in the workplace is equivalent to remarking on the size of a woman’s breasts, according to a recent employment tribunal.
The decision relates to a claim brought by a former employee who had worked as an electrician for 24 years before he was fired in May 2021. He complained that he was a victim of sexual harassment, due to comments made about his lack of hair, including being called a “bald c***” by his supervisor during an argument in 2019.
Describing the argument, the former employer told the employment tribunal: “I was working on a machine that I had to cover awaiting specialist repair. The covers were taken off, and it was apparent that the supervisor had done this. When he spoke to the Supervisor, he began to call the employee a “stupid bald c***” and threatened to “deck him”.
The argument with the supervisor, who is 30 years younger than the former employee, left him fearful. The judgment remarked that “there is a connection between the word ‘bald’ on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other….baldness is much more prevalent in men than women. We find it to be inherently related to sex.”
According to the tribunal, the comments were made with the view of hurting the former employee. The supervisor made the remark with a view to hurting the claimant by commenting on his appearance “which is often found amongst men.”
The supervisor’s conduct was unwanted, it was a violation of the former employee’s dignity, it created an intimidating environment for him, it was done for that purpose, and it related to the claimant’s sex.
The tribunal upheld claims of sexual harassment, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal but dismissed a claim of age discrimination.
A date to determine the claimant’s compensation will be set by the court.
This case is yet more evidence of the issue relating to “banter” in the workplace, turning sour. Consider whether you should develop a code of conduct. If you need support to do this, contact us today on 0800 9995 121 to discuss your requirements.
Spike in minimum wage underpayment among 20-24 year olds
According to a minimum wage underpayment report for 2020-21 released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) a number of employers failed to increase staff pay when 23-year-olds were brought into the scope of the national living wage. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have identified £16.8m in national minimum pay arrears for more than 155,000 workers in the 2020/21 financial year. It has issued 575 penalties totalling £14.1m to non-compliant employers, and one person was prosecuted.
It found a small spike in underpayment of employees aged 20-24 years old, which BEIS says demonstrated that “some underpayment may have arisen from an employer’s failure to uplift their employees pay in line with the change in age band to bring 23-year-olds into scope of the NLW”.
The average arrears per case of underpayment was more than £6,000 in 2020/21 and the average arrears per worker was £108. The arrears per worker figure has increased slightly compared to the previous year, partly due to HMRC taking account of non-compliance across an employer’s whole business, rather than just the individual worker who complained.
Resignation due to a poor manager
There is an expression that people don’t leave a job, they leave a manager. According to a recent survey, more than two in five employees have left a job because of a bad manager. This is the cost of poor management. The survey found that 43% of workers have left a job at some point in their career because of their manager.
The findings show that the most common attributes of good managers include treating people well, listening to others, and showing respect to all staff members. The vast majority of respondents said that a good manager was important for their workplace happiness, while 38% said they have stayed in a job longer than they intended because of a good manager.
Conversely, the most commonly cited attribute of a bad manager was failure to listen. This was followed by being unapproachable, treating members of the team differently and shouting at the team.
The business cost of bad management is clear, yet too many employers simply do not take this seriously and harm their collective performance and employee wellbeing as a result. Good management is a professional skill that requires both knowledge and practice. 121 HR Solutions regularly runs workshops for managers. Managing Poor Performance is being held in Glasgow on 25thMay. If you believe you should be investing in managers’ training, book now at email@example.com
Are you aware of the rights of your part-time employees?
The law is very clear that employers must offer equal opportunities for full and part-time staff – including training and career development, selection for promotion and career breaks. However, many employers resist the opportunity to split a full-time vacancy into part time roles, or to consider part time working when it is requested via a Flexible Working request.
Benefits and salaries must be applied on a pro rata basis – ie part time staff must not be paid a lower hourly rate or receive fewer benefits than full time staff – they should be calculated on a “pro rata” basis with the exception that employers are not obliged to pay premium overtime rates until staff have worked over the normal hours of a full-time employee.
In order to avoid any claims of unfair treatment of part time staff, employers are advised to:
- Train managers to be prepared to discuss part time options with staff when they are requested – having a statutory flexible working policy in place will assist with this. Do not assume that a job can only be fulfilled on a full-time basis!
- Consider the benefits part-time employees can bring such as higher morale, promoting diversity, staff retention, more loyalty, better performance
- Don’t assume a request for part-time working means the employee is less dedicated or work-orientated. Often part time staff will be more flexible and put in more than their contracted hours, simply because they are available to do so.
Need help with part time contractual rights? Contact us on 0800 9995 121
Approaching holiday season means more zero hours’ contracts. How do they work?
Despite calls to tighten legislation around zero hours’ contracts, here are over 800,000 people employed in the UK on zero-hours contracts in their main employment. Those working under such contracts are most likely to be young (aged 16–24), part time, women, or in full-time education, working on average 26 hours a week. As university students break up for summer, this type of employment contract is increasingly used to employ seasonal workers.
A zero-hours contract means a contract of employment in which the individual can either accept the work offered or decide not to take up the offer of work on that occasion. It is not best practice for an employer to try and force the worker to work, as this may imply a more permanent form of work status and potentially mean that the terms and conditions no longer suit the requirements of both parties.
The employee should understand that the contract provides flexibility and the number of hours may reduce or cease at the request of the employer. Where the employee persistently refuses work when offered, this may result in future work being offered to others first and it may ultimately influence the employer to terminate the working arrangement.
The advantages of a zero-hours contract to an employer are as follows:
- access to a pool of workers, as demand dictates
- a cheaper alternative to paying agency fees
- no ongoing requirement to pay workers when the business has no work
When recruiting for a zero-hours contract, the job should be clearly advertised as such. Employers should be clear about how the work is offered and remember that all staff employed on a zero-hours contract are still entitled to statutory employment rights, including holiday pay – without any exception.
If you require any assistance regarding employment contracts, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
When does overtime become contractual?
Many employees will be contractually required to work a fixed number of hours each week, in return for a specified salary. Typically, in some cases, the employment contract may make express provision for working additional hours.
There’s no strict legal requirement for employees to work more than their normal working hours. This means that overtime must be contractual, either by way of written or verbal agreement, for an employee to be required to work additional hours.
By law, there’s no requirement for employees to work over and above their normal working hours. If it not specified within the employment contract, employees cannot be forced to work overtime. If an employee is not required to work compulsory overtime under the terms of their contract of employment, they’re entitled to refuse to work any additional hours over and above their standard working hours.
If overtime is sufficiently regular where this creates a standard pattern of working, this will become what’s known as custom and practice – or a “implied” contractual term. This means that when calculating an employee’s holiday pay, any overtime work should be included in the calculation of “average pay”.
If you have any concerns about this subject contact us email@example.com we can discuss.
Bullying & discrimination; just ‘banter’?
Recent research has found that the number of employment tribunals claims relating to ‘banter’ in the workplace saw a 45% increase, from 67 in 2020 to 97 in 2021.
What one employee might claim is “banter” or simply harmless workplace humour might actually be bullying or harassment, particularly if someone is subjected to discriminatory jokes on the basis of race, gender, nationality or sexual identity.
There are many cases in which employers have unsuccessfully tried to plead that bullying or harassment was merely “banter”. Some examples are:
- An employee who was teased that if he didn’t like football he must be “gay then”.
- An employee called “half-dead Dave” due to his age.
Under the Equality Act 2010, unlawful harassment occurs where a person engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and this has the purpose or effect of – (i) violating their dignity, or (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
It is worth noting that the individual bringing the complaint does not need to have the ‘protected characteristic’ relevant to the conduct in order to be offended. For example, if you are wrongly assumed to have a certain characteristic, you can be harassed on that ground: such as a turban-wearing Sikh man subjected to Islamaphobic “banter”. He could be harassed on religious grounds despite the wrong assumption having been made that he was a Muslim.
Employers can be found to be vicariously liable for any discriminatory comments made by employees provided these were made “in the course of employment”, even if this falls outside of working hours.
The research suggests that the overall, long-term increase in cases may be due to employees communicating with one another more through informal instant messaging services such as WhatsApp. Messages or memes are often amusing to one person but can be offensive to others and the nuances of tone are often lost in written communication.
Employers should keep an eye on their workplace culture to make sure it is professional and appropriate. Up to date training, relevant to communicating in a modern-day workplace should also be provided to employees regularly to ensure all workers know what is and what is not appropriate workplace behaviour.
Humour in the workplace is important –However, employees should be wary of making jokes that stray into offensive territory, especially those which relate to protected characteristics.
If you have any concerns about this subject contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org we can discuss.