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People Matter August 2016

Employee or not employee?

That is the question being discussed at an employment tribunal this summer, as we shall see later.

There are several legitimate ways of hiring people to work for you. The classic way is taking someone on as an employee – full or part time. This comes with statutory obligations like holiday and sick pay, and the employee is entitled to other rights like the National Living/Minimum Wage. The employer is also responsible for administering PAYE tax and paying Employer National Insurance.

Then there’s the freelancer or contractor route. Here the worker is self-employed and does not have the same rights. Subject to the terms of their contract they must make their own provision for things like holiday and sick pay through their fees. They are also responsible for taxes.

So far so good, but what about when the lines become blurred? Uber, the taxi app, has found itself on a rocky road this summer as thousands of its drivers in the US and the UK continue to fight for certain rights.

Uber insists they are self-employed: drivers are their own boss – free to accept or turn-down work. The drivers claim they are ‘workers’, a legal term that grants similar rights to employees.

Such disputes could be costly for small businesses. The best defence is to have really clear contracts and policies for people that work for you. For advice and professionally drafted documents speak to The HR Dept.

Pokéjobs: When apps invade the workplace

Love it or loathe it, Pokémon Go is a phenomenon – enchanting children and adults alike. Most grown-ups have jobs, so what happens when such apps start encroaching on the workplace? In one extreme case, New Zealander Steve Currie quit his job to hunt down all 151 Pokémon full time! Assuming your staff don’t walk out forever, a well-worded IT policy should prevent productivity from dipping.

If you don’t mind employees occasionally trying to snaffle a Jynx or Dragonair behind a plant pot, be aware of Health and Safety. Staff walking around with their head in a smartphone could bump into something more than virtual! And what about positives? Apps like Pokémon Go encourage staff to move about whilst playing, perhaps getting exercise at lunchtime: something that is often all too lacking in the modern workplace.

Dads days off

Not long to go now until the new Paternity leave rules are in place, they’re due to be introduced on September 1st. From this date onwards the ‘relevant’ parents of a child will be entitled to two week of paid Paternity leave. Their pay during this period will come from the Department of Social Protection. If you have any questions, or if you need a hand amending your employment contracts and handbooks to reflect this, please do get in touch.

Three strikes and you’re out

Taken from the rules of baseball, the term ‘three strikes and you’re out’ is often applied in other contexts. In California, it can mean a mandatory life sentence for any felony after two serious or violent crimes, and in employment it is an approach to disciplining and dismissing staff. But is it a useful or fair tool for managers?

At face value, it seems a simple, easily understood process. But in practice it can be riddled with complexity – especially if policy wording is unclear. What if an employee has two ‘strikes’ in quick succession followed by a year’s exemplary service (or longer) before a third misdemeanour? Does automatic sacking follow?

Then there’s the impact on culture. In small teams where individuals grow into their roles to add value to your business, it may become divisive among the team members if they take sides when a colleague falls foul of the rule. And it could be counterproductive if you corner yourself into dismissing an experienced employee who has notched up a third strike over the length of their long service. There are pitfalls with large workforces too.

Could it create a climate of fear? Is it counter-productive to make staff worry about trivial things such as taking too long on a toilet break? It also may be detrimental to working conditions as people feel more inclined to show up to work when sick (known as presenteesim), and embedding an ‘us v them’ attitude amongst the team.

Amazon, has been criticised before for processes like these. Practices included electronically monitoring staff efficiency while they worked ten-hour plus shifts and walked 11 miles within the warehouse. Disciplinary action was threatened if efficiency slipped out of tightly defined parameters.

Lots of downside then from disciplinary processes expressed as a soundbite. Smaller businesses may find simple good people management a better option. For advice on your disciplinary policies, get in touch with The HR Dept.

Presenteeism

We have looked at absenteeism in this newsletter, so what about its opposite: presenteeism. This is the phenomenon of employees working longer hours than they’re contracted for. And it appears to be prevalent among younger workers keen to make a good impression with the boss.

A recent study by tech company Ricoh UK revealed that 67% of employees in the 18-26 age bracket tried to impress managers by exaggerating their workload. 41% thought bosses would favour those who worked more than they were required to.

Trapped abroad

We all hope it never happens, but being prepared is key. What’s good practice for an employer with employees stranded overseas after a terrorist attack?

Being sympathetic should be a top priority. Even if an employee was not directly caught up in an incident, they may be scared, stressed and alone. Stranded employees may not have a right to be paid, but where it’s affordable a good employer would show leniency – a lighter pay packet may seem like insult after injury!

If hours turn into days or even weeks, our connected world may enable remote working. Tread carefully if emotions are still raw, but it is an option. Of course, any work costs should be reimbursed. As with normal leave, manage the workload carefully, and explain the situation to the rest of your team. We advise all employers to have policies in place recognising transport disruption and to have disaster contingency plans. For advice and drafting call us today.

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