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People Matter August 2018

Is flexible working the way forward?

When you consider the common gripes of the workplace, it’s surprising how many could be solved with one measure: flexible working.

Nightmare commutes, coping with school runs, disagreement about ambient office temperature, eradicating some of life’s inconveniences like waiting in for the gas man or a parcel. They all disappear with flexible working.

You may be thinking: “That’s all well and good for my employees, but what about the business’s needs?”. Turns out it can be good for the business too. A survey carried out by one specialist recruitment agency found that two-thirds of respondents cited flexible work as the key criterion of their perfect job.

There is definitely demand. So that means offering flexible working is a way to differentiate your business in the labour market to attract the brightest talent. And once you have them in the door – or working for you behind their own doors – a happy, satisfied workforce is a more productive and loyal workforce.

Modern technology and equipment has made flexible working much more practical. But of course flexible working won’t be possible for every business. That said, there is not an absolute definition, so each business can tailor a flexible working policy to their own requirements. Working from home or altered working hours are just two examples.

Overseas, employees are entitled to request flexible working after 26 weeks of continuous employment. The employer does not have to grant it, but they do have to treat the request reasonably and give legitimate business reasons if they refuse it. Some are calling for a similar entitlement to be introduced here.

Alternatively, Irish businesses’ hands may be forced by the EU. In September, they will begin negotiations to enforce more flexible working patterns on all member states. This would include allowing working parents with children under 10 to choose remote working as part of their employment schedule.

In the current landscape however, it’s still up to individual businesses. We’d say it’s worth investigating to see what benefits it could bring to you and your staff.

Further increases to the National Minimum Wage in 2019

The government has accepted the Low Pay Commission’s recommendation to raise the National Minimum Wage (NMW) by 25 cents in January 2019.

The new rate will be €9.80 per hour.

It’s estimated that 120,000 workers will benefit, but it is bound to put pressure on some small businesses where margins are tight. It’s not the first time the NMW has risen recently. The Small Firms Association reckons that for a business employing ten people on the NMW, the annual wage bill will have increased by €25,000 since 2015.

But the change is set in stone, so start factoring it into your budgets for next year to reduce the chance of shortfalls. Increasing productivity is one way to offset the extra pressures that mandatory wage increases put on you. To explore how you could achieve this through HR, speak to your local HR Dept adviser.

A costly case of mistaken identity

A Dublin barbers was ordered to pay €5,000 in compensation to a transgender male after an employee refused give him a short back and sides. The complainant testified that he was dressed as a male and trying his best to appear male. He was told that the barbers had a contract with a nearby hairdresser which prohibited them from cutting ladies’ hair.

The company insisted that the employee thought he was simply performing his role correctly, it was a one-off mistake and he did not mean to cause offence. Nevertheless it was deemed discrimination on grounds of gender under the Equal Status Act. It’s a reminder that employers can be liable for the actions of their employees. The remedy is to ensure that both you and your staff are well-informed on equality law.

The right to disconnect

In the information age we live in, we’re always connected. Professionally, this can mean that employees (and business owners for that matter), may feel they never escape their email or phone calls.

So just because people are contactable 24/7, should we expect engagement or a response from them?

A debate about our reliance on phones and tablets is raging. There is growing recognition that serious mental health problems can be caused by overusing mobile devices. Phone companies are even building usage monitoring and over-use warning functionality into their software. And when work pressures are a factor too, it only exacerbates the problem: stress, anxiety, mental and physical fatigue, even burn-out could follow.

So the challenge has been created by technology, and business owners should be aware that there is already a legislative framework to protect employees.

A labour court recently awarded €7,500 to a business development executive after finding her employer in breach of the Organisation of Working Time Act. She had complained of sometimes having to work a 60-hour week (instead of her contracted 40-hours), and having to deal with work emails up to and beyond midnight.

The company argued that her equivalent colleagues managed their workload within a 40-hour week and that she couldn’t have been following procedures. However, the judge sided with the employee finding her credible and observing that the company must have been aware of her working patterns yet made no attempt to assist her.

Remember, the onus is on the employer to track and monitor working time regulations for each employee.  If an employee is struggling in their role and working 60 hour a week, and doesn’t tell their employer, it is still the employer’s fault according to the courts and WRC.  You should therefore be proactive by having clear policies, reporting structures and requirements, and someone should be in charge of monitoring this.

There’s a lot at stake: the health and safety of your workforce and possible fines from the labour court. So if you need help getting the balance right, speak to us.

How to manage low staff levels over the holiday season

Being short-staffed can happen for many reasons – an influx of new business, redundancies and, perhaps most predictably, employees taking their annual leave entitlement.

So what can you do to ensure it is “business as usual” over the summer when staff are on holiday?

Cross-train your staff – Ensure your staff have training in advance to handle their additional tasks. Reinforce this with proper handovers so everything is crystal clear.

Bring in temporary staff – Temping agencies and intern programmes are established options, but be creative. Are any former employees available that you’d have back temporarily, a retiree for example?

Supportive management – Providing strong but supportive leadership will really help a stressed-out team: prioritise tasks, encourage teamwork, make sure breaks are taken so they can recharge, and keep your lines of communication open.

Data breaches are on the rise

You may feel you’re all GDPR-ed out, after the crescendo of the last 12 months. But remember that 25 May was the start of GDPR, not the end. The Data Protection Commission say there were 1,184 data breaches reported in the weeks following 25 May. Last year there was an average of 230 breaches a month. This increase is probably down to the stricter reporting requirements. Don’t forget there’s an HR angle in how you store personnel records in compliance with GDPR. We can help with this, so if you have concerns, get in touch.

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