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People Matter March 2017

New ECJ ruling

The European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that workplace bans on the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign” need not constitute direct discrimination.

At this time of heightened religious awareness, it is important that employers do not take the ECJ ruling at face value it is far more complex than that.

The ruling was clear that the court will only support a ban in limited circumstances. The ruling, which is more nuanced than a straightforward ban, could sow confusion about which religious symbols can be worn at work and could breed discrimination from colleagues and customers if not handled properly.

The ban must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to “dress neutrally” and the ban must encompass ALL signs of a religion like wearing a cross and not just a headscarf. This ruling applied to a customer facing role where the neutrality of the company was demonstrated.

The courts ruled that if it is an employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality towards its customers then banning religious insignia is legitimate.

Therefore employers must make sure that this policy bans other religious insignia such as crucifixes, skullcaps and turbans.

But employers should be extremely careful when considering applying bans on religious dress. You will still have a duty to show that you have not enabled indirect discrimination against your employees. There must be clear legitimacy of the policy and necessity for the business, applied appropriately.

Campaign and religious groups have voiced concerns that this ruling could allow employers to discriminate against employees and potential employees on the grounds of religious belief.

Gender pay gap

International Women’s Day, in March, was an opportunity to celebrate the progress made by women in the past year. And also a time to reflect on the challenges yet to be overcome. One of these is the gender pay gap: it is still there and it is substantial.

In the UK the recent introduction of legislation forcing companies to publish the gender pay-gap is coming into force, and in Iceland, recent legislation has resulted in companies being forced to prove they are paying men and women equally.

Equal pay is a legal requirement and it is best practice for companies of all sizes to ensure they have an equality policy and to actually live by it.  Half the population are women, do you really want to discriminate against them and earn a bad reputation for the business you have built up?

Unfair dismissal


That’s the amount that the Workplace Relations Commission awarded a woman, dismissed from her place of work post revealing that she was pregnant. According to her, the atmosphere at work changed immediately from the point she notified management of her pregnancy.

She hadn’t been the subject of any disciplinary procedures prior to the dismissal, the employer simply failed to follow the proper process. Employers can take two things from this, don’t discriminate and always follow a consistent process.

To get your disciplinary procedures in place please contact The HR Dept.

The office move

Using April to do more than the usual Spring Clean? Whether by choice or necessity you may be in a position this year to move office. Needless to say amidst the excitement comes a Pandora’s Box of operational, administrative and HR issues. You’ll need to prepare for these. Here are 5 jobs for your list.

1. The ones that don’t want to move
For those with longer and potentially more expensive journeys, the move may not be popular. Having the right mobility clause in your contracts should protect you, allowing you to move with your staff without issue, as long as the move is within the limits outlined, and isn’t deemed totally unreasonable.
The key to preventing a dispute is to keep staff in the loop of your plans well in advance, and ensure they have time available to make adjustments.

2. Getting the little things right
Seating plans, losing a rest room, having a smaller desk, being too close to the kitchen, not having a window… Just a few things there that can change your staff’s attitude about the move. Talk to your team and make sure you’ve got their needs covered within reason, as things will go a whole lot smoother.

3. Productivity
A small drop is to be expected, as staff clear their desks and sort through their stuff. Bite the bullet and get this done by Friday for a weekend move, so everyone’s ready for business come Monday.

4. Smooth transition
If the internet isn’t working and the phone lines are down for too long, you’ll leave customers in the dark and your team will be stuck twiddling their thumbs. To the best of your ability get everything ready for that Monday for a truly seamless move.

5. Health and safety!
Your staff need to know where the fire exits are, where extinguishers are, the assembly point for a fire alarm, where the first aid kit is, have a new computer assessment and know who their Health and Safety contact is.

This list isn’t exhaustive but it does give you five key considerations to focus your planning on.

Flexible working

Working from home is a great perk. Although sometimes we can get distracted – perhaps the TV or the cat wanting to be fed.

For viral sensation (20 million YouTube views in a week!) Professor Robert Kelly, the distraction came from his two young children.  And, comically, they did their thing during a live Skype interview on BBC News.

Moments into the interview Professor Kelly’s two young children burst into the room, strutting about like they owned the place!

Hilarious for millions around the world, but it highlights the challenges of flexible working.

That said, 38% of millennials believe they do their best work outside the office. And as for employers, flexible working enables them to demonstrate compassion for employee needs – particularly for those with families or a difficult commute.

But to be effective, flexible working must be managed properly. We can help. Contact The HR Dept for advice

Don’t shoot the messenger

It has been revealed that Parcelforce charge self-employed drivers significant amounts per sick day they take without finding a replacement driver.

Approximately 25% of Parcelforce’s couriers are self-employed and, as you can imagine, this has not gone down well.

This is only the latest in a long line of “gig economy” stories where the balance of the relationship between the company and person doing the work seems to have tipped too much in favour of the company.

There are two issues here. First is legal compliance. Here the waters are muddied by confusing variances in different worker statuses and the rights that go with them. At what point is someone considered self-employed, a worker or employed? Second is treating people decently, which is one of the hallmarks of a good employer and one that we believe will add value to a business in the long run.

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