People Matter March 2018
Managing pregnancy in the workplace
So one of your employees tells you she’s pregnant. Without your realising, she may have been struggling with morning sickness, extreme tiredness or dizziness – to name just a few of the symptoms of early pregnancy. She will be anticipating much more to come later on.
It’s fair to say that most women will be worried about how their manager might react to this news. The only major study of pregnancy in the workplace in Ireland took place in 2011. It was conducted by the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme and the former Equality Authority. It found that 30% of pregnant women reported unfair treatment, 8% were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments and 5% said they were dismissed on account of their pregnancy.
In Irish law, pregnancy and maternity leave are designated as a specially protected period. However tempted a manager may be to respond based on their own experiences and views, or by putting the perceived needs of the business first, there’s only one way to proceed legally. And that is to comply with both the Employment Equality and Maternity Protection Acts, along with other relevant pieces of legislation.
This means granting time off for antenatal care, providing maternity leave, and allowing the woman to return to her job (or an equivalent role) with terms and conditions at least as good as she had prior to pregnancy. Furthermore, a new health and safety risk assessment should be carried out which takes her pregnancy into account.
Assuming your legal compliance, one useful tip is not to make assumptions. Some well-intentioned employers may look to remove complex projects or difficult clients from a pregnant employee’s workload. It’s a good idea to check this first with her, as this may be perceived as side-lining or even as discrimination.
Beyond the legal requirements, think of the added benefits of offering a family-friendly workplace culture. One survey conducted in 2015 found that 80% of employers of the pregnant women surveyed didn’t offer opportunities to work remotely. This highlights a huge opportunity to stand out from the crowd in the recruitment market with a family-friendly culture.
Common pitfalls in workplace investigations
Very few business owners found their companies in order to conduct workplace investigations – but they are a by-product of employing people. And it is essential to conduct them correctly. Failure to do so could leave you on the wrong side of a Workplace Relations Committee or Labour Court judgement.
One company was recently penalised for not allowing an employee legal representation and preventing them from cross-examining evidence – judged to be a breach of constitutional rights and fair procedures. Conversely, two subsequent High Court decisions stated that fair procedures do not apply during the preliminary investigation stage as long as a final outcome was not being sought. What a minefield! Let’s look at the basics.
Investigations may typically be conducted for poor performance, behavioural issues or following an incident. Their purpose is to establish what happened and to back it up with evidence. From here you can decide whether a formal disciplinary process should begin.
Common pitfalls include delays in starting an investigation; not following a clear policy; showing bias, for instance by asking leading questions; and imposing sanctions during the investigation.
So what should you do? For starters, begin the investigation promptly and ensure a suitable investigation officer is chosen. Questions should be open-ended and do ensure you keep records of everything. Don’t forget to interview any potential witnesses. Only when the investigation is concluded can you recommend disciplinary procedures, if appropriate. But even then it is important to grant the employee the opportunity to comment on your report.
If in doubt, seek professional advice to ensure you don’t come unstuck.
Prepare for the next storm
As Storm Emma demonstrated, extreme weather causes real disruption – often with little warning. Snow, wind, torrential rain… whatever is thrown at you, having a bad weather policy in place is your umbrella against confusion and chaos.
Unless there’s a specific contractual clause, you are not obliged to pay people who can’t work due to bad weather. A policy is your chance to communicate this, so it doesn’t come as a nasty surprise. Writing a policy also allows you to plan so much better for the worst of weather.
Can employees work remotely so service levels aren’t interrupted? Do you offer people the choice of making the time up later, or taking annual leave, so their pay packet doesn’t suffer? If your customers are hit, do you include a provision for short term lay-offs if there’s no work to be done?
For when it’s no storm in a tea cup, it pays to get a bad weather policy in place.
Tax breaks offered to companies which promote exercise
Earlier this year the government announced tax breaks for companies which install showers and fitness equipment at their premises. But potential tax benefits are only one reason why you should consider encouraging staff to exercise – in the morning in particular.
A healthy workforce is a productive workforce, and research shows that the benefits are magnified when exercise is carried out before work. First up, people are far more likely to stick with their exercise regime in the morning, before the stresses and strains of the day take their toll. In fact, with some exercise under their belts they will show up to work fresh faced and ready for the day’s work ahead. Studies show that exercise improves mental health, focus, awareness and even time management. Why not also encourage staff to get fit together – it can help build a sense of camaraderie.
Can you protect your business from departing employees?
It’s a common fear among business owners: what happens if my senior manager leaves and takes my clients or intellectual property?
It could be very damaging. A restrictive covenant is a contractual clause that may go some way to control this risk. However, care must be taken. They are only enforceable if they meet certain tests.
First, they must be protecting a legitimate interest – misuse of confidential information is one example. They must also be reasonable (for instance the timespan they’re applicable for), judged as at the time they were entered into. And they must be no wider than necessary: a blanket ban is likely to be unenforceable.
Contractual wording of restrictive covenants must be carefully crafted. We can help you draft your contracts and handbooks so they stand up to scrutiny.
Preparing for the summer holidays
It may not feel like it with the weather we’ve had in recent weeks, but the summer holidays are not far around the corner. Are you ready? We’re not talking about sun screen and snorkels. No, we mean ensuring you have a robust holiday management system. Mismanagement of staff holiday time can cause service gaps, employee disputes and poor morale. Not to mention the time drain for you. If you’re fed up with holiday slips and spreadsheets, then check out our HR Toolkit. It’s an all-in-one software package that handles tasks like holiday management very cleverly.