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People Matter September 2018

What to do when your staff go AWOL

You breathe a sigh of relief; it’s September and the holiday season stress is over. Time now to crack on with all those projects. And then you discover a key member of staff has not returned from their “trip of a lifetime”.

It may not be possible to accurately record your initial reaction here. But safe to say words like “murder” probably spring from your lips.

However, as we always advise: look for the simple explanation first. Were the flights delayed by strikes or weather? Have they been taken seriously ill? Or maybe simply overslept?

Only after making every effort to make contact by telephone, text and email is it reasonable to assume they are not coming back. If they live nearby, you could even try calling at their house or contacting next of kin before reaching this conclusion. But once all avenues have been exhausted, you can start to resolve this problem of unauthorised absence.

When there is less than one year’s service and no known disability, then it should be relatively straightforward because there is less risk of a claim for unfair dismissal. But for longer serving employees, do make sure you follow the correct process.

As we always stress, keep a record of everything you’ve done to prove you have taken all reasonable steps to make contact. This means sending a registered or tracked letter, so you know who received it. The letter should state that you would like them to contact you so that you can establish if they have resigned. It should also explain that if they continue to be absent without contacting you, then you’ll have no option but to take steps to terminate their employment.

Unauthorised absence is a fair reason for dismissal but does not negate the responsibility to follow fair procedures. And as dismissal only becomes effective when it is received, it’s worth trying to contact them in as many ways as possible.

Do remember that whilst they remain an employee they continue to accrue continuous service and holiday rights. So to make sure you have help managing these situations, do call us.


The value of supporting mental health

We all have mental health. And, like physical health, it fluctuates. Now summer and its holidays are finished, some of your team may be adversely affected. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) may come into play too.

A recent Mental Health Foundation survey found that a third of people are dissatisfied with the amount of time they spend at work. Moreover, a quarter of people working long hours feel depressed, a third feel anxious and more than half get grumpy. But who says the workplace has to be associated with bad mental health?

There’s real value in incorporating good mental health into your company culture – in terms of productivity as well as wellbeing. So how do you achieve such a culture? It will vary, but it could mean reviewing operations to ensure they consider mental health and protect or improve it where possible, why not put in place an Employee Assistance Programme? You would be surprised how little it costs! Talk to us if you want to get started.


What’s in a name?

What do your job titles say about your business? Traditionally, they might describe what someone does and their seniority. But has this become too restrictive or unappealing today?

Microsoft recruited a “chief storyteller” – responsible for changing the perception of Microsoft through stories. Google has an “in-house philosopher” who solves engineering problems through a humanistic perspective. And many techies seem to prefer being called “networking ninja” or “C# Sherpa” rather than good old fashioned “developer”.

This may be useful if it’s giving employees a feel-good factor, or conveys your company culture. And sometimes customer-facing roles may require more nuanced names – sales staff may be better presented as “customer services” for example.

Can inventive naming go too far though? Of course it can! We’ve seen people professionally described as a “shredded cheese authority”, an “executive sensei” and even a “teen exorcist”.


Is auto-enrolment on it’s way?

We are going to say the dreaded P word: Pensions!

Earlier in the year, the government announced an intention to introduce auto-enrolment pensions from the year 2022. It would sit alongside the current state pension and address the low numbers of private sector workers without pension provision.

Last month, they provided some detail which is now up for consultation until November.

So what are they initially proposing? Employed people earning in excess of €20,000 and aged between 23 and 60 would be enrolled into a defined contribution pension scheme automatically. Staff that don’t qualify for auto-enrolment could still opt in.

Employees and employers would both start by contributing 1% of salary. This would rise by 1% annually for six years, eventually leading to 12% contributions. Contributions would only relate to the first €75,000 of salary.

As an extra boost for the employee, the government would add €1 for every €3 contributed. Their pension pot will move around with them by default when they change employers.

So what would it mean for employers? If you don’t currently provide a pension scheme it’ll mean big changes. There will obviously be the cost of making the employer contributions. But there will also be a new regulatory burden. When an auto-enrolment scheme was launched in the UK several years ago, a framework was established for launching schemes based on company size. Financial penalties were levied for non-compliance.

Even if you already offer a company pension scheme, you may still have to make some changes to ensure compliance.

Nothing is set in stone yet though. We’ll keep you posted.


Record employment, but do they all have contracts?

Unemployment is at a record low. New figures for the second quarter of 2018 show that 2,255,000 are employed. This breaks the previous 2007 record of 2,237,000.

That’s terrific, but do all these new jobs come with proper employment contracts? The rise of the gig economy has seen the lines of employment status blurred. Legislation is coming that will crack down on this, so it has never been more important to have properly worded contracts in place. These will protect both you as a business owner and the people who work for you.

An employment contract clearly defines the role, employment status, salary and contractual benefits. This underpins all HR management that follows. We can professionally review or write employment contracts that are fit for purpose. So if you need help in this area, get in touch. Be aware also of the “bogus self employed”, if you have contractors who only work for you, they could be classed as employees and entitled to back holiday and public holiday pay for example.


Fair Procedures

A sure-fire way to lose your case at the Workplace Relations Commission is to fail to follow fair procedures when dismissing someone. The legal position is that the dismissal will be unfair if you’ve been procedurally unfair. It may seem a burden, particularly if you’ve had the stress of dealing with someone who’s not working out at your business. But these are the kind of things you need to be doing (and recording) to demonstrate that a fair procedure was followed: Disciplinary meetings, investigations made, disciplinary hearings held, appeals made. For advice and support when you think a disciplinary is required, call us.


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