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VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter October 2018

The 2019 Budget

The 2019 Budget was the hot topic in early October. It’s a key opportunity for the government to announce policy, and often this will affect employers. This month, it was no different. So let’s take a look at what’s changing.

One of the most important topics covered was the imminent changes to PAYE compliance. The Budget reminded us that in January 2019, real-time reporting of PAYE activity known as PAYE Modernisation will become mandatory.

It’s essential to be preparing for this now. Please refer to our separate article in this newsletter. Bear in mind also that there are some income tax and USC rates changes that may affect your employees, which roughly translate into minor tax cuts.

Employers’ PRSI rates are another payroll change happening on 1 January 2019. Classes A and H rates will increase by 0.1%, and then again by a further 0.1% in 2020. And the weekly income threshold for the higher rate of employer’s PRSI is going up to €386 (from €376).

November 2019 will see the launch of Ireland’s new paid parental leave scheme. It will give an extra two weeks of leave to every parent in a child’s first year. While we’re on the subject of statutory pay, it was reconfirmed that the National Minimum Wage was rising in January 2019 to €9.80.

Finally, there was some fanfare around certain employee benefit tax provisions. The first – concerning the Key Employee Engagement Programme – turned out to be horribly disappointing.

This scheme, known as KEEP for short, had been brought in on 1 January 2018 to help unquoted SMEs attract and keep key staff. This tax-advantaged share option scheme was previously thought to be too restrictive and had had a zero percent take-up. This budget was an opportunity to address this. It has actually become even more restrictive, so we will see where that leaves it in due course.

To end on some good news, the special 0% BIK rate for electric vehicles under €50K will be extended for another three years. Great for the environment and green-minded employers.

 


Tales from the HR Crypt

‘tis the month of Halloween so to send a shiver down your spine we thought we’d serve up horror stories about nightmare colleagues.

Beware the next time an employee goes on a long-haul holiday. One person described on social media how their co-worker took a month’s leave, and while they were gone a spider infestation broke out in their desk drawers.

If that’s too creepy crawly for you, how about the person who accidentally pepper sprayed their entire office. Described as “weird in an office where 50% of staff were weirdos”, this individual took an electric slow cooker into his work cubicle to make a stew for lunch. As you do. When he removed the lid it decimated the workforce with coughing fits and watering eyes as he’d been cooking a piece of chicken in a confection of hot chilli sauces.

Stay safe this Halloween, and if you find yourself in your own HR horror story, let us know!

 


Protecting against Brexit

As Brexit looms, the government announced measures in the Budget to protect the economy from the fallout. Most interesting of these to SME businesses concerns the Brexit Loan Scheme. This sets aside €300 million worth of lending for qualifying businesses, in particular those in the food and agriculture sector and SMEs.

There is an application process to go through to get a loan on favourable terms. The money must be used to provide future working capital for the funding of innovation, or altering business operations to protect against the impact of Brexit.

Other measures relating to Brexit include extra money for the PEACE programme; €110 million to bolster government departments, for instance for new customs requirements; and a €300 million investment in higher education between 2020 and 2024.

 


Further crackdowns on the gig economy

The issue of false self-employment is something that we have advised upon regularly in 2018. This is the practice of classifying someone as self-employed when they are to all intents and purposes employed. The government is legislating on this and the risks to business owners continue to evolve.

Over the summer, it was reported that social welfare inspectors in Dublin carried out more than 1,000 inspections in a single week in order to root out cases of bogus self-employment. Where they identify wrong-doing, they can prosecute.

It is often referred to as the gig economy, and it is not just an Irish problem. In London in September, for example, another risk transpired. UberEATS couriers went on strike bringing traffic in central London to a halt. They are deeply unhappy with their pay structure.

The major concerns with false self-employment follow two lines of argument. First, they erode workers’ rights and their entitlements to state benefits. Holiday pay, rest breaks and protection against unfair dismissal are just some of the rights that may be forfeited. And second, they allow companies who should be paying employers’ PRSI payments of 10.85% to dodge this levy.

In 21st century Ireland, there is certainly a place for flexible working arrangements where they are genuine. But even if you stumble into it, the risks of false self-employment are just as real.

So we would advise you to review your contracts for any workers who cannot be clearly defined as either an employee or a contractor. Talk to us and we can help you get the right classifications for your business needs, whilst staying legally compliant.

 


Social reform

So the Budget shone some more light on the new parental leave being introduced in November 2019. The following is helpful for employers to know.

Beyond learning of the two paid weeks that both parents will be entitled to, be aware that this leave is in addition to current parental leave entitlements – various statutory leaves that are unpaid but may qualify for maternity/paternity benefit.

The statutory pay rate from the State for this new leave is expected to be in line with maternity benefit which is €240 per week. It is non-transferrable, so each parent must use it or lose it.

The current intention is for this new leave to be extended from two to seven weeks over time. Complying with equality law and being family-friendly are major areas of risk and opportunity for SMEs, so for advice and guidance in these areas get in touch.

 


PAYE Day

As we’ve highlighted in our leading Budget article, 1 January 2019 will see the introduction of PAYE Modernisation – the real-time reporting of payroll data to the Revenue. This is a huge change from the current system, where such data is reported annually in your P35.

Worryingly, one survey conducted by a payroll provider found that 40% of small businesses are not at all prepared for this change. With the Revenue feeding the new data it receives into its risk analysis system, it’s thought this will lead to more audits for companies that struggle with compliance. Speak to us if you need to catch up.

 

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: 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.

 

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: 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.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter July 2018

New bill would have big impact on little companies

Have you heard of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 which is working its way through government? Some are referring to it as the ‘Banded Hours Bill’ and it’s a good idea to have it on your radar.

This is because, if it becomes law in its present form, it is going to have a pretty big impact on SMEs. One part of the bill criminalises (with risk of imprisonment) employers who do not provide key employment terms to staff within one month of their starting a role.

Other highlights include its banded hour provision. This says that if an employee routinely works more hours per week than contracted for, they must be recorded within bands of hours which accurately reflect the reality of the normal working week. The intention behind this is to protect employees from being penalised by loss of work if they displease their managers.

The bill also seeks to ban zero-hour contracts in all but a few circumstances and protect vulnerable, low paid workers who are summoned to work but then not provided with tasks to do.

So these new laws are heavily slanted towards offering protection to casual workers. At face value they may be considered a good thing, as they aim to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts.

However, there has been a backlash, particularly from the SME community. There is a strong feeling that it oversteps the mark in telling employers how to run their businesses. And, of course, some casual employees will not consider themselves to be vulnerable. So some of the practices that will be abolished in the name of protection under this bill may actually be freedoms that suit them. Recognising the unpopularity, amendments to the initial draft are currently under review.

If the changes come in their current form then there’s no doubt that it will be tough for some SMEs. For help to ensure you follow best practice in hiring casual workers, speak to us about our retained HR advice line.


New laws to tackle the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is a stubborn problem across developed economies. In Ireland it’s reported to stand at 13.9%. Many have called upon government to act, and so the cogs are now turning. The cabinet has given the go-ahead for the General Scheme of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill. This will require organisations to publish gender pay gap data. At first the obligation will just fall on larger employers. But after an initial period it will apply to organisations which employ 50 people or more. So this will affect the SME sector.

In the UK, similar legislation is now in force. The shocking pay disparities it has revealed in some organisations have been all over the national news media. So be aware that this is coming. If you want help addressing your own gender pay gap before the risk of national exposure becomes real, then give us a call.


Shared parental leave

We’ve witnessed shared parental leave elsewhere already. It’s underpinned by principles of workplace and family equality – allowing the second parent to play a greater role in raising a new-born.

An Irish bill has now been put forward and will be debated this autumn. In it the 26 weeks of paid maternity leave available to mothers could be split between parents, even if they work for different employers. It would give more opportunity to mothers to return to work sooner and, for the other parent, more chance for baby bonding. It could have particular appeal, for example, where the mother is the higher earner.

A word of caution: the scheme in the UK has seen low take-up and is considered complicated for employers and parents alike. It has also spawned a number of discrimination test cases – usually defended successfully by employers.


How old is too old to work?

This is a question that crops up time and again. Historically, there has been something of a black and white answer of 65. But two law changes, coupled with demographic shifts that see people live, and stay fit, for longer, have reduced this clarity.

The first law change relates to the rise in state pension age to 66 (and it will rise to 68 by 2028). This breaks some of the logic of mandatory retirement at 65 if the state pension does not kick in until they are older.

The second and more recent law change involves an amendment to the Equality Act which means that you must provide an objective justification for your company’s retirement age.

So, in other words, you can still set a retirement age, but you must have a good reason behind the age you choose. Often there’ll be a perfectly straightforward justification: perhaps on health and safety grounds for drivers at a haulage firm. And other reasons which may be justified include succession planning, establishing a diverse age balance within an organisation, and a desire to treat people with dignity should their capability decline in old age.

The Workplace Relations Committee has recently published a code of practice for longer working which has relevance here. It includes notifying someone 6-12 months before a contractual retirement date so that proper planning can take place. And how employers and employees should approach a request to work beyond a retirement date.

It can be a tricky and emotive area, so if you ever need help managing retirements, be sure to talk with The HR Dept.


Protecting your interns from harassment

Hiring summer interns can be a rewarding experience for company and intern alike. There are challenges, as well as benefits, though. One such challenge is the potential for harassment of these most junior of staff.

The #metoo movement has put perpetrators of harassment in sharp focus. It has also highlighted all-too-common institutional failings in exercising the employer’s duty of care. So what practical steps should you be taking to ensure your interns are protected?

The key activity is training. Make time for this for both permanent staff (including managers) and interns. You should cover respect and the standards of behaviour expected. Some companies ban managers from dating interns. Training should include clear instruction on what harassment is and how to report it. Work parties may be an area of higher risk, particularly if alcohol fuelled. So give extra consideration to interns when planning summer staff socials.


Sabbaticals: Win-win?

Sabbaticals in business are still not common. Whether paid or unpaid, they would apparently disrupt company life and that of the individual. But there’s a growing understanding that, aside from the recharging of batteries which a sabbatical offers an individual, they also provide widespread benefits to the organisations which grant them. These include stress-testing the organisational hierarchy and creating development opportunities for the next level of staff covering the interim roles. Indeed, a study of sabbaticals in the non-profit sector suggested a further benefit: that people who filled interim positions were more responsible and effective once the sabbatical-taker returned.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter June 2018

Workplace bias

Whether we’d care to admit to it or not, we all hold some biases. In the workplace, at their worst, these will lead to overt discrimination, which is, of course, against the law.

But there are many occasions when biases are more insidious. These subtler biases still hold individuals back, but organisations suffer also. Yes, research continues to show that businesses with a diverse workforce and leadership team outperform more closed groups.

For example, a study of Fortune 500 companies in America by Catalyst showed that the companies with the most gender diverse senior management financially outperformed those with the least by 35%.

Some of the more obvious biases may be focused on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. But think about more subtle forms too. For example, the school or university that someone has (or hasn’t) gone to, a postcode, whether someone has an introverted or extraverted personality type, and even individual popularity. The old school tie or rugby club all foster images of favouritism and ‘jobs for the boys’!

Countering bias really needs to come from the top. So make this part of your culture. Key areas to look at include your recruitment, task allocation, appraisals, social events and simple day-to-day interactions.

Blind CVs are one way of ensuring bias is removed from the initial screening of job candidates. This sees all identifiable personal information removed from the CV before it reaches decision makers. So candidates can be judged solely on their professional experience and skills.

During appraisals, look at the tools with which you review people. Could they facilitate unfair prejudices? And more generally, reflect on the way colleagues interact. Not necessarily an easy task!

And what about the benefits? How does improved financial performance result?

For starters, eliminating unconscious bias from your recruitment strategy could significantly widen your talent pool from which you hire. And that should lead to having better people in your business. That’s about capability, but you’ll also mitigate the risk of group-think where likeminded people make poor decisions which go unchallenged. Remember the banking crash? Group think in action! Sometimes its good to have a questioning colleague.

A further benefit is that if your workforce reflects wider society, you’ll probably appeal to a wider market.

Well worth some attention, we’re sure you’ll agree.


How weird are your workplace rules?

Do you prohibit popcorn, ban beards or forbid a favourite cup of tea? These are just some of the strange workplace rules that have been enforced in businesses in Ireland and further afield. Others include requiring underwear to be worn but not to be visible, and a blanket ban on conversation unless in the break room.

According to a survey by a recruitment firm, one third of Irish employees considered that they’d been subjected to strange rules.

While we can spare a chuckle for some of these mandates, poorly conceived rules can be damaging to a business. At best they may encourage employee churn, and at worst they could lead to a discrimination or constructive dismissal claim. Of course, there are many justifiable rules which are essential to running a productive business. If you don’t think you have the balance right, speak to us for a policy review.


Holiday management

Holidays… they’re meant to be fun, relaxing, a time of the year to look forward to. So why do they have to be so stressful to organise?

Your staff may be wrestling with school-holiday price jumps, inconvenient (but cheaper) mid-week flights or last-minute deals. And their pressures may transfer to you in the guise of a short-notice holiday request, conflicting bookings and the need to handle frequent questions about holiday entitlement.

Having a clear written holiday policy and communicating it to staff gives you the framework to manage these issues and should be considered a bare minimum.

Looking at advanced solutions for SMEs, our HR Dept Toolkit software is the smart choice. It allows employees to self-manage holiday entitlement, taking much of the headache away from you. For a free demonstration, get in touch.


Bullying in the workplace

When it occurs, workplace bullying is a terrible blight on an organisation, and especially, of course, on the victims. It is a health and safety risk because it can degrade mental and physical health. Bullying can lead to employees dreading work, drops in performance and long-term absence.

For a business, it can cause poor morale, reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, higher staff turnover and reputational damage.

If bullying occurs and you do not manage the fall out effectively, it can also lead to a large legal and compensation bill as a recent case at the High Court demonstrates.

The company, An Post, was ordered to pay out a substantial award after failing to address prolonged bullying.

 

Following an innocuous request to a colleague, an employee was responded to aggressively and felt physically threatened. Extremely shaken, she reported what happened to her manager and was subsequently absent from work for three weeks. The perpetrator was suspended and eventually dismissed.

On her return to work, the employee was ostracised by other colleagues and subjected to daily, petty bullying. Management responded weakly, advising her to ride the trouble out. She suffered physical and mental health problems and, in the end, lost her job.

For their weak response, the company was found to have failed in their duty of care for an employee. They were ordered to pay damages, loss of earnings, interest and special damages totalling €161,000.

This case shows, on every level, why you should have robust anti-bullying policies in place and take any accusations seriously. If you need help drafting policies or handling a case, contact us as soon as possible. Training your management team and supervisors is the first step you should take and we at the HR Dept, run these courses on a regular basis for our clients.


Could you win during the world cup?

The bookies have Brazil, Germany and Spain as the favourites for this summer’s world cup. But could your business be a winner too, indirectly?

Many people will be looking forward to watching their favourite team in action. And with games coming thick and fast on weekdays and weekends, most businesses will have staff who would appreciate flexibility so they can catch a match.

Your options for facilitating this will depend on your circumstances. But ideas to consider include showing the game onsite; allowing employees to follow matches on personal devices; and permitting flexible working. Facilitating a big match and watching it together on-site can be a team boost for your employees.

Research suggests that the distraction of major sporting events can become a management problem for about one in four businesses, with issues like reduced productivity and unauthorised absence. But by taking a proactive approach you can prevent this own goal and actually boost employee engagement, goodwill and therefore productivity.


Dogs at work

A cute canine will bring a smile to most people’s faces. So if you haven’t considered letting your employees bring their furry friends to work, perhaps now’s the time.

No, we haven’t gone barking mad! It’s ‘Bring Your Dog To Work Day’ on 23 June – so why not give it a go? Research shows that enrolling a four-legged friend can reduce stress, strengthen relationships and make the office a happier place. It might even help you attract top talent.

Do bear in mind that some may have a phobia or allergies, so check your whole team are wagging their tails at the idea.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter May 2018

GDP(H)R

It’s almost here. Not the fabled Irish summer, but the equally fabled GDPR. As you probably know, that’s the new General Data Protection Regulation. It comes into force on 25 May.

It’s something to take seriously as has been demonstrated by the flurry of opt-in emails that we have all been receiving in our inboxes. They relate to marketing, but GDPR is far broader. It includes the employee data you handle.

Think about it from recruitment to termination of employment; you’ll have contact details, bank info, PPS numbers, possibly medical information, performance records and if applicable a disciplinary and grievance history. That is all highly sensitive stuff.

You’ll need to inform individuals how you intend to use and store this information. And for some things this will require explicit consent. You’ll also need to train all employees in GDPR compliance – as they say, any system is only as strong as its weakest link. The penalties for non-compliance are ferocious.

Retained HR Dept clients needn’t worry about gaining GDPR-compliant consent from employees. We’ll make the necessary changes to your HR documentation. So you’ll have what you need to implement that.

There’ll be further actions you need to take as part of your wider GDPR compliance though.

You should audit all the data that you currently hold. Be thorough and honest with yourself… that box of old files in the warehouse still counts! GDPR covers all electronic and paper records where an individual can be identified.

Now you can create an audit trail of personal data and identify more sensitive information. If you do not use it already, My HR Toolkit is a fantastic software solution for handling employee data.

Once your data is audited and you have new systems in place, don’t forget to train up your staff. We can help with staff training too. To find out more about this, or My HR Toolkit, give us a call.

So now you’re well on your way to compliance, you can sit back and watch out for the next instalment of GDPR… which will probably be “Who’s the first test case?”. You know it won’t be you!


How SMEs can compete in the fight for talent

Do you ever wonder how you can possibly compete with the salaries and perks that giant companies like Facebook offer.

Don’t despair! SMEs have their own attractions. A 2017 survey showed that career progression and development tended to be more important to employees than working for a big brand.

So how can you make the most of this? Look at your organisational structure – it’s probably far flatter than large corporates. If you are growing, this offers a clear career path.

And giving new recruits exposure to senior leadership is a big selling point – ambitious candidates will see the mentoring as a professional development win. Meanwhile, you benefit from efficiently integrating employees. Getting experienced staff involved in training can be cost-effective, and also look at tailoring training to cover key skills gaps.

Just make sure your managers are up to scratch – they may be the biggest factor in your employee retention.

 


Hay fever and asthma in the workplace

While for many the smell of freshly cut grass and flowers in full blossom are a delight, for about one million Irish people they can cause misery. The extra spring/summer pollens encourage allergic reactions leading to sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes. Sufferers are sure to appreciate a boss who’s sympathetic. Actions like permitting them to sit away from open windows and ensuring premises are regularly cleaned will help.

Asthma has some overlap with hay fever, although it’s generally much more severe. An employee doesn’t have to inform you that they’re asthmatic. But it would be hoped they’d want to, and that you could collaborate to ensure a healthy environment. This may include identifying triggers and mitigating them, ensuring first aiders are aware and handling sickness absence correctly.


Family business

There’s a rich heritage of family businesses in Ireland. In fact, figures from the Central Statistics Office show that seven out of ten Irish-owned services businesses are family firms.

Typically, family businesses may enjoy a number of benefits. Many people consider a family business as more authentic and trustworthy, giving it a competitive advantage.

Family businesses may also benefit from having a long-term outlook, as one generation acts as custodian for the next. And there is even a concept known as “survivability capital” which describes such firms’ heightened resilience during difficult times.

But family businesses face extra challenges too. And many of these have an HR slant.

For instance, recruiting and retaining talent from outside the family. Will candidates be put off by the dynamics within the business? Maybe they cannot see a satisfactory career path because key roles appear reserved for family members.

Longer term, succession planning could be more complicated. Will there be a family dispute over who gets to be the next head honcho? What if the best candidate was an outsider?

There might be remuneration challenges. With share ownership often tied up within the family, the business may have to pay above the market rate on salaries and bonuses to compensate talented employees for having no prospects of share ownership.

If the culture is wrong, accusations of nepotism or favouritism may occur. Also, serious family disputes unrelated to the business could have big consequences. What effect could a messy divorce have, for example?

All these challenges can be helped with robust HR. So if you recognise any of these problems, give us a call.


Sacked after a miscarriage

A labour court has ordered a chicken processing firm to pay €17,000 after it unfairly dismissed an employee for prolonged sickness absence. The woman had recently suffered a miscarriage. The court rejected claims that the firm was unaware of this. Apologies and the offer for the woman to reapply for her job certainly did not justify the actions taken.

Protection from pregnancy-related discrimination is provided in Ireland by the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, maternity protection and unfair dismissals legislation. Therefore this outcome is not surprising.

Women who suffer a miscarriage are likely to need time off to recover both physically and emotionally. Partners may require compassionate leave too, either for themselves or so they can provide care during this difficult time.

For help and advice on staying the right side of equality legislation, contact The HR Dept.


Gender discrimination: A man’s case

Most gender discrimination affects female victims. But an Austrian case highlighted that men can suffer too. A male employee at the transport ministry sued after being passed over for promotion in favour of a woman. The court agreed that there was a discernible pattern of preferential treatment towards the woman, and awarded more than €300,000. The transport ministry had argued they’d followed all legal processes and the final decision reflected the huge under-representation of women. Of course, such judgments mustn’t cause employers to question the promotion of women. But equal opportunity must be extended to all.