Employment Bill goes live
It’s been the talk of the town in business circles for months. But now it’s time for a little less conversation and more action. The Employment Bill, which puts extra obligations on employers to protect employees in precarious working arrangements, went live on 4 March.
There are five headline changes.
Employment terms – the five in five: You must issue five core employment terms within five days of employment starting. These are: full name of employer and employee, employer address, the expected standard working day and week, the expected length of contract and the rate of pay. This does not replace the need to provide full employment terms within two months of employment commencing.
Banded-hours contracts – an employee’s right to request: If, over 12 months, an employee regularly works different hours from those for which they’re contracted; they have the right on written request to be given a banded-hours contract which reflects their weekly working pattern. You must action it within four weeks, looking at the average number of hours per week worked over the previous 12 months. Your employee is entitled to work weekly hours which fall within their band for the next 12 months. In some circumstances you may be able to refuse the request.
Minimum payments – your liability for 25%: Now, when employees are not given work (either not called in, or show up and are sent home), or are forced to work less than 25% of their contracted weekly hours; you must pay them for a minimum of 25% of their weekly contracted hours.
Zero-hour contracts – no more: Zero-hour contracts are now all but prohibited. Genuine casual working relationships (where there is no mutuality of obligation and the employee can refuse work with no consequence) can continue. Temporary measures and emergencies are other exceptions.
Anti-penalisation measures – guaranteeing the above rights: These measures will protect employees from detrimental treatment if they invoke any rights under the Employment Bill.
If you haven’t done so already, we’d advise reviewing contracts for zero-hours relationships, checking that contracted working hours reflect reality and revising your hiring procedures to comply with providing the five core terms. Need help getting to grips with the Employment Bill? Contact your local HR Dept adviser.
Employed or self-employed?
What a difference a word makes. In legal speak, an employment contract is referred to as a “contract of services”, while a “contract for services” describes duties performed on a self-employed basis.
Right now, with so much focus on false self-employment, getting those small words “of” and “for” right has never been so important. It’s normally easy to determine whether someone is employed or self-employed based on the terms and conditions of the job. But there will be some occasions when it’s more difficult.
The key question to ask is: “Do they work as a person in business on their own account?”. If the answer’s “yes”, that suggests self-employment. Strong indications that they are employed are that you control how, when and where the work is performed; that they cannot sub-contract their duties; and that they are not exposed to personal financial risk in doing the job. If it’s a grey area for your business, get in touch for a review.
Spring clean your documents
March marks the start of spring. The first quarter of the year is nearly done and it’s the season when many get their house in order with a spring clean. What better time to review your employment contracts and handbooks, making sure they’re up to date? Especially in light of the requirements of the new Employment Bill.
These documents underpin your whole employment relationship with your staff. They describe what rights they have, what rules they must follow and what happens if they breach them.
Law changes will normally mean some updates are required each year. For our advice line + clients, we’ll automatically update yours as part of our service. But your business and its culture will evolve too, maybe your dress code for instance. When was the last time you considered how your culture is reflected in your contracts and handbook? Get in touch if you want to discuss.
Does your dress code discriminate?
You arrive at work and find your receptionist wearing running trainers instead of his usual smart shoes. With two clients already in the waiting area you don’t want to make a scene, but you’re not happy.
It’s good you didn’t blow your top though, as it’s always wise to check for a simple explanation. And here, your receptionist sprained his ankle earlier. It was either wear the trainers or go home incapacitated, leaving you in the lurch.
But if it was just standards slipping, then it’s a dress code policy that gives you the framework to deal with it appropriately.
A dress code helps you maintain a certain image for your business. It can include personal grooming and there may well be health and safety considerations as well. But if not devised and implemented well, a dress code can give rise to discrimination and then tribunal cases or mockery in the national press.
The general rule is that you’re free to set your own dress code as long as it’s justifiable for a business or health and safety reason. But you should be careful of anything that imposes a requirement on an employee which encroaches a protected characteristic under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 – for example sex (man, woman or transgender person) or religion.
That’s not to say there cannot be any divergence of dress code for, say, men and women. A ban on beards may be justifiable for men if, for example, facial hair interferes with a safety mask. And in customer facing roles, you may be able to justify a degree of gender-defined requirements based on cultural expectations.
But be warned, the more subjective your policy, the more at risk you are to a discrimination claim and/or bad publicity. Blunders abound. For example, makeup and high heels are two areas to be particularly wary of – it’s hard to justify either for any reason. Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic have just removed their makeup requirements for female flight attendants, and PwC was caught up in a high-heels media storm in the UK a year or two ago.
There are rarer issues to contend with too. Like how to manage a transgender employee’s appearance. Or where a policy discriminates indirectly, say on religious grounds.
With #InternationalWomensDay having recently passed, sexism in the workplace is a trending topic. Whether it’s because of sexism, a sex change or something else, don’t get caught with your trousers down! Ask us for a review to ensure it does not discriminate.
Passwords on post-it notes
We’re all familiar with difficulties in staying secure online: a seemingly endless list of passwords to create, and security questions asking you to recall your first pet’s favourite brand of food or whatnot.
This probably blights your personal life, but is it a problem in your business too? A survey by Datapac, a tech solutions provider, found that about 20% of workers kept their work password on a Post-it note. And nearly half use no more than three passwords across all their accounts. Remember, under GDPR, if you experience a data breach now the disclosure rules are far more stringent than they used to be, as are the penalties.
Nearly a year after the GDPR regulations came into force, more than four out of ten workers claimed not to have undergone any GDPR training. Is it time to make sure your team are cyber aware?
Clocks spring forward
At long last, the clocks go forward on 31 March! So we can all start to enjoy longer evenings, brighter mornings and an extra spring in our steps as we approach summer. The downside of the spring clock change is that we lose an hour of sleep over the weekend. But hey: short-term pain, long-term gain!
To reduce the likelihood of employees rolling in an hour late on the next working day, be sure to remind your team of the switch to Irish Standard Time – particularly if you have staff working on Sunday mornings.
Is mental health deteriorating
in your workplace?
A survey by The Mental Health Foundation has revealed some unpalatable truths about the state of our collective mental health in relation to the workplace.
Too numerous to list in their entirety, highlights, or rather lowlights, include that one in three respondents feels unhappy about the amount of time they devote to work. About two thirds of employees’ personal lives are adversely affected by work. And that as someone’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness.
Ireland is nearing full-employment. Great for the economy, but against the backdrop of these findings, that is a lot of pressure being put on the population’s mental health. It certainly suggests that the ability to manage mental health in the workplace is both an opportunity and a threat.
There are actions that individuals can take to aid their own good mental health, but it’s recognised that organisations have an important role to play as well. And, as an employer, it is in your interests to do so too. Long before a crisis point is reached in someone’s mental health, productivity is likely to have taken a hit.
How can you begin to address mental ill health in the workplace? There is not necessarily an easy answer to this, and you’ll need to have some cultural buy-in. Few people in managerial or leadership positions have had significant training in mental health and so find dealing with the subject uncomfortable. If this is the case in your organisation, then some training among management could be a good first step.
It may seem a side-issue when you are trying to deal with “business as usual”. But if, equipped with new skills, you or your managers start responding to employees in more flexible and compassionate ways, tangible benefits will likely follow. Things like staff turnover, burnout and absenteeism decreasing while productivity, physical and mental well-being and job satisfaction rise.
Managerial training is just one place to start, and in practice you’ll find there are many different approaches you can take. Talk to your local HR Dept to get started.
The Employment Bill
The Employment Bill comes into effect at the start of March, designed to shore up employment rights. It’s essential to get up to speed with it, as the new rules are enforced with stiff penalties.
Key measures include mandatory provision of employment terms within five days of starting work; minimum payments for employees called in to work but sent home without work; the near outlawing of zero-hours contracts; provisions which grant employees the right to be placed in a “band of hours” which reflect actual hours worked not contracted hours. And anti-penalisation measures to help employees claim all these rights.
The spy who hired me?
From time-cards to internet monitoring, the idea of companies keeping some sort of tabs on employee activity is nothing new.
But with technology affording ever more opportunity to collect, store and analyse data, how much monitoring is too much?
Sky News staff were reportedly shocked to hear that cameras and microphones were being installed in their newsroom to livestream and broadcast activity for a day. Separately, it was reported that Amazon has patented goggles with direction and movement sensors which raised concerns about surveillance.
The key principles underpinning employee monitoring are that it must be justifiable and that you have a written policy. You should inform employees beforehand of what you record and why, and how long it will be kept. It is not acceptable to collect information for one reason and then use it for another. As with all data it must be stored securely.
Beware age discrimination dismissals
We don’t have a single retirement age in Ireland. It’s normally something detailed in employment contracts.
But beware! Equality legislation protects people from age discrimination. You can set a mandatory retirement age, as long as it’s objectively justified.
A law firm has just discovered the consequences of committing age discrimination. They were taken to a workplace relations commission after dismissing a legal secretary with 40 years’ service after she turned 67.
The law firm argued that recently she’d under-performed, but that out of respect they’d not raised this. And no mention of poor performance was made in the dismissal letter.
On the evidence presented, the adjudication officer ruled age was the main reason for dismissal. The woman was awarded nearly €26,000.
Of course, people cannot go on for ever, so the key words here are “objectively justifiable” when dismissing older workers. If performance has dropped, you’ll need to have those difficult conversations and document them before initiating a dismissal. If in any doubt, call us, as getting it wrong is expensive.
Who owns your culture?
We think that nurturing a positive company culture is a great approach to building a successful organisation. A way in which HR can be used to drive your business forward.
But wait a minute, who owns the culture? And who is responsible for it? In most cases, it will be led from the top. But thriving company cultures are embraced by everyone in an organisation. Cultures become self-sustaining when people feel they own it. Employees who cherish your culture will want to stand up for it and share it with others. From there your culture grows and often your business with it.
When a positive culture is clearly defined, it can power your business in so many ways. From improved recruitment and retention to reduced absenteeism and ultimately better productivity. If you’d like a review of your culture, get in touch with your local HR Dept.
One in five women
sexually harassed at work
A new survey has re-emphasised the scale of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. 21% of women have suffered sexual harassment, while 50% said they had experienced some form of discrimination such as pay inequality. The survey, carried out by a recruitment firm, questioned more than 1,000 Irish workers.
It’s a problem that’s impossible to ignore. All employers have a duty of care to stamp it out or ensure it does not occur within their organisations. Failure to do so not only lets down the victims, but it can also damage your business – through contributing to a toxic culture and possibly landing you in the dock at a workplace relations commission tribunal. From there you could be liable for heavy financial penalties and reputational damage.
Sexual harassment can describe a wide range of unwanted conduct, be that physical, verbal or non-verbal. It is designed to, or has the effect of, violating someone’s dignity or creating a hostile, degrading or offensive environment for them. Even a one-off occurrence should be taken seriously.
A robust response to any complaint is important, following your disciplinary and grievance procedures. But as with so many things, prevention is better than cure. So consider your company culture. Make it crystal clear that sexual harassment is unacceptable in your organisation, and that any instances of it will be subject to your disciplinary policy. Where appropriate, you could draft a specific anti-harassment policy or implement some staff training.
For support in dealing with a case of sexual harassment or help with your culture, get in touch.
Five New Year’s resolutions
from The HR Dept
When you’re planning 2019 for your business, be sure to include some proactive HR measures to help you get more from your team. We share HR tips and advice every week in our blog. Here are some recent ideas that would make top HR New Year’s resolutions.
One. Address that underperforming employee. It’s easy to put off, but underperformance is a major drag, impacting any or all of service delivery, morale, profits and opportunity-cost.
When doing this, spend a bit of time observing your team to ensure you’ve identified the real under-performers – it’s not necessarily obvious. Always-late Aisling might have a stretched home life but be super productive at work, while Helpful Henry often volunteers a tea round but isn’t doing much else!
Two. Look into new learning and development opportunities. Continuous learning is a key to success and helps engage staff. It doesn’t have to be formal training. How about some monthly in-house knowledge-sharing sessions, led by different team members?
Or if you do want something more formal, ask us about our range of training courses designed to take your team to the next level – from leadership and people management to interviewing and recruitment.
Three. Check your contracts and employment statuses. The rise of the gig economy has led to many people being wrongly classified as self-employed. They’re taking their companies to court to claim the employment rights they’ve been denied. It’s something we advise on regularly and in time will be addressed in legislation.
Four. Carry out a risk assessment. Every business is legally required to have done this and keep a written record, but risks change over time. So why not ensure you’re still on top of health and safety in 2019? If you need help identifying hazards, determining the level of risk or putting controls in place to manage them, talk to our experts.
Five. Plan an enjoyable activity or team-building day. It’s important to have some fun along the way, and now’s a great time to give your team something to look forward to, lifting spirits in deepest, darkest January.
SMEs cautious in 2019
Several headwinds have created a cautious mood among small businesses this year. That’s according to the Small Firms Association (SFA), which publishes an annual survey examining the sentiment of businesses with less than 50 employees in Ireland. Last year the mood was cautiously optimistic.
Brexit, difficulties in attracting staff and the rising cost of doing business are cited as causing this drag on sentiment. Even so, two in every three companies are planning to recruit and invest in their business this year.
Staff often represent both the biggest cost and the main strength of a company. So it’s natural that managing them will also be one of the biggest causes of worry. Increasing your HR support can provide peace of mind. And, at a time when caution reigns, help you get recruitment, people management, payroll and everything else that goes with running a successful team spot on.
Making a good first impression
“Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail” is a maxim that’s often given to interviewees. But it can equally apply to the interviewer if you are to make a good impression yourself. To do this, your questions should be considered in advance. There’s an obvious need to avoid subjects that could breach equality law, such as pregnancy. And it’s also wise to steer clear of contentious topics like politics, or pressing for answers too vehemently.
Think about the time and place of the interview, making sure they are reasonable and set the right tone for your company. Some people like to stage interviews in the informal setting of a café or restaurant. If you opt for this, ensure it’s not a place where you or your interviewee could be interrupted by acquaintances. For help upping your interview game, talk to your local HR Dept.
Budget changes go live
On 1 January some of the changes announced in October’s budget came into effect. Here’s a rundown of those which affect employers.
One of the changes with the widest impact concerns employers’ PRSI rates. The weekly threshold for the higher rate is now €386 (previously €376). And Classes A and H of PRSI rates have risen by 0.1%. This is to fund increases in the National Training Fund Levy. Bear in mind too that there will be a further increase of 0.1% to these rates next January.
Also significant, if you employ low-earning staff, is the increase to the National Minimum Wage. This has gone up from €9.55 to €9.80 per hour.
And perhaps the biggest change of all this month is the implementation of PAYE Modernisation. From 1 January, you should be reporting your payroll data in real-time to the Revenue. Previously this was done on an annual basis via the P35. It’s a major change and the indications over the last few months were that many SMEs would not be ready for it. If you are behind on this, it’s our understanding that it could put you more at risk for a full Revenue audit, so catch up quick.
If you need help adjusting to these budget changes get in touch with your local HR Dept. Our payroll solutions will help you get up to speed. Further budget changes, like new parental leave entitlements, will come into effect later in the year. Rest assured that we will keep you up to date so that you stay compliant.
Sacked too soon
When disciplining an employee, it’s vital you follow the right steps. Even if you feel you’re on firm ground, a procedural error could cost you dearly in a labour court.
Last October, a man was awarded €29,000 after being sacked (for theft) as an airline security worker. He’d taken a €5 magazine from a bin. The court found that other sanctions should have been considered and his dismissal was disproportionate when length of service, track record and the value of the magazine were considered.
This January, a woman was awarded €4,000 after she’d been dismissed from a supermarket chain for leaving work with a bottle of wine which hadn’t been paid for. Regardless of what happened with the wine, the court found the dismissal tainted with procedural unfairness. This was because, during the investigation and disciplinary process, the woman hadn’t been supplied with the honesty or staff purchase policies she was accused of breaching.
Don’t make the same mistakes. If in doubt, talk to us.
The weather’s generally rubbish, the days are short, and many people are broke and on diets after Christmas. It’s not surprising January supposedly features the most depressing day of the year. How does all this affect your team each January?
If productivity takes a dive or the atmosphere sours, showing a little awareness and taking a couple of proactive steps could work wonders. Think what will work for your team, of course. But for many people, encouraging achievable exercise goals – like a daily step challenge, for example – and simply getting some fresh air and daylight at lunchtime could be a great start.
Ok, so you’re navigating the seasonal rush (or lull!), you’ve survived the Christmas party, and then Tom asks if he can carry over two weeks of holiday. You’ve got big plans for 2019 – do you really want to be losing a team-member for that extra time if you can help it?
First, if your holiday year ends in December, why has no one made sure Tom and the others have taken their holiday entitlement?
Managing holiday requests so that the business runs smoothly is important, and you might want to look at HR Dept Toolkit for next year. HR Dept Toolkit is software for managing holiday requests and other HR admin simply and effectively.
By law, full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 20 days of holiday annually. On top of this, there are nine public holidays. And then you as an employer may choose to offer a more generous holiday allowance.
Dealing with the statutory 20 days first, the intention behind these is that everyone requires this for their health and well-being – so it would be sensible for them to be used within the holiday year. However, with an employee’s consent they can be carried over to be used within six months of the end of the leave year.
Sickness absence could affect holiday rights. Entitlement still accrues when people are off on sick leave – apparently they need more time away from work! If sickness absence prevents them from taking holiday during the leave year or the six-month extension, employees are entitled to an extended carry-over period of 15 months beyond the leave year. We know what you are thinking!
Thankfully, after that, holiday entitlement rules above the 20 days get simpler, and you make them. So you’re in control. Public holidays are on prescribed dates within the year so are what they are. And if you offer more generous holiday allowance, the rules should be detailed in your employment contracts.
With holiday bookings at their peak in January, contact us for a demo of HR Dept Toolkit to make managing next year’s requests simple.
The benefits of embracing flexible working
A survey by an Irish recruitment firm throws light on the hidden costs of staff lateness. Beyond the lost time and potential customer service gaps, it often damages team morale. Nearly half of workers (46%) said they felt resentful towards a colleague who is consistently late for work.
Interestingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey also found that those who work a standard nine to five were the least punctual. About half (47%) said they had been late in the previous year.
With 59% of tardiness attributed to bad traffic, could this be another reason to adopt flexible working, if it fits with your business? Non-standard hours or home working could eliminate the stress of rush hour traffic and therefore help to harmonise a divided workforce.
Despite it being a desirable perk to many workers, only 10% of Irish SMEs currently offer flexible working (according to a survey by Vodaphone). So it’s an interesting way to differentiate your business – and attract and retain top talent.
A modest seasonal bonus could be worth its weight in gold to your employees as they look to have a merry Christmas. But it could be worth many more times its weight in gold to you as the employer.
January is a prime time when people look for new job opportunities. But, in the UK, a survey from an employee benefits company found that nearly half of employees who received a Christmas bonus or gift recently would not look for a new job. And about the same amount would not accept a job offer if they received one.
With the cost of recruitment stretching to as much as a year’s salary for some roles, and a third of Irish businesses reporting that staff turnover increased in 2018, it’s clear that a little Christmas bonus really could go a long way.
The gig’s up
Another month, another court case about worker status. This one was in the UK but the underlying issues of the gig economy are the same across borders.
The case concerns transport services firm Addison Lee. They have lost an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) initiated by three of their 4,000 private hire drivers. The drivers wished to be classified as workers rather than independent contractors. This would grant them rights such as National Minimum Wage and holiday pay.
The contracts between the firm and the drivers described them as independent contractors with no obligation to offer or accept work. However, taking a strong steer from a Supreme Court case, the EAT said it was right to look beyond the contract and consider actual working practices with a “realistic and worldly-wise” view.
They found that drivers typically worked up to 60-hour weeks and had to work at least 25-30 hours just to cover their fixed costs. They drove vehicles with Addison Lee livery and were told that they were representing the company at all times when in the vehicles. And that they might face sanctions if, without good reason, they turned down work offered to them.
The EAT concluded that it did all add up to worker status, rather than that of independent contractor as stated in the contracts.
There is a place for all types of contract and some individuals will seek flexibility just as much as companies. However, what’s not right is for companies to impose false self-employment as a device to cut costs. This erodes workers’ rights, undercuts competitors who behave properly and short-changes the Revenue, which, of course, ultimately costs everyone.
If you would like your contracts and working relationships reviewed, contact us.
Employment Bill progresses
It’s not just the courts that are cracking down on the gig economy (see The gig’s up). Here in Ireland, The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 has completed the Seanad Éireann fifth Stage and will come into law the first week of March 2019.
This is the government’s legislative attempt at reining in the excesses of the gig economy. Regarded as a landmark piece of legislation by ministers, some industry bodies think it will damage business.
The Bill does a few things including the following. It virtually bans zero-hour contracts. It forces minimum payments to be paid to staff who are called into work and then sent home. And it creates banded-hour provisions. These entitle employees whose contracts do not match the time they work to be put in a band of hours which better reflects their working time over the previous 12 months.
It comes with harsh enforcement measures, so if you’ll be affected start planning now.
Deck the halls
Many organisations like to get into the Christmas groove and spruce up the workplace with tinsel and a tree in December. But spare a thought for a Texan lady who, having vehemently declared she didn’t want to see any Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, was pranked by her sister with a barrage of decorations worthy of Lapland itself. It was so over-the-top that she could do nothing but surrender to it. That aside, don’t let decorations get in the way of people doing their jobs. And remember that some items could pose a health and safety trip or fire risk.
Avoid the seven deadly sins of the work Christmas party
We’re sure you and your team are looking forward to your workplace Christmas party. They’re great fun and a good opportunity to bond. But as well as mistletoe there is plenty of scope for mishaps and misdeeds. And you as an employer may well have vicarious liability. Check out this list of seven deadly sins and how to avoid them.
Gluttony – Particularly the excessive consumption of alcohol, is a frequent cause of problems. Many bosses like to thank their teams for their hard work by providing a free bar. Think carefully about this, and if you do offer one be prepared to close it or tell an individual they’ve had enough.
Sloth – Ok, so you didn’t listen to tip one, and now the next day half your team haven’t shown up because they’re hung over. Definitely remind your staff of your absence policy (and other expected behavioural standards for that matter) before the party and encourage the use of holiday where possible.
Lust – With inhibitions lowered, there’s a heightened risk of sexual harassment, perhaps from unexpected quarters. Thankfully the #metoo movement is raising awareness but there is still a lot to do. Be sure to let staff know that disciplinary and grievance procedures apply at the party.
Greed and envy – Some employees approach their boss at a party to request a pay rise or mouth-off about a perceived unjust promotion given to a colleague. Steer well clear of such conversations – you don’t want any opportunity for your words to be misinterpreted during this informal setting.
Pride – As adults, everyone at the party will feel they can take care of themselves. But you still have a duty of care towards your employees. So give thought to their general wellbeing and how they’ll get home safely afterwards.
Wrath – If tensions have been running high between two colleagues, the latter stages of your party is where it could come to a head. If fighting breaks out, avoid summarily dismissing the protagonists. Send them home and deal with it formally on the next working day.
Bringing in seasonal workers
With historically low unemployment, many businesses – particularly in retail – are facing staff shortages. And as the Christmas rush approaches you may feel this more than ever. One recent survey found that Christmas job adverts posted on Indeed.com are up more than 10% annually.
Our first piece of advice when hiring Christmas staff is to get in early. This will give you your pick of the best candidates. If it’s too late for this year, consider it for next.
The next thing to get right is the paperwork. Don’t assume that because workers are not around for long that you can cut corners. Give them an appropriate contract that clearly defines their employment status.
And the same goes for induction and training. You may be rushed but you’ll get the most from seasonal staff if you integrate them as best you can. Call upon permanent staff to be supportive and set the right example of how to get things done.
How to Hygge at work
Cold winds, short days and rain… lots of rain. If our abrupt transition into Autumn has got you or your team feeling glum, you need a bit of Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) in your workplace. Fresh from Denmark, it’s the latest Scandinavian craze to sweep our shores. While there is no exact translation, it broadly means feeling cosy through your experiences.
So rather than merely turning the radiators up to 11, it is about creating warming interactions with your colleagues. It could be bringing cupcakes into the office to share impromptu, taking an extra coffee break and chatting about something other than work, or structuring tasks so that they are teamwork-based.
It’s certainly more charming than Kalsarikänni, anglicised to Päntsdrunk – a Finnish lifestyle trend to cope with the harsh weather which involves drinking at home alone in your underwear!
Unlike! Can you fire for a Facebook post?
Social media means any employee can publish an ill-considered or malicious message to a potentially global audience at the touch of a button.
Scary stuff for a business owner with a hard-earned reputation to protect. Your number one defence is to have a social media policy. This should outline rules for your staff regarding their conduct on social media and the consequences for breaking them.
A good social media policy is not a silver bullet for stopping a Facebook faux pas. But it does set expectations and give you the framework to deal with one properly – including with dismissal if the situation warrants it. But is having such a policy sufficient? The answer is a resounding NO! It’s also vital to clearly communicate it to all your staff and be able to prove you have done so.
A case from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) this Autumn illustrates this point.
A bus driver had been fired after posting a picture of a dangerously faulty vehicle he’d been driving. Despite not naming the company or intending to bring it into disrepute, he had been sacked in line with their social media policy.
In court the driver admitted that his actions were wrong, but stated that he was unaware of the policy. The court found there was no evidence that he had received this document and did not understand the consequences of his Facebook post. They ruled that he was unfairly dismissed and awarded him €990.
The message to employers is clear. Get a social media policy and, for it to be an effective tool, ensure you communicate it to staff.
Can you give a bad reference?
What happens when you receive that dreaded reference request for the employee who was lousy at their job or had a poor attitude?
The good news is that, with a few exceptions (like financial services), you can dodge this bullet. There’s no legal obligation to respond.
If you are inclined to provide a reference, it can include information detrimental to their cause – as long as it’s accurate and fair. This means it should not include subjective opinion and should be backed up with facts.
Your former employee can ask to see a copy of the reference. If they felt it was inappropriate, they could claim damages if they could prove it was inaccurate and that they suffered loss.
It’s helpful to have a policy for responding to references, especially if more than one manager may be providing them. This ensures they’re all handled consistently and efficiently.
One way you can grow your business is to grow the people who work for you. “Easier said than done” you may be thinking, “I’ll add that to the end of my to-do list after marketing, quoting, service delivery and networking!”
We feel your pain – SME business owners have to wear a lot of hats. But we can offer a helping hand. We’ve crafted a range of people development courses that can take your team to the next level: from leadership to time management, interviewing and recruitment to appraisal training. For more information on this cost-effective way to spark growth, call us.
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.
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.
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.