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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.