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VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter September 2019

A case for reasonable accommodation continues

Under equality law, if you can, you must make reasonable accommodations to allow a person with a disability to do their job. This does not mean you must hire, keep on or promote someone who doesn’t have the capacity to fulfil a role. But you must explore what you could do to give them an equal opportunity.

So what is a reasonable accommodation? At its simplest, it may be as straightforward as providing a modified chair. But it could get much more complicated than that…

A teaching assistant was dismissed after becoming paralysed from the waist down in a car accident. It had been deemed that she could no longer perform 7 out of the 16 tasks of her role. An alternative role was defined, but the school was told there was no funding available for it. And so her employment was terminated.

She took them to court for breaching the Employment Equality Acts, 1998 – 2015 by not making reasonable accommodations.

So far, the case has been to the Equality Tribunal which found in favour of the school; then the Labour Court which awarded the teaching assistant €40,000 in compensation for discrimination; the High Court which also found that discrimination occurred; the Court of Appeal, which overturned the High Court judgement; and the Supreme Court which overturned the Court of Appeal ruling. The Supreme Court has ordered that the Labour Court rehear the case, taking into account their findings.

So we still have no definitive answer.

The issues that have been discussed have ranged from the communication process with the employee, to where the equality protections end – which is before an employer has to create a brand-new job. And many other points of contention in between.

It is an extreme example, but one which shows just how complicated this issue can be. If you are faced with assessing reasonable accommodations, talk to us first. We’ll help you work out what you can do to keep your employee or dismiss them safely. And if you follow our advice from the outset, our retained advice is backed by tribunal indemnity insurance.


Self-employed benefits

The courts have had a say on workers’ rights in the gig economy, and governments are legislating on it – including here in Ireland. And now a company is making a proactive suggestion.

Deliveroo, with a new general manager at the helm in Ireland, have called for a Charter for Secure and Flexible Work. In their submission, which they have filed with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, they want the freedom to offer their self-employed contractors benefits without jeopardising their self-employed status.

They already offer road insurance. The kind of thing they are talking about now is accrued sick pay. And the problem with the status quo is that if they offer it, it could spark legal challenges to say that the individuals are employed. This would bring more costs to the company and less freedom to the people working for them.

They argue that their self-employed contractors value, above all else, the flexibility of working on the Deliveroo platform – 86% of them at any rate, according to a survey they conducted.

The charter idea, borrowed from France, goes some way to address one of the central concerns about the gig economy – that of workers’ rights being eroded, particularly vulnerable workers’. There is, though, still the question of lost tax revenue.

In the meantime, if you use gig economy workers such as freelancers, people on zero-hour contracts or self-employed contractors, we’d advise reviewing your reasons for doing so to ensure they are genuine. If you want to discuss it with an expert, please get in touch.


Get ready for Brexit

(At the time of print) Boris Johnson is assuring the world that the UK will be leaving the EU on 31 October. Halloween, of course, and leaving aside whether you think Brexit will be a trick or treat, there may well be steps you need to take to be prepared.

The government has published an online guide called “Getting your business ready for Brexit”. This covers a whole range of business operations, and naturally, some relate to HR. These include travel visas, professional qualifications and residency requirements. Think also about data and GDPR. The UK will become a third country for data protection purposes. In employment terms, this may be relevant if you use a UK-based payroll provider.

It’s helpful to be pointed in the right direction, but there’s still the hard graft to do. If you need extra support with your Brexit HR, then get in touch.


Claws and effect

There is no statutory bereavement leave for the loss of a close human relative yet, let alone a pet. But typically, employers offer three to five days leave for the loss of a family member, at their discretion. However, bereavement affects everyone differently, and some people may be overwhelmingly affected by the loss of a pet.

You may notice unexpected absence, a drop in performance or even temporarily not being able to perform certain roles.

With no law to steer you, your response to this comes down to your discretion. Showing compassion often pays dividends in the long run. But be careful! You should apply a strong rationale and consistency. For instance you may feel some time off (whether paid or unpaid) for the loss of a cat or dog is appropriate. But draw the line at the goldfish. And there’ll be an expectation that what’s offered to one employee will be provided for another in similar circumstances.


Clowning around

If you want a whole new take on receiving bad news, consider Josh Thompson’s approach. When Josh, a copywriter from New Zealand, received an email from his employer asking him to meet to discuss his role, he guessed the writing was on the wall. In accordance with New Zealand law, he was encouraged to bring a support person to the HR meeting. Instead of a family member or union rep, he hired a clown to ease the tension. His employers saw the funny side but did have to ask him to quieten down several times while he was making balloon animals. In Josh’s words “Boy, oh boy, are clowns noisy”!

 


Employees at protests

Climate change and political unrest are giving rise to increasing protests, globally and here in Ireland.

So what do you do if employees skip work to join a mass protest? Even those who have a previously unblemished unauthorised absence record? A global day of protest is planned on Friday 20 September, with a well-publicised climate strike taking place here in Ireland. It is unlikely to be the last.

Employees can’t expect to skip off work to protest and not face repercussions. You need to attempt to contact them if they go AWOL and document everything. There may be action you take before it comes to this, though. Could you suggest they protest on an unpaid lunch break? Or if the issue is climate change and your company ethos plays a part in addressing this, actively communicate it to staff so they feel they are already contributing.

If, however, they are protesting against you, or trade unions are involved, that’s a different story and needs immediate attention. You should call us as soon as possible.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter August 2019

The ageing workforce

A pensions timebomb is ticking in Ireland, according to the government’s 2019 National Risk Assessment. And while this mightn’t be of direct concern to you as an employer, there are plenty of knock-on effects that will be relevant.

First, some context. The number of people eligible for the state pension is set to double over the next 36 years. Two-thirds of private sector workers do not have their own pension. And by 2030, the ratio of the population aged over 65 will rise from one in eight to one in six.

So what does this mean for employers? Quite simply, expect more older employees in your workforce. And plan for it.

We hasten to add that this needn’t be a negative. Like every generation, older employees will bring strengths and weaknesses. By being ready, you can optimise your workplace for a changing workforce. Let’s run through some key areas:

Age discrimination – Age is one of nine grounds which are protected by the Employment Equality Act. Mismanaging an ageing workforce could lead you to a Workplace Relations Commission and discrimination pay-out. Indeed, last year discrimination claims on the grounds of age rose by 343% on the previous year.

Flexible working – It’s not just older workers that may favour flexible working patterns. But for people looking for a phased retirement or who, for example, have caring duties as a grandparent, it will be an attractive feature.

Hiring practices – Your hiring programmes like graduate schemes, internships and apprenticeships may currently be designed with people at the start of their career in mind. Going forwards you may benefit from recalibrating these to accommodate older workers.

Workplace adaptation – Think about your workplace environment and see whether it physically caters to an older workforce.

Retirement planning – The default retirement age has been abolished in all but a few professions so you cannot rely on that. Be consistent in how you implement retirement to help avoid discrimination claims. The government has published guidance on best practice for managing people who wish to work longer.

An older workforce is coming! If you want help preparing, talk to your local HR Dept adviser.


The modern working week

All business owners like productive workers. That’s the name of the game, right? But are our workers too busy here in Ireland?

The economy is almost at full employment, but according to a recent survey, two-thirds of employees say they work overtime. And the same number (although not necessarily the same respondents) say they feel obligated or very obligated to do so.

Unfortunately for most of them, three-quarters say they are not compensated for their overtime. While this may seem like a quick win for a business, it is storing up problems for the future. It’s not fair on workers and will likely lead to a minimum of resentment and staff turnover, and in worse cases stress and even burnout. Better to explore smarter ways of working than rely on hours of unpaid overtime.


Changes to parental leave

Confusion reigns, apparently, among workers who don’t understand their parental leave entitlements as new legislation is introduced. And while larger firms may have a whole HR team who are on it from the employer’s perspective, SME owners and managers may be struggling to make sense of the new rules too. Here is a rundown.

As of 1 September, parents of children up to the age of 12 will be entitled to take up to 22 weeks of unpaid parental leave each. This is an extension from what was available before, which was up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for parents of children up to the age of eight. For parents who had reached their limit previously, they will now have access to the additional four weeks.

The following September, in 2020, a further four weeks will be added, taking the entitlement up to 26 weeks in total. This is made law by the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019.

Scope for further confusion is created by the fact that separately, two weeks of extra paid parental leave are being introduced on 1 November. Both parents can take this within the first 52 weeks of a birth (or placement, if it’s an adoption).

So with lots of dates and entitlements involved, it is easy to understand the confusion. But despite the complexity, it is important that you as an employer understand the rules if a member of staff makes a request. Both so you don’t unfairly deny a legal entitlement, and also that you know when you can say “no”. If in doubt, call us.


The future of NDAs

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), are not getting good press right now. Following the #MeToo movement, it’s been shown just how often companies use them to cover-up wrongdoing like harassment and discrimination.

In Ireland, for now, bad press is all they’re getting. Unlike in other jurisdictions, there’s no legislative programme to rein in the use of NDAs. The USA has already acted. And in the UK change is afoot that will make it illegal for a confidentiality clause to prevent disclosure of a suspected crime to the police and other relevant professionals.

Used correctly, an NDA can be a useful mechanism for privately resolving a dispute to both parties’ satisfaction. Even without new legislation, they require careful drafting and a proper process to be followed to ensure they are enforceable. But now that they’re coming under greater scrutiny, we’d recommend a review of your use of NDAs if applicable, to ensure they are fair to the employee. Contact us, to find out more.


Inside the mind of an introvert

Did you know that up to 50% of the population are introverts? Maybe that’s not so surprising seeing that the main alternative is to be an extrovert. Both behavioural types have strengths and weaknesses. But what is interesting is that most companies are set up to suit extroverts. Think open plan offices, social events and generally the loudest voices being heard first.

This won’t be a deal breaker for most introverts. But it does mean that conditions are not optimised for their performance. And they have a lot to offer. Restoring balance could help drive your business forward.

We’re not talking about difficult actions. Giving introverts a safe platform to speak in meetings, creating quieter working zones, and not putting pressure on people to attend every social event are all achievable. A great place to start is with some personality training to help identify your team’s traits and how they work best.


Sleeping on the job

Can you believe an employment tribunal judge fell asleep twice during a hearing? After we’d finished raising our eyebrows, we found some research and it’s not as uncommon as you might think! We’re not just talking about dozy judges. Apparently 12% of office workers have confessed to falling asleep in a meeting.

What should you do if you catch someone, well, catching 40 winks? It may be gross misconduct if, say, they were hungover. But don’t jump to conclusions – pay-outs have been awarded in court for sleep-related unfair dismissals! Check there’s not an underlying medical condition or other mitigating factor before deciding on your course of action.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter July 2019

Do you remember when holiday pay used to be simple

A landmark Court of Appeal case north of the border draws attention to an emerging blind spot for employers here in the Republic of Ireland. Following the ruling, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is facing a £40 million back-dated bill for incorrectly calculating holiday pay.

The issue centres around what constitutes normal pay. And while this case doesn’t have a direct legal bearing on affairs here, many of the issues overlap.

A reduction in income when receiving holiday pay compared to normal pay is seen as a disincentive to employees taking holiday. This crosses a red line for the EU for the statutory four weeks’ holiday leave they mandate. And this is precisely what has been happening when employees are paid on commission or work a regular pattern of overtime, if these earnings are not considered in holiday pay.

In case after case at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), judges have ruled in favour of more generous holiday pay interpretation. Phrases like payments which are “intrinsically linked” to the performance of the tasks required under the contract of employment, and when it’s necessary to work overtime “on a broadly regular and predictable basis”, are being used to describe what to include in holiday pay calculations.

One of the complications is that these definitions are not in harmony with our domestic law. This specifically excludes overtime pay from normal pay when calculating holiday pay. However, the weight of case law from Europe suggests that your steer should be taken from the EU rather than domestic law.

We would advise reviewing how you calculate holiday pay and starting to budget for increases if you find that what you include does not reflect the normal take home pay of your employees.

You only need to consider the four weeks of leave covered by the Working Time Directive. But in practice it may not be cost-effective for you to assess this in isolation. While there is a six-month limitation on back claims, there are ways that this could be challenged as has happened in the PSNI case.

For expert help, get in touch.


Top tips for the hospitality sector

Do you manage staff in hospitality or another sector renowned for tipping? What’s your policy on those tips? Some let front of house staff keep 100% of what they’re given. Others ask that it’s put in a pool and distributed amongst front of house and back room staff alike.

Each has their pros and cons. But one practice which is derided is withholding tips and using them within your overall cashflow to pay wages or other costs. Unsurprisingly, this practice is not looked on kindly by diners, who give the tips voluntarily to recognise good service.

When exposed, it can lead to reputational damage. You may have seen some high-profile restaurants in Dublin recently experiencing protests because of perceived unfair tipping policies.

It has also caught the attention of Regina Doherty, the Minister for Employment Affairs. She intends to write to restaurants found to be using tips to fund salaries, to flag their obligations to staff.

So we have said the practice is frowned upon, but what are the obligations? It has been something of a grey area, but it is not technically illegal to retain tips. Yet! After the Tánaiste Simon Coveney wrongly (but in good faith) said it was illegal earlier in the year, there are now strong calls for emergency legislation to outlaw it.

You’ll understand the numbers and the culture of your business better than anyone. But if you want some expert advice and fresh ideas on how best to structure your remuneration packages to recruit, retain and incentivise a winning team, get in touch with your local HR Dept adviser for a review.


Is hotdesking still hot?

As flexible working practices become more popular, it makes sense that hotdesking will follow suit. After all, why pay for vacant space?

Adopting hotdesking means you can gain efficiencies by downsizing your square footage. Or make your workplace more attractive and useful by transforming the redundant desk space. How about a break-out area or new meeting room?

But hotdesking is not a one-way street to success. If only! In one survey of 1,001 office workers by a transformational consultancy, 22% of respondents found hotdesking made bonding with colleagues more difficult. And nearly half said they wasted time setting up equipment. The worry of whether a desk is available will affect the well-being of some, too.

Other potential problems include hygiene concerns and the development of cliquey behaviour. However, with a well-managed approach – including desk scheduling and clear guidance on conduct – these obstacles can largely be overcome.


Workplace bullying

Five years ago, Ireland was branded the seventh worst European country for workplace bullying. Last year, 40% of people are reported to have suffered from it.

It’s not just the stuff we associate with the school yard, like name-calling. Indirect bullying such as excluding colleagues from projects or social events, and giving them humiliating tasks is harder to spot.

Mental health issues like stress and depression are a likely consequence. Be aware that young Irish women are more prone to depression than any of their European peers, which will have some overlap with this bullying issue.

Bullying is detrimental to business operations too. A toxic environment, absenteeism, retention issues and legal action could all ensue.

Starting with a disciplinary and grievance policy, good HR practice can be more than a match for bullying. Management training and communicating expected standards of behaviour to staff are important. And why not introduce an employee assistance programme? This can support your team with many difficult areas of life, not just work related stuff!. To find out more, give us a call.


How emotionally intelligent is your team?

In olden days people were expected to switch off their emotions when they went to work. Now it’s far more widely recognised that this isn’t possible. And that, actually, harnessing emotional intelligence can help individuals and organisations be more successful.

It has been established that emotional intelligence is a skill which can be nurtured with practice. The psychologist Daniel Goleman identifies five pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and people skills. And it’s easy to see why these would be desirable traits in your workforce. In fact, a survey back in 2011 found that almost three-quarters of hiring managers rated emotional intelligence over IQ.

When trying to instil an emotionally intelligent culture, you should lead from the front. Staff who know that you genuinely care about them are far more likely to buy in to your plans. For guidance and advice, speak to The HR Dept.


Outrageous expense claims

What’s the most jaw-dropping item your employees have put through expenses? Can you beat lottery tickets, cosmetic surgery, half a cow? They’ve all actually happened. Admittedly in America! And while we can raise an eyebrow and perhaps smile at the nerve, it is a serious issue.

Expenses are to reimburse staff for travel and other costs incurred in the line of duty. While “half a cow” would be easy to spot, there will inevitably be greyer areas. These can be minimised through good line management drawing clear boundaries, rather than being left to the finance manager to notice.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter June 2019

Neurodiversity in the workplace

About 85% of people are neurotypical, meaning their brains process information as society expects. This leaves 15% who you could say “think different” to quote Apple’s famous advertising slogan. They are neurodivergent.

Neurodivergent people are often diagnosed with a condition, which can come with stigma. The main examples are ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia. While they can each be associated with specific difficulties which are well documented, they also often give rise to strengths which come from thinking differently.

For instance, people with ADHD may be good at completing urgent tasks, those with autism at developing deep specialist knowledge, people with dyslexia at problem-solving and employees with dyspraxia at strategic thinking.

It all varies from person to person. But recognising neurodiversity and building a supportive working environment could give you a key advantage when trying to get the right blend of skills in your business.

So what kind of accommodations could you make to help neurodivergent people fit in and thrive. Recruitment is a sensible place to start and you could reflect whether there’s any unconscious bias in your recruitment process.

Consider how adaptable your recruiting techniques are. Over-reliance on traditional methods like CV screening and the panel interview may afford virtually no opportunity to people with dyslexia or autism.

We’ve already touched on some of the neurodivergent skills which will be attractive to businesses. But what about the kind of workplace environment that will be attractive to people who are neurodivergent?

Workplaces and business processes are often designed for the neurotypical. So again some flexibility would be welcome. For instance, if someone is uncomfortable with the noise and movement of an open plan office, could they have a seat facing a wall and be allowed to wear headphones?

Whatever you decide, please don’t copy the approach a Dublin-based airline service company took. They dismissed a dyspraxic employee after just googling the symptoms and not assessing his own circumstances at all. A Workplace Relations Commission adjudication officer branded it “quite astonishing” and ordered them to pay €15,000 compensation.

Want to benefit from a more neurodivergent workforce? Speak to your local HR Dept.


Are your employees aware of fraud risk?

Already in 2019, €4.4 million have been stolen in cases of “invoice redirect” or “CEO” fraud. These both exploit our reliance on electronic communication.

In the first approach, criminals send an email that purports to come from a known supplier saying that their bank details have changed, and “could the system be updated?”. They probably got the supplier information from an earlier phishing attack. Then, when the next legitimate invoice is issued, you pay it straight to the fraudsters.

For CEO fraud, criminals use social media posts or out-of-office messages to identify when a boss is away. They’ll then send a convincing email, apparently from the boss, asking a junior employee to make an urgent payment to a contact. You can guess what happens next.

Why not share these examples with your team? And if you haven’t done so recently, review how you keep data and money secure, including your processes for changing bank details and making “urgent” payments.


LGBTQ equality in your workplace

With 2019’s calendar of Pride events just around the corner, it’s timely to consider LGBTQ equality in your workplace.

In the UK, a TUC poll of more than 1,100 LGBT workers found that more than two thirds of respondents had been sexually harassed at work. It’s a shockingly high number suggesting that such discrimination is widespread. In Ireland, sexual orientation and gender (including being transsexual) are protected characteristics under equality law.

Transgender employees may be particularly vulnerable in the workplace. Still in the UK, for the first time in 2018, LGBT equality charity Stonewall featured trans-inclusive employers in its list of top employers for inclusivity. But only 20% of the top 100 employers had a policy which focused on trans employees.

It is proven that diversity pays. Inclusive companies are able to recruit from a wider talent pool and benefit from a positive workplace culture. Workforces which reflect the full gamut of society can also connect better with broad customer bases.

So with the motivation of legal obligation and better productivity, what could you be doing to foster greater LGBTQ inclusion at work?

The first technical check is whether you have an anti-discrimination policy. We’d advise this to be a day one requirement when you start employing people. It will be broader than just covering sexual orientation and gender as there are nine legally protected characteristics. It will let employees know what is and isn’t acceptable and give you the tools to address any policy breach.

Assuming a policy is in place you can look at further proactive steps. Variations of the phrase: “Diversity is inviting people to the party, inclusion is them wanting to be there” do the rounds on social media. And while they may over-simplify a complex issue, they are of some use. Talk to your team, sensitively, about what an inclusive workplace looks like to them and use that as a steer.

A recent case in the WRC involved a gay man being awarded €20,000 for the discriminatory slagging he got from his bosses over a long period of time.

If you find yourself without an anti-discrimination policy, or you want professional support in developing your inclusivity, talk to your local HR Dept.


Cultural etiquette

According to research, two thirds of workers want clear guidelines on what form of physical contact is acceptable in the workplace. While to some this may seem a bit “nanny state”, we should not forget the impact of the #metoo movement, and the wrongdoing it has highlighted.

The survey revealed just how frequently embarrassing greeting misunderstandings occur. One in eight workers have been accidentally kissed on the mouth and a quarter have been trapped in an unwanted hug. In total, 42% of workers would like at least one form of greeting prohibited.

Shaking hands is still the preferred form of greeting. However while nearly half of workers in their 40s and 50s prefer it, a hand shake is only first choice for 35% of workers in their 20s.

It’ll be a cultural decision as to whether you want to introduce guidelines for your business. But the survey suggests there is some demand for boundaries to be set.


Breaking the ice

It’s a perennial issue – How do you get those creative juices flowing at the start of a meeting or training session? Love them or loathe them, ice breakers are often turned to.

If you’re currently burying your face in your hands, we understand. There are some terrible examples of ice breaking out there. From being asked to bark like a dog and find peers with the same barking style, to removing a shoe and have a stranger pair it back up to you, they can make people feel uncomfortable and invade personal boundaries.

But despite the litany of bad examples, there is merit in an ice breaker done well. The more contextualised to the gathering the better. By this we mean consider the time and space you have available and the expectations of your participants. Good ice breakers often have some link to the topic to be addressed.


Rest assured

The courts have been scrutinising working time. A European ruling suggests that companies may soon have to document precise working hours to prove legal weekly limits aren’t exceeded. And in a Workplace Relations Commission hearing, Paddy Power has been accused of denying staff rest breaks. Mandate, the trade union, has lodged 78 separate cases, winning 11 so far. It could cost Paddy Power as much as €70,000 in compensation.

Under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, workers are entitled to a 15-minute unpaid break after four and a half hours. After six hours, there’s a right to 30-minutes’ break time (including that first 15-minute break). In some circumstances shop workers have further rights.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter May 2019

New paid parental leave this November

In November a new paid parental leave benefit is being introduced. It is in addition to current entitlements and comes courtesy of the government’s Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 which is being finalised.

Simply put, both parents will be entitled to an extra two weeks of paid parental leave, receiving at least €245 per week (at prevailing maternity/paternity benefit rates). As an employer, you’ll have the option to enhance this state-paid-for minimum at your discretion. Parents must take the leave within 52 weeks of the birth (or placement, if it’s an adoption).

The leave is not transferrable and is available on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. One of the intentions behind the legislation is to get fathers to play a greater role in parenting in that crucial first year, and to change gender attitudes in the workplace. So if dads want their entitlement, they’ll have to take it themselves.

The Bill does not stop here. In it, the government commits to extending this new paid parental leave from two weeks to seven weeks by 2021.

As an aside, the bill will also tweak wording in existing laws to bring parity and make same-sex male couples eligible for adoptive leave and benefit.

So how will this affect you? Up to 60,000 parents are expected to benefit from this new scheme each year. So the impact will be felt far and wide. While SMEs may struggle with the arrangements more than larger firms, it is the law, so must be followed. Failure to do so, or acting discriminatingly to try to side step it, could easily land you in a costly Workplace Relations Commission tribunal.

The qualifying periods and application processes are the same as for current benefits, but you will need to update your parental leave policy to reflect the law changes. You will be expected to keep application records for eight years.

Our advice line clients automatically get new wording for their policies when the law changes, perfect for instances like this. If you wish to sign up for this service, get in touch.


Clocking change

Traditionally, only hourly paid staff clock in and out to ensure they are at work for their required hours and paid correctly. Some firms who charge on site engineers out to the customer have also completed time sheets. Going forwards, you may be forced to log absolutely everybody’s working hours to ensure employees don’t work too many hours.

It is already a requirement in Ireland under the organisation of working time act, but we expect it to lead to more claims “when things go wrong” even with office based staff. You should ensure all employees have completed time sheets, recording start, finish and break times with clear policies about working from home and answering emails or calls in the evenings. You have been warned.

This comes after a ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). A Spanish trade union had taken Deutsche Bank to court. They argued that the Working Time Directive meant Deutsche Bank should be recording working hours to demonstrate that staff did not work more time than the weekly limits prescribed in the directive.

The ECJ agreed and said that in the absence of such records it was too difficult, if not impossible, for workers to ensure their rights were respected. This interpretation puts an obligation on member states to enact a requirement to record all actual hours worked in national law. We’ll keep you updated on any law changes that ensue.


Whistleblowing 2.0

High profile cases like VW’s Dieselgate and the Cambridge Analytica scandal have convinced the EU to bring in robust whistleblowing protection across its member states. They reckon it will yield cost-savings of €9.6 billion in EU public procurement alone.

For most EU states this will be a shock to the system. But not so much Ireland, which is among a small band which already has protection. But the proposed EU rules will go further, so let’s look through the key changes.

The existing Irish legislation is called the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. It covers issues like the commission of an offence; misuse of public money; environmental damage; and health and safety.

The EU rules add to these. They include: corporate tax laws (which Ireland is reported to have unsuccessfully petitioned to have excluded); nuclear safety; food; public procurement; consumer protection; public health; data protection; and product and transport safety.

So the remit is much wider, and so are the organisations it targets. Our current rules are only mandatory for public bodies. The EU’s rules will cover the private sector, too, for companies with more than 50 employees. In addition, anonymity provisions are likely to be stricter.

Areas which are unlikely to change are the tiered disclosure we have, where internal reporting is regarded a first step and public revelation a final resort. And retaliation protection which the EU will leave to member states. There are already tough penalties in place. One amendment here though is that burden of proof will shift. Currently the employee needs to demonstrate they were treated unfairly. The EU will require the employer to show that they did not act unfairly.

It is easy to mismanage a whistleblowing situation, so if one arises give us a call immediately.


Do you know what your employees
say about you online?

Not necessarily! An Australian company has offered this policy for three years and it’s been a roaring success. Observing that her staff were frazzled from demanding workloads, the CEO introduced unlimited paid holiday under the guise of rebalancing leave.

She correctly judged that the business culture was strong enough that the policy wouldn’t be abused. Staff self-managed whether their leave should be paid as they were rebalancing their lives, or if it was for another purpose and should go unpaid.

She was also aware, from reading about American cases, that some staff take less holiday – trying to please management. So she led by example, settling on taking five and a half weeks’ leave. This encouraged her team to do likewise.

While extra holiday costs were incurred, she considers she’s saved money overall through better retention and fewer sick days.

It won’t work for every business, but it’s food for thought.


Sorry, I’m out of the office

They’re a staple of modern business, but how do you like your out-of-office email messages? Strictly functional? Preaching about switching off? Or with lashings of humour?

One thing we can all agree on is that they should be accurate. This means ensuring the dates are correct, and that a colleague’s contact details actually work.

Sacha Romanovic, CEO of Grant Thornton, recently left an unusually detailed out-of-office message describing her holiday plans. The intention was to signal to staff that it’s ok to switch off. Meanwhile, one financial services industry worker is in competition with a colleague to write the most humorous messages, including one to the lyrics of Rick Astley’s 80s classic Never gonna give you up.

Whatever your team’s out-of-office messages say, they will leave an impression with recipients – it’s worth checking it’s the right impression. Ensuring they distinguish their message between internal and external senders may help strike the right balance.


Moving forward by giving back

It’s no secret that a bit of charitable activity can be good for business: the chance for some positive PR, and a teambuilding opportunity as your staff rally behind a good cause. There are pitfalls too, but none which you can’t sidestep with good people management.

Strong internal comms are key: in person, digitally or even a notice board. Make them two-way and get buy-in from your staff by letting them help pick the charity and methods of fundraising. Clarify that all donations are voluntary (you never know who may be struggling financially), and keep tabs on the choice of fundraising activity to ensure it doesn’t impair operations or cause offence.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter April 2019

Surviving a skills shortage

While headlines containing the words “full employment” may leave politicians beaming, it is not necessarily such good news for people running SMEs, like you. Where are you going to find your next hire to take your business forward?

Yet that’s the situation we find ourselves in, as the Irish economy has created 385,000 jobs since 2013. And it is not just new jobs, but changing jobs: with 40% fewer people working in construction, 10% fewer retail workers and 25% more people working in education.

If full employment is causing you a skills shortage and you’ve hit a dead end with your recruitment, here are our tips to get the right people in your business.

Looking close to home. The people already in your business might not yet have the skills to fill a new role. But with more investment in training and development you can transform them into the people you are looking for.

As well as not having to spend as much on recruitment, there are other benefits to adopting this approach. You’ll know that the people you upskill already fit into the culture of your business, understand your processes, and will likely have a greater sense of loyalty to you as you have helped them develop. We run a range of training and development workshops on topics such as Leadership and People Management; and Supervisory Skills. Ask us for more details.

Targeted recruitment process. If it’s something very specific you are looking for, make sure your recruitment efforts are targeted to attracting that skillset. This may mean looking abroad for the right talent or paying a premium for skills in demand.

Updating your perks package. When was the last time you reviewed your employee benefits package? Social and technological changes have transformed many people’s motivations and expectations, and also what it’s possible for you to provide cost effectively. For example, flexible working is a big draw for many people and is far easier to offer and manage effectively with the advent of cloud computing. It may be the deciding factor in someone choosing to work for you rather than a competitor. Or vice versa!


Managing an employee with a disability

A workplace relations commission (WRC) has awarded €31,000 to a farmer living with multiple sclerosis who was unfairly dismissed. The case highlights the consequences of an employer not meeting their obligations in relation to managing an employee with a disability.

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, disability is one of nine grounds on which it’s illegal to discriminate. So what should, and shouldn’t, you be doing?

First of all, recognise when disability is a factor. Sometimes it may be quite obvious –like someone with an obvious physical impairment. But there are many hidden disabilities such as hearing loss or mental health. If in doubt, get expert advice.

You can’t arbitrarily treat someone less favourably because of their disability. The correct approach is to make reasonable accommodations to help them fulfil their role, or an equivalent one. Things like supplying specialist equipment, offering retraining, or altering working hours.

The caveat to this is it must be reasonable in terms of costs and the impact on the workforce. But this shouldn’t be invoked lightly. You’ll need to document your reasoning, having considered financial costs, your resources and the availability of public funding or other support. If you are declining a reasonable accommodation on these grounds, we’d advise speaking to us first.

In the case of the farmer, he was effectively dismissed after being told there was an insurance issue regarding his need to drive for the job. Despite providing a letter from his neurologist saying he was fit to drive, and having worked with the condition for about 15 years, he never worked for the company again. The WRC found that the employer met none of the key requirements for dismissing a worker due to incapacity.

 


Stress awareness

Figures from the Economic and Social Research Institute suggest that workplace stress is on the rise in Ireland, in fact that it doubled between 2010 and 2015 to 17%.

Long working hours, bullying, time pressure and having to deal with angry customers are major causes of stress. If present, these should be warning signs to you that employees might be struggling. Techno-stress has emerged as a problem too, with devices like smartphones making it harder than ever to switch-off.

As a minimum, it would be good practice for you to be informed of the issues and receptive to employees who need a safe place to discuss concerns. And employee well-being should be considered when designing workflows and procedures.

If you would like to go further, you can consider cost-effective frameworks for support, like an employee assistance programme or training up mental health first aiders in your business. Talk to us to find out more.

 


Is unlimited paid holiday leave
as crazy as it sounds?

Not necessarily! An Australian company has offered this policy for three years and it’s been a roaring success. Observing that her staff were frazzled from demanding workloads, the CEO introduced unlimited paid holiday under the guise of rebalancing leave.

She correctly judged that the business culture was strong enough that the policy wouldn’t be abused. Staff self-managed whether their leave should be paid as they were rebalancing their lives, or if it was for another purpose and should go unpaid.

She was also aware, from reading about American cases, that some staff take less holiday – trying to please management. So she led by example, settling on taking five and a half weeks’ leave. This encouraged her team to do likewise.

While extra holiday costs were incurred, she considers she’s saved money overall through better retention and fewer sick days.

It won’t work for every business, but it’s food for thought.

 


Pranks at work

Were there any shenanigans amongst your team this April Fool’s Day? Pranking may start out as harmless but can quickly become more serious than anybody wants.

On the Richter Scale of pranks a level one or two may contribute to a fun workplace. We heard of one employee who left a random penny on her colleague’s desk every day to make him question himself.

But, higher-stakes pranks which show poor taste or judgement could have grave consequences for staff or your business.

There have been incidents in America of false claims that schools and shops are under armed assault which led to police being called and arrests made. And vicarious liability may be a factor too, meaning a company can be held accountable for the actions of its employees. In the UK, Carphone Warehouse was found liable in court for the prank of two employees falsely outing their manager. If you need help setting the right expectations of behaviour in your business, call us.

 


Motivation

Money talks. But not as much as a pizza and pat on the back, according to a study into employee motivation at an Intel manufacturing plant in Israel.

Given the choice of a $30 cash bonus, free pizza or a complimentary text message, after a week of the experiment new employees preferred being told they’d done a good job to the more tangible rewards.

The thinking is that praise connects with staff on an emotional level, which is a more powerful motivator for engendering long-term commitment.

Would some out-of-the-box (or box-of-pizza) thinking help you recruit, retain and motivate a winning team? Talk to us for creative employee benefit ideas or management training courses.