In the Budget last summer, it was announced that a “Living Wage” will replace the current levels of National Minimum Wage (NMW).

The Government is to introduce a ‘National Living Wage’ premium, on top of the NMW for workers aged 25 and over from 1st April 2016. This means that the minimum wage for workers aged 25 and over will have gone up twice in the last 12 months. On 1st October 2015, the standard adult rate of the NMW increased to £6.70 ﴾from £6.50﴿ and then in April 2016 it will go up again, for those aged 25+, to £7.20. Notably, the National Living Wage will not apply to adult workers aged under 25, and this group will continue to be entitled only to the National Minimum Wage, which is currently £6.70, and will be reviewed again in October 2016.

In future, the Low Pay Commission will make annual recommendations as to the level at which the premium should be set (and the level of the NMW). The Government has made it clear that it intends the living wage, i.e. the NMW combined with the living wage premium, to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020, which should put it at in excess of £9 per hour.

It is admirable that the Government wishes to create a more productive and high paid workforce. They have said they are “determined to move to a higher wage economy”. However, this policy will only deliver higher pay without significant job losses, if it is accompanied by a drive to increase productivity. In low pay sectors, such as retail, hospitality and the care sector, it is all too easy to promote greater productivity as a solution, but this works less well in the service sector. It has been met with mixed reactions from employers, some believing it to be unrealistic and unaffordable, while others maintain that it is fair and attainable.

What you must do:

  • If you have people employed on the NMW, review what you can do to limit the impact.
  • If you have people who are currently paid between the minimum wage and the new living wage, then you also need to calculate the additional cost impact to your organisation.
  • If you employ people on just above the living wage, then consider whether you will remain competitive in your reward strategy.
  • Do not consider trying to avoid payment, as the financial and PR consequences can be substantial.*
  • If applicable, communicate with your staff the impact on their pay, and consult over ways to improve productivity.
  • *Failure to pay the minimum wage may result in both civil liabilities to make payment to workers, and/or criminal penalties. Furthermore, BIS has recently announced a package of measures intended to improve compliance with National Minimum Wage legislation. The current penalty is 100% of the worker’s underpayment. From April 2016, this will increase to 200%. The maximum penalty is £20,000. Furthermore, BIS’s proposed measures include increasing the budget for the enforcement of the minimum wage, and establishing a new HMRC team dedicated to pursuing the most serious cases of employers deliberating not paying, or avoiding paying minimum wage. HMRC can also ‘name and shame’ offenders.

If you are impacted by this change, then it is not too late to start planning for the rise now, and considering how to respond to the challenges it throws up. Some of the options you can take are:

  • Improve productivity by capital investment
  • Get out of unprofitable areas of your business
  • Train your workforce so they can do more
  • Reduce your workforce size by recruitment freeze or redundancy
  • Reduce premium payments for overtime or weekend/shift working
  • Improve employee attendance by good control and good management
  • Improve the quality of your management to get more out of less, which is probably best done by training them
  • Review working hours, so that you are paying people only for the work that is really needed
  • Use innovative strategies to improve quality and improve employee engagement

We are not saying that these options are easy, and some will have employment law and employee relations implications, but doing nothing is not an option, so please speak to your Consultant about taking an active approach.

Our Autumn training course, entitled Improving Workplace Productivity, will be discussing practical steps that Managers can take to get the best out of their employees, by using the three “R”s, namely Reward, Responsibility and Respect.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

The issue of the UK’s productivity has recently hit the headlines with the release of a report by the Chancellor Fixing Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation. The plan focused on two key areas: encouraging long-term investment and promoting a ‘dynamic economy’. Some of the key points were higher pay, lower welfare society and a highly skilled workforce. It coincided with the Governor of the Bank of England initiating a debate about the alleged failure of the British economy to become more productive.

Economic Context

The UK’s productivity, (gross domestic product per worker), is currently a fifth lower than the G7 average. What this means more specifically is that while the UK’s economy seems to be recovering with a 2.8% growth rate and the highest employment levels ever recorded, its GDP is lagging seriously behind other developed nations. While employment has consistently increased over the last two years, output per hour is still nearly 2% lower than it was when the recession started in early 2008, and the productivity gap with our major competitors has increased. As a result growth in pay and living standards is also still weak. The Government’s intention to substantially increase and rename the minimum wage will be a major challenge to many employers even if it only affects a small number of staff. The UK’s productivity problems cannot be wholly attributed to the downturn. What we are facing instead is a complex history of underperformance in this area, with many inter-related factors playing their part.

Much of the debate about how to boost the UK’s productivity and competitiveness has focused on big capital investments such as HS2 and a potential third runway for Heathrow and there is, of course, no doubt that infrastructure investment is important. However, investment in the UK’s human capital – the knowledge and skills people have and how effectively these are deployed and put to use in workplaces across the country – is equally critical. So what can employers can do in their own workplaces? In that respect I would agree with an ACAS publication which states that to improve the UK’s productivity, organisations need to rely less on economics textbooks and think more about real life and the role of good employment relations in boosting productivity.

ACAS Report

The publication demonstrates that without attention to work organisation and job design, employees will be unable ‘to deploy the full range of their skills to productive effect or to engage in many forms of workplace innovation’. It also recommends employers to have ‘clear and easily understood workplace policies in key areas of employment relations such as discipline, grievance, equality and absence’, backed up with ‘better communications that put people at their heart’.

ACAS has identified seven levers for workplace productivity. Its comprehensive new report, Productivity: Getting the Best out of People explains how workplaces can unlock their potential to be more productive, through:

  1. Well designed work: jobs and work should be organised in ways that increase efficiency and make the most of people’s skills. The two key ingredients are discretion and autonomy, i.e. having some degree of control over the way jobs are done. Employees should be clear about their job role and have the ability to influence the way their job is done.
  2. Skilled Managers: Managers with the confidence and training to manage and lead effectively. This means being able to motivate, communicate up and down the organisation and handle difficult situations. This is partly about good selection but also needs effective training as not all these skills come naturally. It is also about managing change skilfully.
  3. Managing conflict effectively: systems in place to reduce the likelihood of problems arising and to deal with problems at every stage. Prevention is better than cure as is responding quickly to deal with conflict early. If employers can manage change well then there is likely to be much less resistance and the positive outcomes expected can be met. Good employers encourage informal conflict resolution to find win-win solutions.
  4. Clarity about rights and responsibilities: a working environment where everyone understands their rights and responsibilities. This is not just about complying with the law; good policies reflect organisational culture and values and can have a positive impact on motivation and morale. They reflect what is sometimes called the ‘psychological contract’ at work. Good policies provide the foundation to build expectations and norms of behaviour.
  5. Fairness: employees who feel valued and treated fairly. This is potentially a difficult issue as it can be very subjective and means going beyond the law. It is bound up with employees feeling that their well-being is taken into account which is strongly correlated with job satisfaction, commitment and loyalty.
  6. Strong employee voice: informed employees who can contribute and are listened to. By this they mean good communication either directly via one-to one meetings or team meetings or indirectly via some form of consultation arrangement(s). Effective communications can be particularly beneficial in times of change. For leaders this means listening as much as talking.
  7. High trust: relationships based on trust, with employers sharing information at the earliest opportunity. This is directly related to employee engagement which is essential if employees are going to add discretionary effort. It is key to resolving conflict. Their top tips for building trust are; being open and honest, walking the floor for direct communication and asking people how they would solve problems (then taking appropriate action).

All of the above sounds quite simple and easy but all seven levers are not widely utilised, or, organisations get no more than four of these factors right. Good employee relations means creating an environment which delivers what people want at work. They want to feel good about who they are, what they do and where they work.

Productivity and Workplace Culture

In our experience, performance tends to be better in businesses where there is a focus on higher quality products or services rather than on low cost and where the workplace culture is clearly aligned with the future direction of the business. Investment in workforce training and an intelligent approach to the implementation of ‘smart’ or agile working practices also has a positive impact.
The quality of management and people practices within an organisation, trust and employee engagement can all have an impact on an organisation’s productivity yet they have received very little attention from Government. This is partly due to the fact that such issues fall between the gaps of Government departmental responsibility and thinking but it’s also because they are seen as ‘soft’ issues, best dealt with by individual employers.

Management Skills

One of the big problems faced by employers is managing change and the stress which change and other factors can introduce into the workplace .A report from strategic consultancy Lansons, Britain At Work, confirms that workplace stress and a lack of work-life balance is still a problem for the UK’s ‘over-engaged’ employees.

The study, consisting of two online surveys of over 2,000 UK workers, reveals that a quarter of those surveyed say they are apathetic about their jobs. This finding contrasts with the stories of the over-worked workforce we have become accustomed to, but could explain some of the reasons for the UK’s low productivity.

It appears that many of us are either too engaged, leading to burnout and stress, or not engaged enough, leading to apathy and low productivity. While 63% report positive relationships with their Line Managers, it is true to say that communication between employees and Managers could still be better.

When 44% of workers reported feeling that their Manager does not actively communicate openly and honestly with them, and 40% feel that their achievements are not recognised, we have a problem. It means that we ought to recruit Managers with good social, interpersonal skills who are capable of managing and building relationships. Ultimately this is the responsibility of business leaders in relation to recruitment, training and setting a good example. We need to invest in the right management skills if we are to see any dramatic improvements in the UK’s productivity.

Management Improvement

Managing the employment relationship rests heavily on the shoulders of Line Managers, but their competence in this area is seriously neglected. Government and indeed employers do not invest much in the undervalued area of soft skills or other management development and this is a mistake. There are numerous things they can do to help create the right economic and operating conditions for business’s productivity rates to thrive. However, we should not however rely on Government and in any event employers large or small should focus on productivity as key to the future. We would advocate the following:

  • Communicate well and regularly with your workforce.
  • Build trust and confidence based on mutual respect.
  • Use your employees to help boost productivity.
  • Focus on what is right rather than what you can get away with.
  • Educate your workforce about the market you work in and how they can impact on your business success.

The Three R’s

An alternative way of looking at the issue is to go back to basics with the three R’s.

Reward goes well beyond monetary rewards; which is just one way of showing gratitude for good work. Reward your people as well as you can afford and this will help build engagement and retain a happy, well-motivated workforce. .Recognition in any appropriate form is equally important in terms of setting a positive culture and building morale.

Responsibility means showing your employees that you trust them by giving them responsibilities that empower them and that allow them to grow and feel an important part of the organisation. Encourage them to gain new skills, competencies and capacities by internal recruitment if possible and by promoting employees at appropriate times.

Respect is essential to engagement. Employees need to know they are respected as people and that their contributions are appreciated. If you treat their work lightly or fail to acknowledge them they will either leave or switch off. This does not mean that their behaviours or output is always respected-but the respect you hold for that individual and their unique talents should always be clear.

Successful employers do not plan their business operations without a sound budget and financial plan so the same approach should be adopted for another important asset, its people. Having a plan to achieve positive employee relations is we believe as important as having a sound financial plan. Putting the employee relationship at the top of your list of priorities will allow you to improve productivity and create a competitive advantage.

Our annual training programme always includes soft skills people management training and for clients some places are free and yet many clients fail to send any one on the courses. When we ask why we are usually told that staff cannot be spared. Taking such a short term view to management development will never help an organisation to grow in the long term and is likely to have a detrimental effect on productivity as well.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

An employee who is invited to attend a grievance meeting has the right, under the Employment Relations Act 1999, section 10, to be accompanied by “a trade union official or a fellow worker.”

When inviting an employee to a grievance meeting, the employer should inform them of their statutory right to be accompanied. There are a number of things you need remember when dealing with an employee’s right to be accompanied. Much of which can be found in recently updated guidance from ACAS:

1. Not every grievance meeting attracts the right to be accompanied. Investigation meetings do not require you to allow the employee to be accompanied, unless your policy says so.

2. Employee’s requests to be accompanied must be reasonable. Situations where the request may not be reasonable include, where their chosen companion will not be available to attend a meeting within a reasonable time, for example because of illness, holiday, work or other commitments. The issue of the reasonableness of the request is a matter of fact in the particular circumstances. Employers should carefully justify any rejection of a request by reference to the principles of the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, including the need to deal with matters promptly and without undue delay.

The ACAS code gives two examples of when a request may not be reasonable, which relate to the choice of companion rather than the request itself. First, where the chosen companion’s presence would prejudice the meeting, or involve a conflict of interest (as would be the case where disciplinary action for the same facts is being pursued against the proposed companion, or where the proposed companion is involved in the proceedings as a witness) and second, where there are suitable colleagues available at the same site, but the employee requests the attendance of a companion from a remote geographical location.

The companion must be chosen by the employee and can be a fellow employee, or a trade union official who has been certified by the union as having experience of, or having received training in, acting as a companion at such meetings. There is no necessity for the trade union official’s union to be recognised in the workplace, nor is there any obligation on employees or union officials to accept a request to act as a companion.

We would recommend that in making their choice, employees should be told to bear in mind the practicalities of the arrangements.

3. If the companion is not available at the proposed meeting time, and the employee suggests another time that is reasonable, and falls within five working days of the original time, the meeting must be postponed until the new time proposed by the employee.

4. The companion should be allowed reasonable paid time-off to carry out the role. They are permitted to take a reasonable amount of paid time off during working hours to accompany a colleague, and to prepare and confer with the employee before, and after, the meeting. They may present a complaint to a Tribunal if the employer fails to pay them for the time off.

It is important for employers to ensure that an employee advises their employer in advance, of the identity of the person they would like to bring to the meeting as their companion.

5. Ensure you understand what the companion can do at the meeting. Employers often mistakenly believe that the companion is there simply to provide moral support, and act as a witness for the employee, but can take no active part in the meeting.

The companion, if they wish, must be permitted to address the meeting in order to put the employee’s case, they can sum up the case and respond on the employee’s behalf to any view expressed at the meeting. The companion must also be permitted to confer with the employee during the meeting.

However, the companion has no right to answer questions on behalf of the employee, to address the meeting if the employee does not wish them to do so, or to prevent the employer explaining its case.

6. If the employee going through the grievance process is disabled, reasonable adjustments may need to happen, such as allowing a companion from outside the normal permitted categories. Permitting companions of this nature can be a sensible policy for employers, as their presence may help put the employee at ease, and assist in getting to the facts of the matter under consideration. It is not a specific legal requirement, and larger employers should rarely find this necessary, as there should be a colleague available within the workplace that will meet the needs.

7. There may be adverse legal consequences if an employee is refused the right to be accompanied. The employee can complain to an Employment Tribunal. Where the complaint is well founded, the Tribunal will order the employer to pay up to two weeks’ pay as compensation (subject to the statutory cap on the amount of a week’s pay). The right to be accompanied does not depend on the length of time an employee has worked for/with the employer.

8. It is not necessary for an employee to make a request to be accompanied in writing, or within a specific time frame. However, employees should be encouraged to make their requests clear, and provide their employer with the name of their chosen companion, as well as confirming which category of approved companion they fall in to.

9. Unless contractually entitled, employees have no statutory right to be accompanied by a family member at a grievance meeting, unless the family member happens to be a work colleague or trade union official, in which case, they will be a permissible companion under the statutory right to be accompanied.

However, there is nothing to prevent an employer from allowing an employee to be accompanied by a family member, and it is likely to be appropriate in the case of a young person under 18 years old.

10. The conduct of any companion may be considered as part of their normal duties, so blatantly disruptive or inappropriate behaviour should attract any appropriate action against the companion, as an employee, in their own right.

Finally, many employers are nervous at the prospect of holding a grievance meeting when the chosen companion is a trade union representative. Don’t be would be our advice. Full time union officials are very experienced at these type of meetings and tend to be refreshingly objective and non emotive which invariably helps the employer to get to the real heart of the matter. They will have also encouraged the employee to be clear about what they wish to achieve having raised the grievance. If you feel that you need professional assistance to ‘balance things up’ then we would be happy to assist.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

Does the time that workers (who are not assigned to a fixed or habitual place of work) spend travelling from home to their first customer, and from the last customer back to their homes, count as ‘working time’ for the purposes of the Working Time Directive? According to the Court of Justice of the European Union in the case of Federación de Servicios Privados del sindicato Comisiones Obreras v Tyco, it does count as working time.

According to the ECJ, there are three aspects to ‘working time’: being (1) at the workplace; (2) at the disposal of the employer; and (3) engaged in work duties. For ‘peripatetic’ workers, travelling is an integral part of their job because it is all part of providing services to their customers.

For peripatetic workers, aspect (1) was fulfilled because travelling is an integral part of the job, such that the workplace cannot only be considered as performing work at clients’ premises; aspect (2) was fulfilled because routes and destinations are determined by the employer who could at any point modify the instruction; and aspect (3) was fulfilled because, again, travelling is integral to the peripatetic work.

This means that it should be regarded as part of their working activities, and hence their working hours. Working time’ and ‘rest time’ are mutually exclusive concepts and there can be no ‘grey periods’.

The workers in this case are Spanish security equipment engineers looking after particular parts of Spain. They have company vehicles and start and finish most days from home. They are in contact with their employer by mobile phone, and are not generally required to travel to an office or a central location, save for the weekly purpose of collecting tools and materials. Their employer counted their working hours from the time of arriving at their first customer to the time they left their last customer, and this is what their workers have challenged through the court system.

Tyco argued that their travelling time was a “rest period” rather than working time because they were not carrying out any installations or maintenance during those periods. The CJEU disagreed, stating that such an argument “would distort that concept and jeopardise the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers” and that it was working time.

Why does this matter to employers in the UK?

The answer is that our courts will have to apply the judgment to people like sales representatives, maintenance technicians, domiciliary care workers, and, arguably to occasional drivers like Managers or people going on training courses. Travel to work is not working time unless it is actually part of the work activity, so it will not impact on everyone. It is unlikely that a travelling worker’s travel will count where, at the start and end of the day, they visit a central premises to pick up a vehicle or supplies.

It could be a potentially very difficult judgment for employers, many of whom adopt the ‘Spanish approach’ and discount some, or all, travel to and from customers, at the start and end of the working day. It will impact on employers in at least three ways:

  1. Employers will have to ensure that they comply with the Working Time Regulations, so this may well increase working hours within, or above the ’48 hour rule’.
  2. Employees, who are on minimum wage or just above, will find it easier to claim that their actual average hourly rate is below the Minimum Wage, and therefore claim a pay rise, to ensure they are paid at least the minimum wage for the hours that they are working.
  3. Some employees will take the view that if they are ‘working’ extra hours that they should be paid extra for these hours.

It is easy to say that this judgment only defines working time, but less easy to frame a response to the claim for extra pay suggested above. Much will depend on affordability, but few employers would find it easy to pass on, or absorb, such an additional cost. The good news is that, the ECJ rejected the UK Government’s argument that this conclusion would lead to an inevitable increase in costs for the employer. The ECJ pointed out that the employer remained free to determine the remuneration for travelling time and that, save in the special case of paid annual leave, the Directive does not apply to the remuneration of workers. Thus, the method of remuneration would be left to the relevant provisions of national law. In other words, it should not impact on pay. We would advise:

  • Do not panic.
  • Consider how to change your recording of working time, and use of opt-outs.
  • Consider fitting trackers to vehicles, if you think the judgment will encourage abuse.
  • Review whether low paid staff might have a strong basis for claiming they are being paid less than the minimum wage.
  • Prepare answers for employees who tell you this decision means you must pay them more money.

We would generally not have recommended that travel to first job did not count for working time purposes in any event. Our clients who employ people in this way have a variety of practices in relation to payment; some of whom pay for the time they leave home and others from the time of their first job. Others do not pay them for the allocated minutes, being the equivalent of what would otherwise have been their normal journey time from office/depot to work, and the same logic at the end of the day. This can be similar to any formula agreed with the HMRC regarding an initial amount of mileage cannot be claimed in lieu of home to work. We would be very concerned if this were more than one hour each way, other than if someone was required to work away on an occasional basis. We are very aware that our clients all have different needs and histories, and that whatever is paid has to be affordable!

If this case is worrying you despite what we have said above, please do not hesitate to contact our Consultants who would be pleased to assist.

Introduction

The paper counterpart to the UK driving licence became obsolete from June 2015. The change is reported to be saving the DVLA £5m a year in reduced administrative costs. What will this really mean to employers who need to validate licences for staff that undertake work-related driving?

Employers can no longer take a copy of an employee’s licence, or check it to see whether the driver has any points, unless they still have the pre-1998 paper licence which is still valid. Information regarding any convictions will now only be held on the DVLA computer. Visual checks were never an accurate or secure way of verifying a licence, because anyone intent on fraud would find it fairly easy to obtain a duplicate licence to show their employers. Visual checks were also a big drain on internal resources, especially for firms with large fleets.

Employees who don’t have a photo-card licence, and only hold pre-1998 paper driving licences, which were before the photo-card was introduced, are unaffected as those paper licences will remain valid, so should not be destroyed. It would, however, be administratively difficult to do two sorts of checks, and given the unreliability of such paper copies, it would be wise to only do online checks in future.

Context

There are around one million drivers in the UK who are within 3 points, or one conviction, of a driving ban. As an employer, it is essential that you are not asking employees to drive who could be unlicensed. It is also thought that about 2% of people driving do not have a valid driving licence.

Some employers believe that, providing they comply with the relevant road traffic legislation – for example, their vehicles have valid MOT certificates and their employees have a valid driving licence – this is enough to ensure the safety of their employees while driving for work. Others think that unless they employ lorry or coach drivers, driving is not really a work issue; nothing could be further from the truth. Over half of all cars used on business are expected to suffer some form of damage each year. A third of road traffic accidents involve persons at work, and every year there are 14,000 road deaths and serious injuries involving people at work.

Many crashes are caused by drivers in poor health, with tiredness and poor eyesight being amongst the most common factor. Driving for work is probably the most dangerous of work activities, and one that must be carefully considered and dealt with.

Employers have legal and financial responsibilities to manage driving activities properly, and take measures to keep workers safe. For every £1 recovered through insurance, between £8 and £36 may be lost via uninsured costs.

Employer Actions

Employers must risk assess their driving for work activities, and manage those risks effectively within a safety management system. Employers have an explicit duty of care to all road users while their employees are driving on their business.

Work-related road safety must be incorporated into an organisation’s safety management system, and dealt with in the same way that all work-related risks are managed. The essential starting point is to establish a clear policy for managing work-related road safety. Such a policy must:

  • be genuinely supported by senior personnel
  • set out clear responsibilities and roles for all those involved
  • describe the procedures and systems that need to be followed
  • state the arrangements in place for monitoring compliance
  • set out the arrangements in place for monitoring the effectiveness of the policy

Policy is important, but even more important is culture. Road safety requires a culture where drivers feel they can challenge their Line Manager if they are being asked to increase their risk on the road while working, whether this is being encouraged to speed or, to answer their mobile phone while driving. Many employers assume, wrongly, that if a person has a valid driving license this is sufficient. Incorrectly operating a vehicle can, and regularly does, have fatal consequences and should this happen whilst at work, the employer could be liable.

Some of that culture will be reflected in the training given:

  • when they join the company; and
  • when they are exposed to new, or increased risks in the workplace;

Where possible, employers should tailor training to the worker’s individual needs. The most effective way is to offer additional driver training, either run by a competent in-house trainer, or an outside external driver assessor/training organisation. You need to keep training records for each driver.

Licences Again

In the event of a road traffic fatality involving an employee without a valid licence, the employer would need to show adequate policies and procedures to try to prevent such an occurrence.

How to make licence checks:

  • Ask your employees’ permission to go on the DVLA website to check their details. This means each driver has to register on the DVLA website and go to the View/Share Driver Record web page to create a one-time use consent code. By providing their employer with this one-off PIN number code is providing e-consent.
  • The employee will need to have their own personal details to hand in order to verify their I.D. It is proposed that the online ID verification is soon going to be made more thorough, requiring the employee to have details of their passport number and evidence of utility bills to prove who they are.
  • This will present a problem if employees do not have their own computer, or method of online access. We have been advised that the DVLA are checking IP addresses to make sure that no one is pretending to be someone they are not. It is unlawful to do these checks without their consent.
  • The PIN number lasts only for 21 days (since 10th July 2015) and can only be used once, so if the time scale expires, or you need to check their licence regularly, you will need to ask the employee to go online and give you a new PIN number each time.
  • An employee can withdraw their consent to the checks if the employer does not have a valid reason, i.e. they are not undertaking work-related driving.
  • You will also need to build up your own management system for recording, checking and auditing. This is particularly important if any employee has a high level of points on their licence, which may require regular monitoring. It has been suggested that if you have more than 10 drivers, then it may be more economical to outsource. This figure seems low but actually there is a lot to building up the necessary checking and auditing system in-house.
  • Alternatively, the administration involved means it can make more sense to outsource the work to one of the many businesses who will do this for you. Using an outside service to automate licence checking, and view the results online, may well cost less than in-house administration and offers greater scrutiny, directly against the DVLA data, so you can be absolutely sure of verifying your employee’s entitlement to drive.
  • Some outsourced companies are able to provide their clients with real time alerts, which mean that you are told immediately about penalty codes issued to your drivers. This real time later system is limited currently to only a few organisations, who have negotiated this facility directly with the DVLA.

However online licence checking helps you:

  • Identify ‘at risk’ drivers. Codes to pay particular attention to are:o SP codes are speeding penalties
    o CD codes are to do with driving without due care and attention
    o CU80 is lack of control of a vehicle, usually using a mobile phone
    o DR codes are drink-related
    o DD codes are reckless or dangerous driving
    o TT99 penalty code signifies a “totting up” procedure of 12 penalty points or more within 3 years, and indicates that the driver is liable to be disqualified
  • Reduce the accident rate by removing vehicle abuse committed by unqualified drivers
  • Save time by minimising manual intervention
  • Reduces administration through accurate, easily accessible online information about drivers’ status

Conclusion

Employers should also implement vehicle spot checks, or check service and MOT history of their ‘grey fleet’. Whatever you do, we must stress the importance of making sure that employees are familiar with work-related driving employment policies, found in the Handbooks we put together for clients. You need to document the risk factors associated with driving for work, to ensure that safety remains in the forefront of your employee’s minds.

If you have a lot of work-related drivers, then the legal obligations are clear and, it is now time to decide what type of systems you develop to undertake these important driving checks. I have repeatedly said that driving is the riskiest activity you will ever undertake during the course of your work. Protect your employees, and protect your organisation by taking this matter seriously.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

For many employers employing young people seems just a bit tricky because they “do not know much” and there are legal restrictions which make it seems more problematic. In Personnel Today and Learndirect’s research into recruiting young people, almost nine in 10 employers said they felt school leavers were not ready for the world of work at 16, and 70% had no plans to take a young person on straight from school. We do not share these fears and believe employers should be employing young people. There are legal obligations but they are not unduly onerous to employers who are already taking their obligations to their employees seriously.

Definitions

A young person is under eighteen years old and over school leaving age.

For the purposes of this article we are not talking of children who are below school leaving age. The rules on employing children are very strict and there are also local authority bylaws to be aware of as well which usually involve employers completing forms which get sent to the local authority for approval, prior to ‘employing’ children. The exception to this being if an employer is providing work experience through schools.

Starters

Under health and safety law, every employer must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all their employees, irrespective of age. As part of this, there are certain considerations that need to be made for young people.

The law recognises that young people at work may be at particular risk because of their:

  • possible physical and psychological immaturity;
  • lack of awareness of the risks involved in the work they may be asked to do;
  • ignorance of risks associated with plant, equipment and substances;
  • eagerness to impress or to please; and
  • tendency to high spirits;

Prohibitions

Except where it is necessary for their training and where they are supervised by a competent person and where the risk will be reduced to the lowest level reasonably practicable, young people are prohibited from doing work which:

  • is beyond their physical capacity;
  • could expose them to toxic carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic agents, or anything which can chronically affect human health;
  • could expose them to harmful radiation;
  • involves accident risks which cannot be recognised by young persons; and which involves; and
  • risks to health due to extreme heat or cold, noise or vibration;

To determine whether unacceptable risks are present from these sources, employers must take account of the results of risk assessment, making sure it takes into account a young person’s attributes and limitations. Risks have to be assessed before young people start work. Where they are under the minimum school leaving age, there is a requirement to provide information on risks and control measures to parents/ guardians before work starts. Workers between school age and 18 may only be employed in certain dangerous environments if it is necessary for their training, provided they are supervised, and if the risks are minimised.

Induction

Training of young people takes a bit more planning and implementation because most young people lack the work experience that older workers possess. The important thing to remember is that all the things we take for granted at work will be new to them, so do not assume that they know what we know.

Pay

Workers above school age but below 18 are entitled to the minimum wage of £3.79 per hour up to the end of September 2015 when it will increase to £3.87. The Apprentice wage is currently £2.73 per hour but will increase to £3.30 on 1st October.

Hours of Work

A young worker cannot usually be made to work more than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week. A daily rest break should be provided of not less than 12 hours in each 24-hour period during which the young worker works for his or her employer, which could be interrupted where the periods of work are split up over the day or are of short duration. A rest break for the young worker should be given of at least 30 minutes after 4.5 hours work, which shall be consecutive if possible, and the worker is entitled to spend it away from his or her workstation if applicable. They are entitled to a weekly rest period of 48 hours in every seven-day period, which could be interrupted where the periods of work are split up over the day or are of short duration and may be reduced to not less than 36 hours where this can be justified by technical or organisational reasons. Young workers cannot easily do night work.

Time Off

Since 1999, young employees who are eligible have been entitled to reasonable paid time off, for study or training purposes. This applies to employees:

  • Who are aged 16 or 17 and who left school or college with few, if any, qualifications are entitled to reasonable paid time off for study or training to get NVQ Level 2 or specified equivalents.
  • Who are 18, and who had already begun their study or training with another employer, and who subsequently changed jobs. In this situation, the young person will be entitled to complete their course or study or reach the age of 19.

These rights apply where the 16 or 17 year old worker in question has not reached the prescribed standard of education or training and is not receiving full time secondary or further education. The Regulations put no figure on how much time off would be considered reasonable, but a government guide suggests that one day per week would be reasonable.

Problems – Grievances & Discipline

Unless contractually entitled, no employees have a statutory right to be accompanied by a family member at a disciplinary or grievance hearing, unless the family member is a work colleague or trade union official, in which case he or she will be a permissible companion, under the statutory right to be accompanied. However, there is nothing to prevent an employer from allowing a worker to be accompanied by a family member and it may well be appropriate to allow this in the case of young people.

Guidance

The following steps may help to create a suitable working environment for young people and help demonstrate compliance with safeguarding duties:

  • Consider ensuring young people have “buddies” and/or mentors when they join so they can ask questions.
  • Ensure that any young people are managed by a suitably trained manager, and that a senior manager has overall responsibility.
  • Appoint a Manager to oversee the supervision of young people in the workplace, and arrange training for relevant members of staff.

Conclusions

Fear of red tape and confusion around funding means many businesses fail to recognise the benefits of recruiting young people, when in fact they can help push growth. With greater clarity around how to make the most of youngsters, many more organisations could be using them as a way to boost productivity now and in the future.

Young people, although often perceived to lack the necessary attitudes, behaviours and communication skills for the workplace, can be a real asset to an employer. Taking on a young person offers businesses an opportunity to develop a talent pipeline for the future, if the recruitment and development of that person is managed correctly.

Our Consultant would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

The return of a Conservative Government without any sort of coalition should produce much more certainty about the future of employment law, over the next five years, than most of us were expecting. Having said that, the Conservative Party manifesto and election pledges do look to be the least ‘exciting’ of the proposals put forward by the other major parties, so maybe we will get some stability. It is difficult to see any of their plans being urgent, although it is possible that their plans for Trade Unions and Strikes may be prioritised if they are expecting some degree of ‘industrial unrest’, particularly in Scotland or on the railways. The new Business Secretary (see below) has said that this will be a priority.

Trade Unions/Strikes

The Conservatives pledge to – “protect you from disruptive and undemocratic strike action” in essential services, by requiring at least 50% turnout at the ballot and the support of 40% of those voting, to legitimise strike action. They will repeal the ban on using agency staff to cover for striking workers and tackle intimidation of non-striking workers.

Apprenticeships/Training

They hope to boost apprenticeships by 3 million over the next five years, to be paid for by benefit cuts. They also promise to use fines imposed on banks involved in rigging interest rates. This windfall will be used to “train young people and get them off the dole and in to work”.

Equality

The Government plans to increase opportunities for the disabled in the workplace by taking steps to help those suffering from long term, but treatable conditions, back into work. They intend to work for full gender equality, including enforcing the requirement that companies, with 250 or more employees, publish gender pay statistics, i.e. the difference between the average pay of male and female employees. They may pursue the matter of adding maternity pay for self-employed mothers. They are already committed to cap public sector redundancy payments at £95,000.

Pay

The Conservative manifesto commits the Government to be “on course for a minimum wage of over £8 per hour by the end of the decade”. It also pledged support for the living wage (2014 – London £9:15 and elsewhere £7:85) and encouraged businesses to pay it, when they can afford it. They are also likely to take steps to eradicate abuse of workers, such as non-payment of the National Minimum Wage.

Casual Workers

There is likely to be a ban on exclusivity provisions in zero-hours contracts, as well as enhanced information and guidance to improve transparency over terms. They also have promised measures to tackle illegal working and exploitation of migrant workers. This will involve implementing the Modern Slavery Act, requiring businesses to report on steps taken to be ‘slavery and trafficking free’, including in supply chains.

Volunteering Leave

A new policy promising employees a ‘volunteering leave’ entitlement will present challenges for larger employers. Public sector employers and companies with more than 250 employees will be required to give employees up to three paid days off a year to do voluntary work.

Tribunals

There will be no change to the Tribunal system (keep the current fee structure in place). This is, however, still subject to on-going litigation, so change may be forced on them.

Europe

Of far greater significance to employment law (and much else) is the promise to hold an EU in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017. Any re-negotiation of the UK’s terms of membership, and any withdrawal from the EU, has the potential for great upheaval in employment law, given the impact of EU law on employment rights in the UK.

Implementation

10 Downing Street has announced the Ministers filling the roles of relevance to employment matters. They are:

Employment Minister: Priti Patel

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills: Sajid Javid

Secretary of State for Justice: Michael Gove

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

When I talk health & safety with clients, I invariably comment that people who work in offices are at low risk, which is true when we are talking about safety, but the same cannot be said when we are discussing peoples’ health. Why? There are hidden dangers from having a sedentary job; such as heart disease, type II diabetes, cancers and poor mental health; which have all been linked to being inactive at work, even for those that class themselves as fit. Prolonged sitting is thought to slow the metabolism and affect the way the body controls sugar levels, blood pressure and the breakdown of fat.

A survey of 2,000 office workers, generated from the partnership between Get Britain Standing and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) charity, suggested:

  • 45% of women and 37% of men spend less than 30 minutes of their working day up on their feet;
  • more than half regularly eat their lunch at their desk, which is also known not to be particularly hygienic given the fact that desks are not cleaned that much;
  • 78% office workers felt they spent too much time sitting down; and
  • nearly two-thirds were worried sitting at work was having a negative impact on their health;

It has been estimated that it is possible to lose 5.2 lbs (2.4 kg) by standing up for an extra 30 minutes a day for a year. Put another way, Get Britain Standing says standing burns an extra 50 calories per hour than being seated. Other ideas include using the stairs instead of a lift, eating lunch away from your desk, taking a break from your computer every 30 minutes, and walking to a colleague’s desk rather than phoning or emailing them.

As manual jobs continue to reduce and are mechanised, the amount of physical activity most of us get at work is minimal, so just moving around at little bit more, even just standing up, can make a big difference to calories burned and how alert, creative and productive we are.

The joint campaign put forward a range of ideas that we can consider, and my personal favourites are:

  • Take regular breaks from your computer, stand up, stretch and walk around.
  • Make phone calls standing up.
  • Use the stairs.
  • Have standing or walking meetings.
  • Get everyone to move around with each new agenda item.
  • Ban internal emails. Everyone must walk to colleagues to discuss work. Be prepared that some people may have aged – depending on how long you’ve left it.
  • Organise a lunchtime walk.

More recently, in June of this year, a new study, the first to give expert guidance of this kind in the UK, has gone further stating that the health risks of too much sitting down at work and sedentary living in general could well be a leading cause of morbidity and mortality.

The report goes on to recommend that office workers should be on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day, according to new health guidelines commissioned by Public Health England (PHE). This daily quota should increase to four hours a day, breaking up prolonged periods of sitting with standing-based work and regular walkabouts.

Authors of the report highlight sedentary behaviour in the UK accounts for 60% of people’s waking hours. It comes as a growing body of evidence links prolonged periods of physical inactivity with a heightened risk of serious illness and premature death. Indeed, the report said: “For those working in offices, 65%-75% of their working hours are spent sitting, of which more than 50% is accumulated in prolonged periods of sustained sitting.”

Professor John Buckley, lead author of the new guidance is quoted as saying “What may be most shocking is that irrespective of your level of physical activity, prolonged sedentary working leads to a significant increase in the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, depression, muscle and joint problems.”

The study also suggests it makes good business sense by improving productivity through reducing sickness, if proper staff breaks are encouraged, and people are encouraged to stand and move around, as well as having workplaces designed to allow people to work more easily, either at their desk or other part of the office, whilst standing up. They also suggest bosses should encourage staff to cut down on drinking and smoking, eat a healthy diet, find ways to alleviate stress and warn their workers about the dangers of sitting down all day.

In comparison with Scandinavia, where 90% of office workers now have access to sit-stand work stations, only 1% of British workers have this choice according to the study. The concept of standing whilst working is not, however, new. Several well-known figures are been known to have worked standing up, including former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who would often work on his book manuscripts at an upright desk, as did the US founding father Benjamin Franklin. Virginia Woolf also wrote novels whilst standing at a special high desk.

When our Managing Director last year purchased an adjustable desk so that he can either sit at it or work standing up, I was intrigued. However, now that I know that I could possibly lose weight using such a desk, and I could be helping myself to reduce future health problems, I am much more interested. It is not uncommon that when clients ring my mobile, I will use that as an excuse to get up and walk about, so if you start to hear a kettle in the background you will know that I have also taken some exercise and walked downstairs to make myself a mug of tea as well, in an effort to decrease my sedentary lifestyle!!!

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

The Fit for Work service was launched on 15th December 2014 to offer impartial advice to employers for dealing with long-term sickness absence. The free service will help employees return to work after they have been on sickness absence for four weeks or more. It will be rolled out in phases, over a period of months this year.

The Fit for Work service aims to offer employers, and employees access to web and telephone advice about work-related health matters. After four weeks of sickness, employees can be referred to the service for an Occupational Health (OH) assessment, the outcome of which (in most cases) should be a Return to Work Plan. This will contain advice and recommendations to help bring the employee back into the workplace.

Where a Return to Work Plan is in place, it will replace the current GP “fit note” that we are used to seeing, in order to certificate an employee’s absence from work

Employees will primarily be referred to the service by GPs, although employers will also be able to refer employees after they have been absent for more than 4 weeks. Whoever refers the employee, that individual must agree to participate in the process. Consent is a key part of the whole regime; an employee is able to withdraw consent at any time, at which point the whole process grinds to a halt.

Employers will be encouraged to act on the recommendations and advice contained in the Return to Work Plan. Complying with these will not be mandatory, and there are no sanctions for employers if recommendations are not followed. However, if litigation subsequently arises, a failure to follow such recommendations could become evidence in any disability discrimination or an unfair dismissal claim.

From 1st January 2015, the Government has introduced a tax exemption of £500 per year, per employee where the employer funds the costs of any medical treatments recommended to help their employees return to work. This will be applicable to treatments recommended by health professionals within Fit for Work (FFW) and health professionals within employer-arranged Occupational Health Services. Employers will not be obliged to fund medical care.

Fit for Work (FFW) was initially called the Health and Work Service but was rebranded in 2014, following complaints from Doctors’ body, the British Medical Association, that the Government was misleading the public by implying it would be a comprehensive OH service. Health professionals are also concerned about how the service will be staffed, as there are limited numbers of OH Nurses and Doctors available. It is intended that FFW will complement existing Occupational Health provision, rather than replace it. The service will be provided by OH provider Health Management on behalf of the DWP.

Government guidance advises employers to update their sickness absence policies to tell staff that the service is becoming available, and explain how it will work. We are changing our client’s sickness absence policies to allow for referral to FFW. This may assist in obtaining an employee’s explicit consent when referring to Fit for Work. Our strong preference would be to use well-established OH professionals, such as Gipping Occupational Health, with a good track record of helping employers. This help might be advising employers:

  • on practical adjustments that are reasonable to implement;
  • on sensible and measurable return to work programmes;
  • on realistic time scales for when they should be returning to work, or have little chance of doing so;
  • when the only feasible option is termination of employment;

We expect difficulties over:

  • the need for employee consent;
  • case workers at Fit for Work not fully understanding the employer’s business, the employee’s job role, or availability of other suitable roles;
  • recommendations not being reasonable because of the case worker’s limited knowledge of the employer’s business;
  • the fact that it is only a telephone assessment means undue reliability on what an employee wants to do rather then what they actually can do;
  • employees having too great an expectation or the opposite, not taking any active involvement in the return to work process;

We believe that good advice to employers is based on a good understanding of the employer’s business, the job the employee normally does and how these interact with the abilities and disabilities of each employee. We are concerned that without this approach we shall receive exhortations to provide ‘light duties’, or phased return, without a proper appreciation of context. It is yet to be seen how effective a telephone assessment may be, especially if the assessor has a limited amount of information about the job role that the sick employee is required to undertake. Nonetheless, employers should start to acquaint themselves with this system as GPs may look to refer more and more employees to this service, to relieve the pressures currently being placed on their limited resources.

A cheap, i.e. free, service to employers may seem like a good idea but it is not one that we could recommend. As the Government Guidance says “While Fit for Work will deliver some aspects of an Occupational Health Service, it will not deliver a fully comprehensive service. Fit for Work will fill the gap in support where that currently exists”. We are not convinced that this will work well in practice. The impacts and causes of employee sickness absence are often complex and sometimes unavoidable, and need professional personalised input. We have always advocated making contact with employees who are likely to exceed 4 weeks absence as they are much less likely to return to work once they are long-term sick i.e. more than 4 weeks.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.

Is an employer liable for psychiatric illness caused by occupational stress, bearing in mind that according to a recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, “almost one in four British adults… experience a diagnosable mental health problem at any given time”?

The answer is yes, but the threshold for employers to foresee stress-related illnesses in the workplace has been judged as a very high one.

Duties

Employers are under a direct duty to take all reasonable care to ensure that their employees are not exposed to the risk of psychological harm during the course of their employment. A breach of this obligation may give rise to a personal injury negligence claim, as well as an action for breach of contract. While it is generally understood that employers are clearly exposed to the risk of claims of this nature, there has remained a great deal of uncertainty as to the point at which liability may be said to arise.

Stress Claims

For a stress claim to succeed the employee must show:

  • they have a medically recognised psychiatric illness or injury;
  • their work posed a real risk of causing psychiatric illness and the employer knew (or ought to have known) that the employee was exposed to that risk;
  • given the foreseeable risk, the employer failed to take reasonably practicable or adequate steps to prevent or reduce the risk of psychiatric harm to the employee;
  • the employee’s psychiatric injury was caused, or materially contributed to, by the work and the employer’s breach of duty;

The case law on this goes back to 2002 and the famous case of Hatton v Sutherland, with a list of 16 key propositions. Since then, a number of additional factors have been made, including:

  • Unless they are aware of any particular vulnerability, employers are entitled to assume that an employee can cope with the “normal pressures” of the job, and take employees’ actions at face value. For example, upon an employee returning to work after a period of sickness absence, without any further explanation, one can usually presume that this indicates that they are fit to resume work, although employers should still consider any adjustments necessary to their workload, or other working arrangements to assist their return.
  • Once on notice of a potential stress-related illness or vulnerability, the employer must take remedial steps, e.g. sabbaticals, redistributing work and counselling. Whether it is reasonable for an employer to take these remedial steps will depend on several factors, including the size and scope of the operation, resources, and the interests of other employees.
  • Allowing a willing employee to continue in their job (not dismissing or demoting them) is unlikely to result in liability.

Recent Case -Example

In a recent High Court decision, Mr Justice Davis had to determine whether or not B&Q had been in breach of a duty of care to their employee Mr Easton, a high performing Manager at B&Q, who was diagnosed with depression in May 2010 for about five months, and received medication during this period. He was an experienced Manager of large retail stores, who had handled the pressures of such work over a considerable period without experiencing any undue stress relating to his work. Mr Easton’s claim focused on issues in the store around a refurbishment, a restructure in relation to staff hours, and the handling of his return to work. He returned to work at a quieter store nearer his home, on a phased basis but was unable to successfully return and was once again re-certified as unfit for work with depression.

The Judge said that an employee, who returned to work after a period of sickness without qualification, was usually implying that he believed himself to be fit to return to the work he was doing before. He ruled that employers have “no general obligation to make searching or intrusive enquiries, and may take at face value what an employee tells him”.

A key issue was the lack of a general risk assessment. But, B&Q had a document (Staff Handbook which Mr Easton had read) about managing stress, inviting individuals to identify and notify the employer of any symptoms concerned. As he had made insufficient efforts to do this, it was concluded that, on the facts of the particular case, a wider risk assessment would have had no effect on the outcome.

His Manager was entitled to act on the basis that Mr Easton would be able to assess whether he wished to take up a particular opportunity. This can be interpreted as suggesting that just because people are depressed/stressed does not make them incapable of reasoned decisions.

On the facts of the case, Mr Easton’s claim failed at the first hurdle ‘foreseeability’ in respect of his first breakdown. This was because of his long managerial career in charge of large retail outlets, with no psychiatric history. The Judge said “The fact he was still taking medication was not determinative as to how his employment should have been handled. There are many people holding down demanding jobs who still require medication”. On the facts, given the high standard of proof required, the relapse was also not foreseeable by the employer.

Case Outcomes

The following specific lessons can be drawn from this case:

  1. An employer is generally entitled to take what he is told by his employee at face value, unless there is good reason to think to the contrary. There is no general obligation to make extensive enquiries of the employee, or seek permission for medical input.
  2. Outward signs of stress may trigger an obligation to make enquiries, and potentially to complete a risk assessment. Factors such as frequent or prolonged absence, complaints from the employee or others, or a known history of stress related illness are all relevant.
  3. Employers are not expected to be telepathic. An employer is usually entitled to assume that the employee can withstand the normal pressures of the job, unless he knows of some particular problem or vulnerability. If there is a particular situation in the workplace which is causing stress or anxiety, it needs to be raised expressly with an appropriate person.
  4. The Courts recognise that many employees will experience periods of being overworked and stressed at work. Very few go on to suffer psychiatric illness as a result. The obligation to act arises when the indications are plain enough for a reasonable employer to realise that they should do something about it.
  5. Many people hold down demanding jobs with the support of medication for underlying psychiatric illnesses. The mere fact that a person remains on medication is not an indication as to how their work should be managed.
  6. Just because a workplace is busy, or even pressurised, does not mean that it is unusually stressful.

Learning Points – Prevention of Injury

To assist in avoiding stress amongst employees, employers should consider whether to:

  • Draft a common sense Stress at Work Policy for inclusion in your Health & Safety Policy.
  • Familiarise Managers with, and implement, the Health & Safety Executive’s Management Standards for Work-Related Stress.
  • Provide particular stress awareness and management training on the potential dangers of prolonged occupational stress.
  • Review the demands placed on employees, and conduct appropriate stress risk assessments, especially if an employee is returning to work from stress, anxiety or a depressive illness.
  • Use regular performance appraisals to check on health and general well-being.
  • Encourage a positive and friendly working environment.
  • Be alert to the risk of relapse.
  • Provide adequate training and support to all employees. This includes encouraging an open environment, so that employees can speak about stress and Managers can appropriately deal with it. Action should then be monitored and reviewed.
  • Train up in-house Mental First Aiders at Work, or offer a confidential counselling service, if one is available, but should not assume that their duty of care is discharged by doing so.

Actions for Dealing with Sick Employees

If employees succumb to stress and that leads to absence from work then:

  • Ensure that an employee, on their return to work following long-term sickness absence, has a formal meeting to assess what steps are going to be put in place to ease them back into work on a graduated basis.
  • Monitor working hours to ensure the employee is not working excessive hours, and relieve them of some of their duties.
  • Obtain independent medical advice, or use an Occupational Health provider, in connection with the management of the employee’s on-going illness, if applicable.
  • If not already in use, provide independent counselling, re-distribution of work, a buddy system and flexible working.

Employees should then be monitored and reviewed regularly. Stress-related absence should be treated like any other sick-related absence, and employers should conduct back to work interviews, and consider phased returns. It must be said that, in many cases, the psychiatric illness will meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which means there is a legal duty to consider reasonable adjustments, many of which will have been covered above, but does require creative thought and empathy.

Much of what is said in these legal cases is common sense. Employers need to look after the mental health of their employees; it is good for business, as well as being good for the economy and society. Employees must also look after their mental health, including using established processes for raising concerns, and seeking help as required. Effective management of people involves two-way communication. In the instances where it leads to absence from work, early intervention to prevent it becoming long-term is crucial.

BackupHR™ has a variety of forms and checklists to help clients, but in all cases, early action is the key to prevention, so do not wait for month before seeking assistance; the first four weeks that an employee is away is critical in trying to get an employee back to work if possible, otherwise you could be in for the long haul.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.