Recently, an accident on a construction site in which a worker died has resulted in an £80,000 fine for the company involved, who admitted two breaches of the Health & Safety Act. The worker who died had been hit on the head while operating a digger he’d not been trained to use.
While this is an extreme case, all businesses should be aware of their health and safety responsibilities both towards their employees and anyone working in, around or visiting their premises.
A thorough risk assessment, including a fire risk assessment, is the most effective way of improving your firm’s health and safety. If you employ five or more people, you must have a written policy in place, of which all employees are aware, and you must display the poster ‘Health and safety law: what you should know’, available from HSE books, or distribute the leaflet.
The Health & Safety Executive website also has guidance and resources for small businesses.
Radio 4’s Today programme recently offered us the thought that our problem with the UK ’s workforce is that too many employment laws are driven by high-falutin’ ideology rather than evidence they achieve what we want. I don’t care what each new bit of legislation says, or why it was dreamed up, as long as it actually delivers what we want it to.
At the moment, some of our HR laws don’t. Take maternity rights as an example. I’m a liberal, so I believe that (a) the best candidate should get the job and (b) for most jobs, sex is irrelevant. That’s better for business, better for women and better for society in general. So I agree with the Government that our laws should put women and men on an equal footing. Maybe maternity rights that give mothers a significant period of leave, some of it paid, and then give them the right to their job back, are achieving that. If, as the Government proposes, increasing the mums’ period of paid leave will achieve more equality, three cheers - go for it! But are these new policies really achieving that?
I hear stories that employers sometimes reject a female applicant for a job, or fail to promote a woman when, on merit, she is the best person for the job. Bosses keep the reasons under wraps but actually it’s because she is young, in a relationship, and may go off and have babies. I hear that, if we look at how women fare in the UK workplace compared to some other countries, many other places are more meritocratic than we are. I also hear that in some of those countries women have fewer maternity rights. Does that mean that the fewer rights women have, the more likely they are to be treated better when it comes to recruitment and promotion? Or would we find that those countries are actually more meritocratic because social norms are different there, their country’s richer than ours, or because the demographics in that country mean women are bound to do better in the workplace?I, for one, don’t know.
My big worry is that our politicians don’t know either. My even bigger worry is that - policy evaluations notwithstanding - they don’t seem to want to find out. Instead, they seem hung up on the belief that to make people more equal, you just keep giving some of them more rights. Faced with possible evidence that this may be counter-productive - that, say, giving women more rights may not actually benefit them, or their employers - they don’t stop and reflect enough. They just plough on – and maybe move the goalposts so it doesn’t look so obvious that it isn’t working. Maternity rights seem a ripe candidate for a proper, rigorous evidence-based approach. Ideas anyone?
One topic has dominated conversation in homes, workplaces and pubs recently – the snow. It’s continued to fall and, while it’s beautiful to look at, it’s equally as disruptive.
Commuters on the roads and rails have suffered as accidents, closures and delays become a common occurrence. The biggest headache, though, is for small-business owners who have been left short-staffed by employees who have not been able to make it in to work.
With the arctic conditions set to continue, it may be prudent for firms without any existing procedures to consider introducing contingency plans in the event of more extreme weather.
After the blizzard that hit the UK last February, many employers did introduce plans, embracing technology to enable employees to work flexibly, from home, and on the move. These firms will have reaped the benefit of their policies over the last few weeks.
If you do allow your employees to work from home in extreme weather, or you are thinking about it, you must be aware of your responsibilities for the health and safety of the home working environment.
The Law Donut also has a great collection of FAQs on home working which should answer any additional questions you may have.
Right, that’s enough from me. I’m off to build a snowman.
Many individuals struggle bravely in to work when it snows, while others stay at home. Some work from home, whilst others have no option but to take care of their children as schools close. Some workplaces close due to bad weather, and others remain open, if not fully staffed.As the big freeze descends over the UK this week, managers must handle pay and working hours if bad weather stops staff turning up.
Many individuals struggle bravely in to work when it snows, while others stay at home. Some work from home, whilst others have no option but to take care of their children as schools close. Some workplaces close due to bad weather, and others remain open, if not fully staffed.
The UK has a remarkably flexible labour market, and the answer depends on what type of contract you have got with your staff, and whether you keep the workplace open. There is no general right for employees who don't turn up for work to be paid, and if you open your workplace and they do not turn up, you may not be obliged to pay. Many employers do pay more than they are required to, but it is important to know when you are choosing to pay more, and when you have to pay.
If the workplace remains open as usual, and the employees fail to make it in to work due to travel difficulties, they are not automatically entitled to be paid for their absence. If they turn up late and they decide to go home early, they are entitled to be paid for the hours they actually work. If you send the employee home early, this has the same effect as closing the workplace for part of the day (see below). Employees can ask you to allow them to take the day(s) as paid leave. You are not obliged to authorise paid leave retrospectively but if you do so, make sure the holiday records are kept properly up to date. You cannot decide to make this a day's leave without the employee's consent. Employees who have to take the day off to take care of their children when local schools shut are entitled to dependants’ leave, which is unpaid. They are only entitled to be paid for the time off if their contract, or one of your firm’s policies, says they are.
You are only entitled to withhold pay for a lay-off period (when the workplace is closed) if your contract with the employee gives you that right. Check your contracts carefully. If your contracts do provide for ”unpaid layoffs”, employees are still entitled to guaranteed pay at the appropriate rate for the first five days’ lay-off in any three-month period. For these purposes a day's lay-off is a day when less than 50 per cent of ordinary work was provided. Employees are entitled to half their normal basic pay subject to a maximum of £21.50 per day.
Many employers have working systems that mean employees could work from home – either as part of their normal working-from-home routine, or on an emergency basis. These individuals are working and should be paid for their time.
There is an historic tradition in the UK (fading fast) that distinguishes between staff on annual or monthly salaries, and those on an hourly rate - the old “white collar-blue collar” divide. Traditionally, salaried staff are not paid by the hour, do not receive overtime when they work more hours, nor receive a deduction when they work less. These staff are viewed as being paid for service, rather than for the particular work performed. This group of individuals is generally entitled to pay unless the contract provides otherwise. You should check your contracts carefully.
This applies even if no work is actually performed or where the employee is prevented from working due to factors beyond their control, as long as the employee remains ready and willing to serve the employer. Ready and willing would normally mean making an effort to get to work where it is safe to do so. Locally based staff who could have made it in would not be automatically entitled to pay if they did not turn up. Many organisations no longer feel comfortable about having a two-tier contract system, and increasingly have one single status contract that applies to all. So it's possible your hourly paid staff may be in the same contractual position as salaried staff. A lot depends on what your contracts say.
Check the terms of your contracts - it may be that time not worked does not count for payment, and missed work will have to be performed at another time.
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060
Website : www.irenicon.co.uk.
You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye.