The introduction of new regulations almost inevitably brings howls of anguish from the small business community. The introduction of a new system of fit notes from April 6 (to replace the traditional sick note) is no exception.
For those who aren’t up to date with the changes, the new fit note allows an employee’s GP to declare the patient either “not fit for work” or “fit for some work”.
Where the patient is not fully fit, the GP can also recommend several different options: a phased return to work; altered hours; amended duties; or workplace adaptations.
At first glance, this looks like the usual recipe for disaster, forcing employers to introduce costly changes. But that turns out not to be the case. If it would be impractical or too expensive to make the necessary changes, you can simply treat it as if the GP had said the employee was “not fit for work” and handle sickness and sick pay in the normal way.
The upshot should be that you can reduce the number of days lost to sickness and the disruption to your business. It’s good news!
For those who can’t stand looking on the bright side, it’s worth mentioning that the situation is quite different for employees suffering from a long-term condition. That’s covered by disability discrimination regulations, and you’re legally bound to make reasonable adjustments.
Your business may have HR policies and procedures in place already; but are they current and relevant? Each April brings with it annual legislative changes which could result in your business missing a trick if you’re not prepared for them.
Here are the five changes that your business needs to prepare for now:
From 4 April 2010 allowances for statutory maternity pay, paternity, adoption pay and maternity pay are changing from £123.06 to £124.88 per week. Allowances for statutory sick pay of £79.15 per week remain unchanged this year.
The Government has announced that although it is committed to the principle, it will not go ahead with the planned extension of statutory maternity pay from 39 to 52 weeks this April.
2. Fit Note Scheme
From 6 April 2010, as an employer you will no longer be presented with the traditional GP sick note setting out the reason for an employee’s absence. Instead, GPs will produce “fit notes” which will focus on the work that an ill person is able to do, rather than what they are unable to do. Again, Business Link has a helpful section of information for employers on the fit note scheme and an example fit note template is available here.
There are differing opinions on whether the new system will be more or less beneficial to employers; we will have to see how it plays out. For the time being, as an employer, you will need to acquaint yourself with the new fit note form, know how to respond to it, and adjust your absence management procedures to ensure that any adjustments recommended by a GP in a fit note are considered. You should also maintain a record of the reasons for any non-implementation of recommendations.
3. Right to Train
On 6 April 2010 the new Employee Study and Training Regulations come into force and give a new right for employees to request time off from work for training or study. Initially, this right will only affect employers who have over 250 employees, but by 2011, the right will extend to all employers. Essentially, the regulations set out how an employer should respond to such requests.
My advice would be to ensure your company has a policy to reflect this new right which should include how and to whom in the company the request should be made, who will consider the request and in what timeframe. I recommend maintaining a record of requests together with the reasoning behind any approvals or rejections in order to ensure consistency of process, and to demonstrate equality and fairness in your workplace.
For more information, Business Link provides an overview of the detail which you need.
4. Paternity Leave
New laws mean babies due next spring may see more of both parents. Rules that come in on 6 April this year, but apply to families with babies due from 3 April 2011, allow dads who satisfy certain conditions up to six months’ paternity leave – provided the mother has returned to work.
The idea is to give families more choice as to how they balance work and childcare; paternity leave entitlement currently stands at just two weeks. The Government is expected to issue guidance before April 2011 as to how employers can best manage and administer these new regulations, so you do have some breathing space.
However, now is the time to take stock of your company’s current paternity leave policy and amend accordingly, consider whether you are willing to introduce additional flexibility and enhanced rights into your workplace if it is a means for you of attracting and retaining the right employees, review your existing structure and ensure managers are prepared for the new entitlement to take effect.
Don’t forget to also update your existing maternity leave policy to reflect the mother’s ability to share leave with the father.
On the horizon, but awaiting Royal Assent at the time of writing, is the Equality Bill. Royal Assent for this Bill is expected in April 2010, and the Act will then be due to take effect in October 2010. There is some discussion as to whether the impending general election will disrupt the Bill’s timetable, but there seems to be cross-party support for it and at this stage there is no indication that the Bill’s progress through Parliament is being delayed.
The purpose behind the Bill is to “modernise and streamline discrimination legislation” and “make Britain stronger, fairer and more equal”. As such, it’s a biggie and it will have an impact on your business. The scope of the Bill is very broad, and this post will not set out the detail here.
My immediate advice is that, if you haven’t already, you need to get up to speed with the Bill. As an initial introduction to this mammoth piece of legislation, the Government Equalities Office has a very helpful set of resources, links and bullet-point updates which are easy to digest. Again, with this Bill, there is some breathing space prior to its introduction, but not much, so I’d strongly recommend that you start to conduct an equality audit across the range of your HR policies to ensure compliance with the Act when it comes into force.
6. Annual Healthcheck
Alongside all the above, changes in your business over the past year and expectations of your staff in the future prompt the need for an annual review of your policies; so I always recommend an annual healthcheck of policies, processes and standard employment contracts.
The first quarter of every year is a perfect opportunity to review HR policies and practices in your business. So, to avoid showers this April, spring-clean your HR policies now.
It’s not often that you’ll find me quoting from the Daily Mail, but a recent headline caught my attention: “Headteachers are being sacked like football managers”.
The Association of School and College Leaders has just released figures which show that 163 headteachers were sacked last year, and commented that local authorities have unrealistic expectations about the speed at which results can be achieved.
For any business that employs more than a handful of people, there is likely to a structure in place in which some employees have managerial responsibility over others. Does this mean that the manager is responsible for the overall performance of their team? Is it fair to punish them for failures which could be due to circumstances under their control? On the one hand they are an easy scapegoat, as in the case of headteachers or football managers; sacking a leader is evidence of decisive action and a new beginning. If they were in charge then it must be their fault. However, this course of action often fails to deal with any underlying problems, either within the team or with procedures and working practices.
Leaving aside the reasons for last year’s sackings, the £4 million paid out to school heads who were dismissed is surely evidence that problems could have been handled more effectively. So how should you deal with a failure to meet expectations in any of your employees?
The first step is to ensure that an employee clearly knows what is expected of them. Are job descriptions up to date? Set SMART objectives (specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and timely) within a structured meeting, and keep meeting records.
Provide regular feedback, and deal with problems as soon as they arise.
Remember that disciplinary action, especially dismissal, should be a last resort in capability cases, and that procedures need to be spot on to avoid potentially expensive mistakes.
Jennie Horchover of The HR Dept.
2010 has come round pretty fast, and business owners are getting ready to deal with workers’ requests for time off to watch World Cup matches on TV - or even go to South Africa. Can you remember all the legal rules about holidays?
The bottom line is that workers are entitled to 28 days’ paid holiday each year (a pro-rata proportion for part-timers and temps), and entitlement starts from day one of their employment. But job contracts and policies may allow your staff to carry holiday forward in some circumstances, and new case law says sick workers have the right to carry holiday forward in some circumstances, so some employees may be entitled to more than 28 days.
Contracts or policies can limit when employees can take holiday – provided they have taken their 28 days by the end of the holiday year. For example, employers may be able to insist they take part of their holiday on bank holidays and/or during an annual summer close-down, and stop them from taking holiday during peak periods or when the firm would otherwise be short-staffed – proper, objective grounds. Think about emailing employees to remind them when you can refuse holiday requests. Some employers also set limits on how long each holiday can be - for example, that no holiday can last more than a fortnight.
Contracts or policies may set out how much notice employees must give you of their holiday plans. If not, the notice an employee gives has to be twice as long as the holiday they are asking for. So two days’ holiday requires four days’ notice.
If an employer refuses proposed holiday dates they have to do so in writing, and the length of notice of the refusal must be at least as long as the holiday requested – for example, at least two weeks before the worker’s holiday is due to start if refusing a two-week holiday.
Employers often have a system for determining priority if there are holiday clashes or if they’d otherwise be left short-staffed. This needs to be fair and non- discriminatory system, which can be as simple as ‘first come, first served’. Favouring employees with longer service could discriminate against younger employees who have not had time to build up service, and may also be sex discrimination because (on average) women have shorter periods of service than men.
That’s holidays sorted – but how do you stop workers just calling in sick on their country’s match days - a particular problem with this World Cup because South Africa and the UK are on similar time zones, so matches will be on during the working day? Answers on a World Cup ticket please!
The issue of workplace bullying has hit the headlines again with allegations about the Prime Minister. As is so often the case, people’s reactions tend to be shaped by their own views. Labour loyalists are quick to describe Gordon Brown as passionate – but not a bully – while political opponents try to stir things up. That’s not an unusual response.
If an employee at work complains of bullying, there’s a tendency to make a judgement based on what we think of the individuals involved. Unfortunately, that’s completely the wrong approach. Even if you are absolutely certain that someone is not a bully, you must investigate any allegations. Doing so helps show the employee that you take their concerns seriously. It also gives you a chance to identify where things have gone wrong and smooth over any misunderstandings.
Perhaps more importantly, failing to investigate properly lays you open to the risk that the employee makes a claim to the Employment Tribunal. The Prime Minister’s case also raises the question of how you handle things if you too are a ‘passionate’ boss. What are employees expected to do if they think you are bullying them – and at the same time, you are the person they are expected to take their grievance to?
Make sure your business has proper disciplinary and grievance procedures. They could save everyone involved a lot of aggravation.