The law for temporary staff has changed yet again - if you hire seasonal workers or take on help to cope with busy periods, the new rules for temps could mean extra cost. As of 1 October 2011, the Agency Workers Regulations gave temps and agency workers some of the same rights as your full-time staff from their first day on the job. After three months (12 weeks) in the same job, the rules granted your temps the same pay and overtime rates as your permanent workforce, as well as paid holiday.
In 2010 the Government estimated that half temporary assignments are longer than 12 weeks, which means that a lot of businesses round the UK had to prepare in advance. However, a few simple steps will prepare you for the new law and could save you money.
Step 1 – Tell HR and the managers who use temps about the legal changes. The new principle is that after 12 weeks an agency worker should be treated as if they had been recruited directly. Part-timers and temps who take a break during the assignment also qualify for the rights - for instance, even if a worker took a break for up to six weeks but came back to the job, only another six weeks would pass before he/she can claim full rights.
Make it clear that from Day 1 your business costs could rise to include everything from extra chairs in the canteen to a bigger car park. Explain to those who manage temps day to day that when an agency worker is kept on for a few weeks longer than planned, costs will rise further to provide them with paid holiday (but not pensions, sickness or parenting pay).
Step 2 - Establish that the temps you call in are really necessary. If you hire seasonally or ad hoc to cope with unexpected short-term sickness, no problem. But if it turns out that you are regularly calling temps in because you are endlessly understaffed or to save paying overtime, you may find the new rules mean you’re no longer saving money.
Consider the pros – flexibility, for example – of using temporary staff v. the cons – higher training and admin costs, for a start. Would your business be better off if you simply hired another permanent employee? Bear in mind, however, that the rules only apply to workers who come via an agency – the self-employed who provide your business with services don’t qualify for new rights and neither do Managed Service Contract workers (such as contract cleaners).
Step 3 – You, not the job agency, are legally responsible for making sure your temps are getting access to all the facilities at work from their first day. Tell agency workers they are free to use the canteen, car park and any other facilities, such as a creche. Put up a noticeboard with any job vacancies so everyone can see it – temps have a right to know about internal positions on offer. If you don’t, you could be liable to legal action.
Step 4 - For longer temp contracts, send your terms and conditions to the job agencies you use so they can match them to make sure your temps are getting equal treatment from week 13. The terms to mirror are those your firm offers to a permanent employee who has just started in that job – if that looks like a cost problem, consider introducing qualifying periods for permanent staff. Don’t forget that pregnant agency workers must also be allowed to take paid time off for ante-natal appointments.
As time goes on, make sure that any changes you make to the terms and conditions of permanent employees are mirrored in contracts with temporary staff who have achieved the 12-week service requirement.
Step 5 – Be wary of anti-avoidance rules. As the Regulations say themselves “there is nothing to prevent an agency worker being released after say 11 weeks or for assignments of 12 weeks to be the usual practice of any hirer.” But firms should note that a pattern of firing and re-hiring temps that deliberately deprives them of their entitlements is easily spotted and won’t go down very well at an employment tribunal.
Georgina Harris, Law Donut editor
As the Legal Ombudsman raises the alarm about online will-writers, Georgina Harris explains why attractively cheap deals could turn ugly in the future
A new report by the nation’s law watchdog, the Legal Ombudsman, slams the increasing number of online ‘legal services’ firms that pop up only to vanish with customers’ money – or leave clients with worthless paperwork for their most important life decisions.
The report, which, reveals the public’s complaints about the legal profession that the Ombudsman has received since it opened in 2010, highlights the serious trouble often faced by those buying legal services online. Unlike lawyers, who work to professional standards, online will-writing firms don’t need a single qualification to offer their services. Many people, attracted by low prices, click on a bargain, convincingly legal-looking logo, behind which hides an entirely unqualified and unregulated firm.
The Ombudsman cites the case of Mr and Mrs T, who sent a cheque for over £1,500 to a will-writer they found online. Not only is this double what a decent lawyer charges for a family will, when the T’s precious paperwork arrived, they saw “a standard document with a few minor personal details inserted”. When the Ts complained that “they could have done [it] themselves by getting a pack from a stationers” (WH Smith, £10), they received no response. As an unregulated firm, the Ombudsman can’t help. The Ts are left with no valid will, and, in any case, a lot less money for their old age.
“Phoenix” firms, which the Ombudsman says have increased in number, “close and re-open as different structures, leaving the fall out for their individual customers”. As the Ombudsman points out, regardless of whether it decides a customer has been cheated – through the non-appearance of a will, for instance, or for a badly drafted one – if the firm has disappeared, so does the customers’ money.
The Ombudsman says, with admirable reservation, that buying online “comes with its own set of specific issues for consumers, not least when something goes wrong.”
Ironically, this report comes at a time when old-age planning and will-making are ever more essential to all our lives. Houses are worth more, inheritance tax affects ordinary people as well as the rich, and the eye-watering costs of care need careful thought – not to mention ensuring proper protection and care for those in later life. It might come as a surprise to realise that in the UK none of this can be done informally – set legal wording is required for everything from gifting trinkets in your will to naming the relations who will take care of you and/or your money in case of, say, medical emergency.
Savvy people congratulate themselves on preparing for their dotage well in advance – but as the Ombudsman points out: “the nature of legal services is that, usually, the flaw in the service is not apparent until the end – or many years later.” Is an ‘online discount’ worth ending up with an invalid Power of Attorney when you are bedbound and unable to pay medical bills, or your children finding out a typing error took their shares in the family business? While the Ombudsman and the Law Commission work out how to deal with unscrupulous or incomptetent firms, a lawyer remains the only safe bet.
Georgina Harris, Law Donut editor