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Gender Equality: 2017 recap


2017 was a pivotal year for gender equality within the UK workplace. There have been positive changes, but there are still areas that have been highlighted as ‘requires improvement’.

This article aims to recap progress made in gender equality during 2017, and encourage small businesses to empower everyone within the workplace, be they male, female or gender fluid to promote gender equality.

Update in the Law

In April 2017 the UK Government made it a legal obligation for large companies (with 250 employees or more) to report pay differences between male and female employees. The legislation dictates that the organisation must publish their median gender pay gap figures and their mean gender pay gap figures, including data on bonuses.

ACAS list the areas an employer has to report as:

  • Average gender pay gap as a mean average
  • Average gender pay gap as a median average
  • Average bonus gender pay gap as a mean average
  • Average bonus gender pay gap as a median average
  • Proportion of males receiving a bonus payment and proportion of females receiving a bonus payment
  • Proportion of males and females when divided into four groups ordered from lowest to highest pay

This legislation saw the BBC being very publicly criticised for the pay differences between their male and female presenters doing the same jobs.


Following the heavily reported Weinstein scandal, many women have come forward to share their experiences of sexual harassment. According to the Everyday Sexism Project’s study of 1500 women, over 50% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. 

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of all employees while at work and are responsible to ensure employees are protected from harassment. Through no fault of their own employers can end up being liable for rogue employee actions. Having a dedicated policy to deal with sexual harassment can help protect employees and employers alike. If you’d like further information on how to create a Sexual Harassment Policy, you can read a previous article here.

Gender Fluidity

2017 saw more attention being given to gender fluidity. While there have been no updates in the law since the Equality Act 2010, there has been a lot of press attention around gender, including John Lewis creating own-brand gender neutral childrenswear.  

Under the Equality Act 2010 an employee cannot be discriminated against because of their gender, or an employee’s right for that gender to be fluid.

Don’t Forget the Men!

While a lot of press speculation has been on unequal treatment of women, it is important to remember that equality is about all members of staff being treated equally. Employers must be careful to not disadvantage male colleagues as they strive for equality.


It has been illegal to discriminate against women since the 1970s, and the updated Equality Act 2010 goes further to protect all genders.

While there has been a decrease in women being paid less for doing the same job as a man, the new data highlights that there are fewer women in positions of authority and that men overall still earn more than women.

Offering increased flexible working to help women juggle childcare and work commitments may enable them to progress within the workplace to help them achieve those higher paid positions.

If you have any concerns about gender equality within the workplace, contact us for advice.

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How to manage cigarette breaks


Cigarette breaks often cause unnecessary disputes within the workplace with many employees trying to capitalise on as many breaks as possible to have a quick cigarette, leaving non-smokers feeling frustrated at not having as many breaks.

ACAS reported that 30% of smokers spent over an hour having a cigarette break every day, with some smoking up to 20 cigarettes in working time.

So how can a business manage this to get the most out of their staff and avoid unnecessary time wasting from both smokers and non-smokers?

Legal Entitlements

When looking at the Working Time Regulations 1998, employees are entitled to rest breaks throughout the course of the working day, these include

  • 20 minutes when an employee has worked over 6 hours
  • 11 consecutive hours off per day (or between shifts)
  • 1 day off every 7 days
  • A maximum working week of 48 hours

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that employees are having adequate rest breaks throughout the course of the day, which is governed not only by the Working Time Regulations 1998 but, at times, the Health and Safety Executive too.

However, an employee has no legal entitlement to a specific cigarette break.

Managing Relationships

Resentment between smokers and non-smokers is often the biggest cause for concern when dealing with cigarette breaks. If employers are allowing smokers to take additional breaks to have cigarettes then this will leave non-smokers feeling like they are doing more work.

Treating all employees consistently will stop the creation of different groups within a work place, helping all employees work as a team.

Be aware of any formal grievances that may be raised by employees who are unhappy with unfair treatment. If a formal grievance is not dealt with sufficiently this could lead to further resentment, and worse, considered breach of contract at an employment tribunal.

Clear Policies

While it is easy to point out smokers who are having additional breaks (due to them having to go outside), many pro smokers argue that non-smokers take more ‘less visible’ breaks within the office that are not managed, putting smokers at a disadvantage.

Having a clear rest breaks policy that everyone must abide by can help any feelings of resentment subside.


Where possible, if an employer can offer flexibility with their rest breaks this may help.

If an employee is entitled to an hours dinner break, the employer could offer the employee to split this into 45 minutes dinner break and an additional 15 minute break. This flexibility could help smokers and non-smokers alike.

Regular breaks have been proven time and time again to help boost productivity within a workforce. Breaks away from the workstation (especially the computer screen) helps boost concentration and even have a positive impact on team morale, giving employees the opportunity to socialise.

However, this would need to be managed very carefully to avoid breaks being stretched out by either smokers or non-smokers.


Overall, there are advantages to having regular breaks away from work in addition to having a clear rest breaks policy. Managing regular breaks should help to reduce conflicts arising between smokers and non-smokers.

If everyone is entitled to the same breaks no one will feel aggrieved by what other staff members are doing, and it is then up to the employees what they do with their time while they are on break.

Maintaining this policy and managing staff who take additional breaks (for whatever reason) will help show any staff considering taking additional breaks that this will not be tolerated.

If you have any concerns with employees taking too many breaks then contact one of our employment law consultants for more advice.

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Managing Stress at Work


Stress is a serious condition that can impact many employees. It is vital that employers recognise and identify stress, before it escalates or exacerbates other serious mental or physical health problems.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that over 13.4 million work days were lost to stress in 2001, costing approximately £3.7 billion each year.

This article helps to identify ways that stress can be recognised and managed, and how employers can help support employee wellbeing.

Consider the demands on the employee

Is the workload reasonable? Employers have a legal responsibility set out by the Health and Safety executive to assess the risk of work related stress and to take measures to control this. Ensuring that the work level is appropriate and time demands are achievable is one way to reduce the stress of an employee.

Giving employees unrealistic targets may increase their stress and increase the employee’s dissatisfaction at work. This in turn can lead to underperformance which ultimately costs businesses potential profit. 

Be aware, that acceptable levels of stress may be different for each employee.

Training and Support

Ensuring that employees are fully trained to perform their role is important. Employees who are uncertain of what they are doing or lack the capability to do the role will feel an increased stress level. Reviewing employees training and holding regular reviews will help employees feel more supported. This will be particularly important to jobs where the skills needed are in high demand in the labour market.

Training Managers

Ensuring that all managers have a consistent approach to managing stress within the workplace is important.

Training managers to listen and talk to their employees could reduce the likelihood of the employee going off sick.

Improving Team Relationships

Having a good support network doesn’t just mean having a good manager. A team of employees who support each other can help reduce stress as they have other staff members to help with workloads and to and bounce ideas off. They also have peers to turn to if they are struggling.

A team doesn’t always have to be peers who are working on the same job. They can be people in the same office or employees who carry out similar functions.

Having strong teams can also help improve knowledge sharing and reduce any key person dependencies that a business may have.

Consider an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

EAPs are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that could negatively impact their performance at work. Many also offer the support to people living within the employee’s household as the mental wellbeing of family can also impact on the employee’s mental wellbeing.

Employee Benefits

Employee benefits such as flexible working may make the employees feel more appreciated and thus reduce their stress levels.

Working flexibly can help employees manage pressures and demands in their personal life and balance that with the pressures of work. Giving staff more autonomy over their working day can increase productivity for the time the employee is in work.

Working flexibly can also reduce level stress as employees can avoid the stress of rush hour traffic and difficult commutes. Enabling staff to reduce stress outside of work can help them better cope with stress at work.


While many employees enjoy and are motivated by challenges, ensuring that these are achievable and reasonable will help ambitious employees achieve more. When setting targets, assess each employee and the workplace ensuring you get the right balance between motivation and overloading the employee.

Having a proactive policy in place to deal with stress will hopefully avoid employees going into ‘burnout’ and impacting on the performance of the business.

For further advice on the costs of EAP programmes or managing employee stress contact Opsium.

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Avoid being named and shamed for not paying National Minimum Wage (NMW)...


...Even if you think you are paying correctly!

Wagamama and TGI Fridays are the most recent companies that have been named and shamed for failing to pay their staff the National Minimum Wage (NMW). Both companies have been fined an undisclosed figure by the Government for failure to comply with the law.

The Government have the power to fine employers up to twice the total wage shortfall, subject to a maximum of £20,000 per worker, if they do not comply with the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1996.

But how can big companies get it so wrong?

This article aims to sum up the pitfalls that other companies have fallen into, and help employers avoid hefty fines from the Government.


Wagamama ask their front-of-house staff to wear casual black jeans or a black skirt with their Wagamama branded top which is supplied by Wagamama. It was considered that asking staff to wear black was a uniform. Wagamama wrongly assumed that because the jeans or skirt were considered casual wear, they would be exempt from their responsibility to provide this for their employees.

It was concluded by HMRC that asking staff to buy their own uniform pushed the employees below NMW in their first pay cheque.

TGI Fridays encountered similar claims from staff regarding their footwear. Employees were provided with a uniform, but advised that they must wear black shoes. Again, as this was a uniform that was dictated by the employer, the employee should not be expected to fall below NMW.

Again, the cost of the shoes pushed the employees below NMW in their first pay cheque, resulting in hefty fines for TGI Fridays.

For employers who have uniforms, asking staff to pay for their uniform is not itself illegal or wrong. However, if staff are on a low hourly rate more care needs to be given to ensure that the cost of their uniform doesn’t cause the first pay cheque to fall below NMW.

Working Hours

Sports Direct had a very strict security process for all employees at the end of their working day. Employees were not allowed to leave the premises until they had been searched by a senior staff member. Sports Direct argued that the employees had finished their shift and so were not entitled to be paid. However, as this time was dictated by the company it was considered to be working time and thus subject to NMW. Failure to pay employees for this extra working time pushed employee wages below NMW taking into consideration the time they had actually worked and the pay they received.

Consider that if you are dictating specific times for employees, this is more than likely going to be considered working time, and therefore subject to NMW.

Many employers dictate that employees should be at work 10 – 15 minutes before work starts. This again would be dictating working times.

To avoid employees being late, but not being stung for extra wages, Opsium advises that the contracts are constructed to emphasise to staff that they must be ready and available to work at the start of their shift, not that they merely arrive on the premises for this time.

Not Keeping up to Date with Regulations

The NMW is increased every year in line with inflation. Therefore, each year employers need to be aware of how much the NMW is, and increase employees’ wages accordingly.

Commission Pay

Some companies implement commission only contracts. These contracts can be an amazing way to incentivise their employees to earn money for their company, but they can also leave employers at risk of not abiding by the NMW regulations. In line with NMW, employees should be paid NMW for all hours worked, even if they are on commission only contracts. If the commission employees earn is more than NMW, this is fine. However, if they do not earn any commission, or commission falls below the current rate of NMW, then employees must be paid the current NMW rate.


Current legislation and Employment Law is moving to protect vulnerable low paid employees. It is worth considering any expense that you expect an employee to go to, to be able to complete their day to day work. If the employees are paid the NMW or close to it, then more emphasis will be placed on the employer to ensure that the business needs do not push the employee’s wages below NMW.

If you would like any further information or advice on NMW then please get in touch.

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Community Chest: How to handle negative customer feedback on social media


Social media gives anyone and everyone a voice and the vast majority aren’t afraid to use theirs, especially when it comes to giving negative feedback on brands. So, what should you do in the event your company receives negative customer feedback on social media? We took to the internet to see what we could find out...

Make it a private matter

Where possible, try and move the disgruntled customer from the public eye into a private conversation. Replying first time round in public can be a good option but anything after that would ideally be sorted in private or offline. Quite often a customer who is unhappy with your company will behave or speak a lot differently when they are not in public and gives them a chance to soften their stance if you can sort their problem out efficiently.

Listen to the customer

It can be all too easy to go straight onto the defensive when someone is criticising your product or service, especially when it is something that is personal to you. However, receiving negative feedback is one of the biggest opportunities your customers can give you. If you can put your pride to one side, open your ears and take in the criticism then you have a great chance at improving your product and getting yourself ahead of the competition all whilst maintaining customer satisfaction.

Response time

Trying to respond to a dissatisfied customer in a timely manner could play a key role in getting them back on side. If you reply to a complaint or feedback efficiently the customer is much more likely to feel valued and, as a result, be a lot more co-operative as you try to fix the problem. On the other hand, if you take a long time to reply or just don’t reply at all, the customer could become even angrier and therefore the situation could spiral out of control. The latter could massively harm your company's reputation which is why it’s important to always respond to customer feedback and complaints unless there is an obvious reason not to.  Of course, this is dependent on the size of your company and the industry you are in.

There you have it, a few tips to help you deal with negative customer feedback on social media. If you don’t feel like following our tips, why not take a look at how this Manchester pub dealt with criticism online.





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