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Spotlight on Bereavement Leave

The Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) is campaigning for statutory paid leave for bereaved employees. The number of people dying each year is set to increase given the ageing population therefore it is an important time to focus on end of life issues affecting employees and put support mechanisms in place.

Whilst there are unpaid provisions for employees to take emergency leave within normal working hours, there is currently no legal right to compassionate leave as a result of bereavement as set out by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Forster v Cartwright Black [2004] IRLR 781....

At present, bereaved employees typically take 3-5 days off unpaid and then have to take holiday or sign off sick in order to avoid being disciplined for lack of attendance - believe me; this has happened in some organisations.

Research entitled “Life After Death” has been recently carried out by the above organisations and it highlights issues that employees are faced with in this situation. A third of employees who had been in this situation felt that they had not been treated with compassion by their employer and 87% believed they should have been paid for bereavement leave. More than half of those questioned said that they would consider leaving a job if their employer did not provide adequate support in these circumstances.

Employees report that bereavement is viewed as an inconvenience and there is an expectation to get back to normal daily work as soon as possible. Whilst this may be good for some, it can be catastrophic for others. Providing no support can lead to negative PR for a company and employees then stay off work longer because the pressure to return without having dealt with their grief makes them stressed and depressed. Reactions to death are personal and individual and therefore we believe that each case should be considered on its own merits.

Whilst a majority are campaigning for statutory paid bereavement leave, others believe it would be unreasonable for an employer to shoulder the burden of costs given that bereavement is an inevitable part of life. Some have concerns about what limitations should be included; should leave for discovering that a relative has a terminal illness be included? Should leave be extended to include close friends as well as family? Some argue that legislation would have to take religion into consideration to avoid potential discrimination risks which would in turn extend leave given dependent on the religion that is practiced. For example, considerations for Hindus who perform cremation close to death and then mourn for 13 days with family. Likewise, it is Jewish practice to hold funerals on the same day of death where possible and then immediate family must stay at home for the following seven days.

The research and polling shows overwhelming support for paid bereavement leave but what are your thoughts? Should bereavement leave become a statutory right complete with a statutory payment made whereby employers can claim the figure back from the government, much like statutory maternity pay? Should employers bear the cost?

Time will tell whether the campaign is successful, however we would advise all clients to ensure that they carry out a review of their employment practices relating to bereavement and ensure that there are policies in place to provide support and set out what employees are entitled to.

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Posted by: Jessica Stock
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Bad weather provisions

We all know the adage ‘Fail to prepare…’ so with reports that this winter could be the worst in years, now is the time for employers to prepare themselves and their workforce for a wintry eventuality.

It seems that the UK grinds to a halt at the first sign of heavy snowfall and with statistics from last year showing that bad weather cost the UK economy an estimated £11 billion, now is the time for employers to ensure that they have contingency plans in place to cope if their staff cannot attend work due to the weather.

The first thing to consider is having an adverse weather policy in place which outlines the processes that employees should follow in the event of potential travel disruption and non attendance at work. This should be communicated to all employees to avoid confusion.

Employers need to understand their legal position. An employee is not legally entitled to receive pay unless they are ready and willing to work, however failing to pay could pressurise the employee into risking their safety trying to attend the workplace. Also bear in mind that this could impact on employee morale if they are penalised for trying but failing to attend due to measures out of their control. Therefore employers need to consider what they want to impose and ensure that it is applied fairly and consistently across the board.

Measures could include paid ‘snow days’ assessed on the severity of the weather conditions, employees making up the time missed, taking annual leave to cover the absence or remote working from home, attending virtual meetings if they are unable to attend meetings at the office.

However if the absence is avoidable and employees are using the weather as an excuse then they should be informed that it could result in a disciplinary matter. If you wish to make deductions from pay due to a failure to attend work, then ensure you have a legal right to do so in the form of a deductions from wages clause.

The Centre for Economic & Business Research has predicted that this year the adverse weather is expected to cost the UK economy up to £900 million per day with the greatest cost coming from the employees’ ability to get to work during the adverse weather.  With 76% of employees believing that businesses could be much better prepared, now is the time to put those measures in place!

Posted by: Jessica Stock
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Recruitment Vetting and Pitfalls

A 12% increase has been reported in the number of CV’s containing dishonest claims. Therefore, companies have turned to stringent vetting processes in order to sift out the charlatans and lessen risky prospects. However they have to be wary not to use a discriminatory process.

The Equality Act 2010 protects job applicants and this legislation prohibits discrimination even at recruitment stage. Therefore it is vital that all recruitment practices ensure fairness and predict job performance.

Some candidate application processes can affect certain categories of job applicants and cause adverse impact. Therefore companies must not have a selection criterion that has the effect of disadvantaging applicants with a protected characteristic, unless it can be evidenced that the use of these criterion are justified. In order to do this, the employer would need to show that there is a real business need to use the selection tool and the practice was reasonable and necessary in order to achieve that aim.

Always bear in mind the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 which prohibits discrimination against ex-offenders – unless the role is exempt from the Act. The shoe repair company, Timpson believes that it is fine if people lie about their background to get a break. They have been hiring ex-offenders who now account for more than 10% of the workforce and place great emphasis on honesty. However, they state that whilst pre employment checks are made, application forms, CVs and work related references often fall short of the truth with decisions being based on the interview performance and personality displayed.

Tips on Vetting…

-          DBS checks or ask about previous convictions but be aware of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act

-          Use application forms rather than using a CV

-          Base recruitment decision on evidence

-          Be clear what risks you want to guard against and why

-          Ensure negative evidence is based on fact

-          Use social media to look for specific information

-          Ensure information accessed online is fully verifiable

-          Ask questions in the interview based on reflective practice or designed to test competencies

-          Ensure references are true, accurate and fair

-          Show applicants information that has caused a job offer to be withdrawn

Posted by: Jessica Stock
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Equality in the workplace? It seems not

November saw the announcement of a £1 million inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into evidence of discrimination against pregnant women and mothers returning from maternity leave.

Mothers are a vital part of the UK workforce yet various studies have found that more than a quarter feel undervalued and discriminated against in the workplace, with evidence showing that mothers are being forced out of jobs or passed over for promotion due to their family life. The study went on to illustrate that almost 200,000 mothers had returned to work in the past two years yet settled for lower wages and lower status that their male colleagues.  Indeed, the Office for National Statistics shows that by the time women reach the age of thirty, a gap between the numbers of men and women at the top of most professions opens which is not reversed later in life.

There are those who cannot understand the picture painted by these studies because their experiences are opposite. The Director of Employment and Skills at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) stated that the workplace has fundamentally changed in the past thirty years and businesses are better than ever at managing maternity leave and reintegrating mothers upon their return. The National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) stated that most small businesses will accommodate their staff during this period and understand the need to alter working schedules and use a flexible working pattern. However, these staff members can have a significant impact on the business so it is important that the employer is informed of the pregnancy as soon as possible.

However, these studies are not to be ignored. More than 9,000 women have brought claims for pregnancy discrimination in the past decade, with 35% stating that their workplace was not supportive of their situation and 31% claiming that they were not well treated by their employer whilst on maternity leave.

Co-founder of the parenting website Netmums has stated that there is a major problem with talented and experienced mothers not being able to find jobs with family friendly hours; however the smartest companies are addressing this problem with flexible working, remote working and job shares. It has been stated that if some companies do not change their ethos towards working women then this will have a negative effect on the UK economy with a loss of skill and expertise from those women who do not return.

The government is aiming to tackle this issue by implementing new laws from April 2015. Shared parental leave and pay will allow couples to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth and it is expected to achieve gender equality for parents within the workplace with employers gaining from a system which allows them to keep talented women in the workplace and have more motivated and productive staff. Whilst in theory this seems a great idea, the TUC have cautioned that the plans would need to be backed up with better pay rates for fathers and the Institute of Directors have described the plans as a nightmare for employers.

The best advice to businesses is to ensure that they understand their legal obligations to their pregnant employees and they are complaint with legislation and best practice. This will comprise having an up to date equal opportunities policy in place which includes maternity and pregnancy as protected characteristics; avoid making assumptions or stereotyping employees; provide training to HR and managers on company polices and statutory rights and requirements in relation to pregnancy and maternity leave and flexible working; and ensure that any refusal of a flexible working or job share request is properly thought through and supported with evidence as to why it is unworkable in the business.

Posted by: Jessica Stock
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Recruitment: A barrier for business growth

I attended the Manchester Chamber of Commerce Growth Hub networking meeting for the first time this month and as part of the networking ‘activities’,  we were put into groups to answer questions regarding our knowledge or involvement in start up businesses.

A question was asked to the group regarding what barriers prevent people from growing their businesses. Attendees’ answers were based on finances, limited knowledge, differentiating themselves from the competition etc, but I found what one person said very interesting; that it was about people. Finding the right candidate for the job or getting rid of the wrong one was a barrier to her.

Business owners assume there must be a plethora of candidates out there for roles within their companies given that unemployment is still high. However, they are finding it hard to fill these roles for various reasons and once filled, some find that it is not working out as envisaged and want to end the employment relationship. The government is urging business owners to take on apprentices; however this comes with its own requirements and risks.

This is where MSL HR can help. We provide a comprehensive service to support employers in managing their employees. From recruitment stage to ending employment; we are there at every step of the way giving expert advice and peace of mind.

Posted by: Jessica Stock
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