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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.

Posted by: Opsium Marketing
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Legal proceedings on the up


In July 2017 the Supreme Court made a landmark ruling which abolished Employment Tribunal fees. As expected this has resulted in an increase in legal claims being presented.

In a March 2018 report by ACAS it is shown that since the fees were abolished notifications to the early conciliation process have increased by approximately 500 per week (up from 1700), meaning an increase of 25%.

Where ACAS has been unable to assist employers to settle a dispute through the early conciliation phase the Claimant employee is able to proceed to Tribunal. Statistics show an increase in new claims being submitted to the Employment Tribunal by 57%, compared to the same period the previous year.

The abolition of fees has removed the barrier from employees seeking legal redress and the opportunity to do so is clearly being taken up. Under the circumstances it is ever more essential to make sure your employee management is up to date, legally compliant and that you take advice whenever you face a potential problem with an employee.

This is what we do on a day to day basis for all of our clients, get in touch to find out how we can help prevent those little disputes from becoming big ones. 

Posted by: Rachel Harkin
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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.

Posted by: Opsium Marketing
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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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GDPR – An introduction for employers


The EU wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) becomes law in the UK on 25 May 2018.  This has an impact on any employers in the UK that process personal data.

‘Personal data’ is any information that enables an individual to be identified.

‘Processing’ includes everyday use of that data to manage employees such as keeping their contact details and using their information to pay their wages.

This guide aims to provide awareness of the changes in the law and how this impacts upon how you use, store and retain data in respect to your employees.

Businesses are advised to also consider what other personal data they process and control.  They should conduct a data audit and have regard for the requirements of GDPR.  This document only covers how GDPR applies to the HR aspect of your business.

For employers the key issues to focus on are:

Privacy Notices

You must formally advise all employees (and applicants during the recruitment process) about how the personal data you hold about them is used, shared and retained. The notice needs to state what information you have, why you have it and what you use it for.

Where you share employee’s personal data with any other party, you must ensure it is made clear to the employee in the Privacy Notice.

You must have a legal reason for processing personal data and state what that is in the Privacy Notice.

The Privacy notice must be issued to all employees either individually or it can be included in your Employee Handbook.

New rights for employees

  • Subject Access Request – Employees have always had the right to request details of the personal data you have about them.  In future you must provide the information they want within 30 days.
  • Right to rectification – Employees can ask for errors in the personal data you have to be corrected.
  • Right to be forgotten – In some cases employees can ask for a personal data record to be removed. The employer needs to be able to evidence that the data has been removed.

In anticipation of these changes Opsium have prepared a template Privacy Notice document for our clients to use for this purpose and it has also been included in the up to date handbook.

Breach Reporting

If there is a data breach, meaning someone who shouldn’t have has seen or is in possession of the data, it is mandatory that you report it to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), within 72 hours of the breach.  They can be reached on 0303 123 1113.

Penalties for breaches

A breach could result in a fine for the employer.

Registration with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)

You do not need to officially register with the ICO as a data processor if you are only using personal data for Staff Administration.  However, you must still comply with all data protection obligations.

If your business is processing personal data for other reasons not connected with Staff Administration, the position may differ and you should take further advice.

Record of Data Processing

You should consider whether to conduct a data processing audit and record in a formal Record of Data Processing document how you manage personal data. Generally small employers are not required to create a Record of Processing document.  However your business may be required to hold a Record of Processing document in respect to your other activity when processing personal data. The ICO website indicates that:

There is a limited exemption for small and medium-sized organisations. If you have less than 250 employees, you only need to document processing activities that:

  • are not occasional; or
  • could result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals; or
  • involve the processing of special categories of data or criminal conviction and offence data.

Opsium have prepared a template Record of Data Processing Activity document for employers to use for this purpose.  However this template is a starting point and will need to be edited to fully reflect the data processing activity of your business.

Data Protection Officer

Some organisations may be required to appoint a data protection officer (DPO).  However it is unlikely this requirement will apply to an employer with less than 250 staff, unless they are using personal data on a larger scale or processing special categories of data.

The ICO website states:

Under the GDPR, you must appoint a DPO if you:

  • are a public authority (except for courts acting in their judicial capacity);
  • carry out large scale systematic monitoring of individuals (for example, online behaviour tracking); or
  • carry out large scale processing of special categories of data or data relating to criminal convictions and offences.


The Government has confirmed that GDPR rules will apply post Brexit.

How can Opsium help?

We are available to provide advice to clients on how to ensure they are compliant with GDPR from an HR perspective.

If you would like more information on how to become an Opsium client, please call our team on 0161 603 2156.

Posted by: Grahame Davies
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