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Yes, at Google cuts out the HR department in new transparency exercise

If an employee has a harassment issue within their workplace, the HR department is usually the go to place to report it. Unless you work for Google, who are hoping transparency will put a stop to bad behaviour.

Google have launched an anonymous message board for employees to report instances of harassment. The employee run message board is believed to have had over 20% of the Google and Alphabet workforce sign up since October 2016. Google management have no say about what appears on the board, although specific teams or individuals may be consulted about items prior to them being published.

Yes, at Google

Some allegations, according to documents seen by Bloomberg earlier this month, include:

  • “A colleague started a meeting off by making a joke that called a woman in the adjacent meeting room ‘some random b****.”
  • A complaint about Google’s on-campus hairdressers: “[Hairdressers say]: ‘I’ve never encountered hair like yours before’. [This] comes across as code for: ‘I’m not trained to cut the hair of people of your race’.”
  • A ‘Noogler’, new Googler, who was asked to go for drinks with an engineer. The email read: “Upon arriving, discovered there was no group. Subsequently informed by the engineer that she was expected to ‘sleep with everyone’ because that's the culture here.” This was accompanied by a note urging for more information to be shared “so [the Employee Relations Team] can look into this matter and address it appropriately”.  
  • “A male Googler drank excessively at an offsite event and touched a few different female Googlers in a manner that made them uncomfortable, made inappropriate comments, and followed two women back to their hotel room and told them ‘I’m following you’.” This matter was resolved by Google’s management: “Thanks to Googlers who came forward with information about these incidents, we investigated, substantiated the concerns and terminated the Googler's employment.”

A Google spokesperson said: “Our employees have numerous ways to raise issues - both negative and positive - with us, including through grassroots transparency efforts like this one. We take concerns seriously and take appropriate measures to address them.”

Employee trust

While not every employee will want to go to HR for fear of drawing too much attention to an issue, highlighting it in an open domain, anonymously could help address the issue and make the offender aware of their behaviour.

By managers monitoring the message board they are able to make note of potentially volatile situations and make arrangements to fix potential issues.

Would your company benefit from an open system like Google’s or do you think it would be a step too far for internal transparency?

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Interns – to pay or not to pay

As the summer holidays arrive for students up and down the country, the subject of work placements and internships are likely to come up for a lot of businesses. Emails and phone calls will fill your in-tray, as young people aim to soak up valuable on the job experience to set them apart from the rest. But as a business, what are your rights when it comes to taking on an intern?

Employment status

While some employers take the approach that interns are free labour, that entirely depends on the status of the employee and how clearly that is communicated. There are three types of employment status:

According to gov.uk, an intern is classed as a ‘worker’ if:

  • they have a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward (your contract doesn’t have to be written)
  • their reward is for money or a benefit in kind, for example the promise of a contract or future work
  • they only have a limited right to send someone else to do the work (subcontract)
  • they have to turn up for work even if they don’t want to
  • their employer has to have work for them to do as long as the contract or arrangement lasts
  • they aren’t doing the work as part of their own limited company in an arrangement where the ‘employer’ is actually a customer or client

If they are classed as a worker they are entitled certain employee rights, including:

  • getting the National Minimum Wage
  • protection against unlawful deductions from wages
  • the statutory minimum level of paid holiday
  • the statutory minimum length of rest breaks
  • to not work more than 48 hours on average per week or to opt out of this right if they choose
  • protection against unlawful discrimination
  • protection for ‘whistleblowing’ - reporting wrongdoing in the workplace
  • to not be treated less favourably if they work part-time

When is an intern not required to receive the national minimum wage?

If an intern is a student required to do an internship as part of a UK based further or higher education course or they are of compulsory school age, they aren’t entitled to the minimum wage.

If the worker is there in a voluntary capacity, i.e. they are working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fundraising body or a statutory body, or they don’t get paid, except for limited benefits (reasonable travel or lunch expenses) they will not be entitled to the minimum wage. This also applies to those interns who shadow an employee and perform no work themselves.

Don’t take your word for it

Simply stating that you will not be paying an intern is not enough if during their time with your business they contribute to any action that classes them as a worker. If you’re unsure about whether an intern is entitled to receive the national minimum wage please contact us today for more information.

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You’re on CCTV

In 1993, Philip Noyce directed a movie about a well to do book editor, Carly Norris, who moved into a luxury apartment building before learning that her every move was being recorded on hidden CCTV. That movie was called Sliver. If you haven’t seen it consider yourself lucky, if you have, I’m sorry.

The reason I have brought up this monstrosity of a movie is due to the subject matter at hand, the monitoring of an individual and the risks it creates, and we’re not just talking about a bad Rotten Tomatoes score…

CCTV in the workplace

As an employer, there are several reasons you may want to install CCTV in the workplace. Security, health and safety, protecting your business assets, assessing and improving productivity and compliance are the main ones. But while there may be legitimate reason for using surveillance there are also a number of associated risks.

For example…

Mutual trust:

It’s a tough sell to employees that you will be recording them while on the job. Regardless of intent, the feeling will be that you do not trust them. The key here is to be clear from the outset of your intentions for using CCTV and the impact it will have on the business.

And remember, employers have a legal obligation to not act in a way, without reasonable and proper cause, which is likely to destroy or damage the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between themselves and employees.

Data protection:

Holding data on employees, especially visually monitored data, could result in an increase in subject access requests (SARs) on information held. It can become a waste of time and money to be dealing with requests and ICO (Independent Commissioner’s Office) investigations from nervous employees. Always be sure to act in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and its eight key principles.

Human Rights:

Employers in the public sector should be aware of the right to privacy for employees under the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). Employers in the private sector also need consider their actions when it relates to this act, although it can be argued that it is necessary to protect data. In any case, you will need to ensure that any monitoring is not disruptive or intrusive as a tribunal or court is likely to take that into account when making their decision.

Managing the risk

Here are some practical tips on how to effectively manage the risk associated with CCTV in the workplace:

  • Carry out an impact assessment.

           The ICO recommends this for justifying CCTV use. The assessment should identity:

  • The purpose and likely benefits
  • Adverse impacts (if any)
  • Alternative options for achieving the desired results
  • Obligations in regards to employee monitoring
  • Whether the decision is justifiable
  • Be clear about the levels of privacy an employee can expect.

          Changing rooms, break areas and toilets are going to be difficult locations to argue the justifiability of CCTV.           Public entrance ways are an easier sell when it comes to expected privacy. Recording an entrance way to a           department could result in a small number of employee desks being in shot. Rather than arguing the case, it           may be beneficial to adjust the camera angle instead.

  • Give your employees a chance to be heard.

          Often disagreements can be boiled down to simple misunderstandings from one or both sides. Invite                       employees to voice their opinions, to avoid any potential fallout. One example would be when using footage           for a disciplinary purpose, if an employee is unable to challenge the footage they could potentially seek an               enforcement notice from the ICO preventing the use of the data. This could scupper any disciplinary                         investigation and sour any further relationship with the employee.

  • Deal with the SARs in a prompt manner.

          Employees have the right to request a copy of any CCTV footage that relates to them. Employers have 40               days to respond to an SAR.

Covert monitoring

Recording an individual without their knowledge is only justifiable in exceptional circumstances where you suspect criminal activity or serious malpractice. Below are a few steps to follow when it comes to covert monitoring:

  • Authorised by senior managers
  • Only to be carried out for a set timeframe, or as part of a specific investigation
  • Consider the risk of intrusion on innocent employees and potential risks
  • Areas where privacy is expected remain private
  • Limit the number of people involved

If you are considering the use of convert monitoring, we suggest gaining expert counsel before proceeding. For any information about the use of CCTV and whether it is worth investing for your business, contact us today.

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Community Chest: How to deal with late, or non-paying, clients

In this edition of community chest, we look at the epidemic of late and non-paying clients and how, as a business, you can stem the flow.

Cash flow is probably the most important aspect of any successful business. Failing to receive payment from customers will affect all areas of the business from payroll to stock replenishment. That is why we have reached out to the business community for an answer to the question, how to deal with late, or non-paying, clients. 

Set up payment parameters

This may sound simple enough but set out your stall in the beginning with strict payment terms, such as receiving the full amount within 30 days of invoice. Failing to do this opens you up to clients who will take your kindness for weakness and stretch out payment for months on end. Have a signed service agreement that clearly defines payment terms, interest and penalties for non-payment.


Use statements to summarise outstanding accounts. People can make oversights and miss invoices, but the longer a problem is left, the more difficult it becomes to resolve.

Also, remember to invoice frequently and on time, if you are constantly late in raising invoices you may find the client isn’t going to be too fussed about paying on time.

Due diligence is a must

Before you get into business with someone do your research. A quick Google search will reveal the reputation of most businesses, do they play well with others, have they a history of late payments, do they renege on contract terms? Remember that when a company fails to perform to the standard expected they are open to online slander and the saying ‘there is no smoke, without fire’ couldn’t be truer.

Set up a PayPal or merchant account

Accounts such as these require payment when the service is performed. This eradicates the risk of non-payment and sets out a clear ‘money for goods’ service level agreement. No one is left waiting for money and everyone is happy. Bliss.

Maintain a strong, but positive, position

If you specifiy payment terms of 30 days and haven’t received payment by day 31, give them a reminder call. It’s easy for companies to forget things, we all do. Often, they will be apologetic and offer to settle the invoice as soon as possible. If they still don’t remain positive, but be forceful to come to a satisfactory resolution:

If they don't pay, have a sequence of steps to take. 

  • Have someone else within your organisation make the call
  • Send letters, documentation will help you should you need to pursue the matter through small claims court
  • Don’t be afraid to refuse future credit until payment is settled
  • If they still fail to make payment, become small claims court proceedings

Use a third party

If you find your cash flow is in trouble there are third party options available. Companies such as Bibby Financial Services and Aldermore Bank offer invoice financing options. This involves releasing cash tied up in outstanding invoices. This enables you to receive a percentage of the invoice up front, with the remaining made available when the debtor completes the payment, minus a service fee.

If you have a question you’d like answered by the business community, or you have advice and guidance you think will be relevant on one of our current topics email info@opsium.co.uk or visit our FacebookLinkedIn or Twitter pages and use hashtag #OpsiumCommunityChest

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Kermit gets the chop

The puppeteer who voiced popular muppet, Kermit the Frog, was recently let go by Disney after voicing the character for almost 30 years.

Steve Whitmire took over voicing the iconic character from creator Jim Henson in 1990, but a series of “disrespectful” actions caused Disney to part ways with the performer and hand the role to fellow puppeteer Matt Vogel.

Whitmire has been, understandably, upset over the incident citing his refusal to break important character traits as one of the key reasons he was dismissed, although Disney describes it as years of unacceptable business conduct which soured their working relationship.  

Since the story broke, readers have been vocal in their anger over Disney’s decision, but is the multi-billion-dollar company in the right on this one?

It’s not easy being green: 

While many on the outside will look at Disney turning their back on a loyal member of the team as despicable, it does appear that they gave the employee numerous opportunities to temper his behaviour through performance related feedback.

Whitmire is said to have taken umbrage with one script where Kermit is speaking to his nephew, Robin, and lies about his breakup with Miss Piggy (I know, try and keep up). Whitmire pushed back against the script and described Kermit as:

“Too compassionate to lie to him to spare his feelings”

Studio executives disagreed with his stance and the pages of cast notes he sent to the writers.

Head of the Muppet Studio, Debbie McClellan, said:

"We raised concerns about Steve's repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years, and he consistently failed to address the feedback,

“The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support."

How to handle disruptive employees:

As an employer, it is important to reward loyal members of the team, but not at the expense of everyone else. Disney have a responsibility to all their staff, not just certain high profile individuals.

Despite the backlash from fans, Disney approached the situation well, offering regular feedback on Whitmire’s performance, providing opportunity for him to adapt his approach to certain situations. The termination of his contract seemed to be a last resort for Disney.

While Disney gave the employee a number of years to change his approach, not every company will have that freedom. Granted, there would have been special circumstances for the timescale, namely the employee’s high profile and skillset, remember that no matter how good an employee may be at their role, no one is irreplaceable, regardless of what Beyoncé says!

If you find your business suffering at the hands of an unruly employee and need guidance and advice on how to handle the situation, contact us today. Contract termination should be a last resort, but it’s also a valid one. Don’t leave it too long.

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