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Why you cannot monitor personal communication...


Most workplaces are heavily reliant on IT and digital systems which improve the speed and versatility of communications for businesses. Whilst doing so it also provides workers with more opportunities for personal, non-work related, communication which employers often want to keep to a minimum.

The question of whether it is reasonable for an employer to monitor communication systems in the workplace is a constant tug of war between the employer’s legitimate right to protect their business data and prevent abuse of the systems, and the employee’s human rights;  in particular Article 8 ‘Right to respect for private life and correspondence’.

In the particular judgement of Barbulescu v Romania the issue concerned an employee who had been using instant messaging on his work PC, for private communication, despite being aware that it was against the workplace rules and resulted in his dismissal from employment. In January 2016 the European Court of Human Rights judged that the monitoring of content in personal communication in the workplace was not a breach of human rights subject to applying the practice proportionately and within reason.

In a somewhat surprising turnaround the Grand Chamber of the ECHR has reversed the decision on appeal. The facts of the case are that whilst Barbulescu knew that use of the IT systems were forbidden for private use, he had not been notified that the content of the messaging service would be monitored. In the absence of him being able to mark the communication as private he had a right to believe that the correspondence would remain private. The monitoring of the communication was therefore a breach of his right to respect for a family life and correspondence. Additionally the Court noted that the employer had failed to take adequate precautionary measures to prevent there being a substantial interference with his right as many colleagues had seen the correspondence and open conversations about it followed. The employer ought to have limited access to the content to those who needed to know for the purposes of disciplinary proceedings.

Whilst this case deals with a messaging system the principle equally applies to personal emails, text messages, phones calls and potentially the use of certain websites. In order for employers to monitor and review the content of any communication it is not adequate to simply outlaw personal use, it follows that employers must have taken adequate steps to inform employees that there would be invasive monitoring in place and further that such monitoring is applied fairly.

Opsium’s advice is to check and re-draft your employee handbooks where necessary, make sure your data protection policies are up to date and crucially that there has been sound training provided to all staff who have any control mechanism to monitor the activities of other staff members to ensure that monitoring is controlled, proportionate, reasonable and kept as confidential as possible.

Posted by: Rachel Harkin
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Community Chest: Turning an angry client into a loyal one

In this edition of Community Chest, we look to the business community to answer how to effectively handle a customer complaint and potentially turn it into a positive.

A business can live or die on its reputation. That’s why so many spend so much time and money training their staff to provide a first-class service to the customer at every stage of their journey. But people are human, and occasionally service can fall short of what is expected. That’s why we scoured the business.com community to find out the best techniques to turning an angry customer into a loyal one.

Don’t attempt to change their mind

Don’t approach a situation with the mind set of changing theirs. Instead, aim to understand what their frustration is. Once you do, you’ll be in a better place to remedy the situation.

Listen and learn

See each complaint as an opportunity to practice listening. In some instances, a customer will just want to vent their initial frustration and come away feeling that they have been listened to, so take the cotton wool out of your ears and stuff it in your mouth!

While it is difficult to sit there while someone shouts at you the worst thing you can do is match tone. Instead, keep your tone low and steady and let them speak, even if what you’re hearing isn’t the full story, the worst thing you can do is interrupt.

Repeat after me

At the end of the conversation, repeat back some of the customers’ concerns and frustrations, this highlights to them that you have been listening. Also give them clear instructions on what you are going to do to help them and a time frame in which you will get back to them.

Do what you say you will

Even if you fail to achieve what you set out to within the time frame, contact the customer when you say you will. Be honest about what you have been able to get done, and set a new time frame if needed. A customer will appreciate the call even if a solution hasn’t been reached rather than a broken promise.

Put yourself in their shoes

We’re all customers, therefore when we deal with a complaint it should be easy to empathise with the customer. Often, an initial response filled with empathy can stem any further animosity.

Admit when you’re wrong

In this day and age of claims and legal action, the fear of admitting liability can be all too real for most. But the truth is that acknowledging where you have failed and admitting you are wrong can go a big way to solving most issues. Elton John put it best, when he said: ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’.

If there’s a problem, fix it

Do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Even if the solution comes at a cost to the business, it is far less expensive than having an unhappy customer, and could even turn the complainant into a fan. People will be more likely to show loyalty to a business that seemingly bent over backwards to fix a problem. 

You can’t win them all

If you do all the above and still have an irate customer, remember that you can’t win them all. Also, don’t allow a customer to overstep the mark with rude, offensive or derogatory language to your staff. Frustrations are one thing, but bullying and harassment of your staff should never be tolerated.

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

Posted by: Opsium Marketing
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Which sector deems HR least effective?


In a recent survey by workplace ratings company ViewsHub, 50,000 employees across 11 different sectors found that tech companies rated HR as being the least effective in their business.

On a score out of 5, HR departments in tech companies finished bottom of the 11 sectors, with an average effectiveness rating of 2.66, well below the average of 3.45.

HR departments in Travel came top with 4.20, with food coming second with an average score of 3.70, and large companies with a market capital of more than $10bn rounded out the top three with 3.63.

The holy trinity

The effectiveness of each sector’s HR department was calculated on three criteria:

  • Their ability to get things done
  • How technically good they are at their jobs; and
  • How responsive they are to other teams

The CEO of ViewsHub, Ab Banerjee, said:

“It’s time for more managers to know what their employees think. We started collecting this data years ago. HR departments at tech companies have lagged behind other industries throughout that time.

“If managers had been looking at this data, it would have been an early warning sign. They would have had the information they needed to have acted. It is essential that managers and leadership teams have access to this type of feedback data for their organisations.

“HR departments might say they feel sidelined by tech firms. But they also have to take responsibility for this data, and act accordingly. This data shows that one of the places where HR departments fell down was responsiveness. For whatever reason, employees have developed the perception that human resources departments aren’t responding to their concerns; they weren’t responsive enough. HR departments in tech firms might want to launch engagement schemes to try to correct this.”

Age old debate

This latest data, once again, raises the debate of in-house HR departments vs external agencies. Our viewpoint is that as an external support agency we remain impartial when it comes to HR issues and act in the best interest of the employer. We aim to provide clear and consistent advice and guidance that best supports the business.

Do you agree with these figures? What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of HR? Let us know on our social media channels.

Posted by: Opsium Marketing
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Absence rates on the rise as businesses feel the strain


According to data from XpertHR, employee absence is on the rise as businesses face intense pressure to provide cover at a cost.

In 2016, employee absence has gone up to a median of 6.6 days per employee, rising to 9.1 days for the public sector, equally a working time loss of median 2.9%. The number is higher in larger organisations as the data found that employers with more than 1,000 staff lost 3.8% of working time, or 8.8 days per employee.

For companies with fewer than 100 employees that number dropped to just 1.8%.

Year on year

While the numbers are up from 2015, 5.8 days per employee, they are down when compared to 2006, when absence cost businesses 3.5% of working time, or 8 days per employee.

And it’s not just working time that is lost, according to XpertHR, the cost of providing cover for absent employees cost a business an estimated £455 per employee per year. Not to mention the adding ‘cost’ to a business that is directly attributed to absence such as reduced performance or service, missed business opportunities and the added stress to the workforce who need to cover for employees in their absence.

Speaking about the data, Sheila Attwood, XpertHR managing editor for pay and HR practice said:

“High levels of employee sickness absence represent a significant financial cost to the business, and can have an impact on its operations and the wellbeing of those having to cover for absent colleagues. Employers should use the data they collect on absence rates to be proactive in effectively managing absence in their organisation.”

Does your business suffer from a high level of employee absence? If you’re struggling to deal with lost working time and need a solution that works for everyone, contact us to see how we can help. 

Posted by: Opsium Marketing
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Government names and shames top companies


The Government has released a list of 233 companies who are failing to pay staff the National Minimum Wage (NMW) in an attempt to shame them into changing their ways.

Employers on the list have been fined a record £1.9 million by the Government and over 13,000 of the lowest paid workers will receive around £2 million in back pay as part of the Government backed scheme, which began in 2013.

With over 1,200 employers fined £4 million and more than 40,000 workers receiving back pay of around £6 million, the scheme has successfully identified failings in businesses across the UK.

Business Minister Margot James said:

“It is against the law to pay workers less than legal minimum wage rates, short-changing ordinary working people and undercutting honest employers.  Today’s naming round identifies a record £2 million of back pay for workers and sends the clear message to employers that the government will come down hard on those who break the law.”

Malicious or mistake?

We have added a list of 35 employers at the bottom of this article, many of which are smaller companies who may have made errors in calculating pay, rather than defrauding their employees.

Perhaps the biggest name on the list is Argos, who received a fine of £800,000 after admitting underpaying 37,000 staff earlier this year to the tune of £64 each. The company were caught out after requiring employees to attend mandatory briefings before their shifts, and keeping staff late to complete security searches, both of which they were not paid for.

Speaking about the incident John Rogers, chief executive of Argos, issued a statement:

“I am pleased to say the issue was resolved quickly, and processes have been updated to ensure this cannot happen again.”

Other common errors included:

  • Deducting money for uniforms from pay packets
  • Failure to account for overtime
  • Incorrectly paying workers apprentice rates

Speaking about the list Grahame Davies, Head of Business for Opsium employer support, said:

“The Government name and shame scheme has been running since 2013, and has identified over a thousand companies guilty of failing to pay their employees the NMW. With each passing year, the list seems to grow and that only shows that people still don’t fully understand their responsibilities when it comes to pay.

“The Government have made it clear and all accounts departments should be aware of the rates. Whether these are innocent mistakes or more deliberate actions to save money, the Government have remained clear in their stance that NMW is not an option and those companies who fail to pay, will be fined.”

National Minimum Wage

The current NMW is:

  • National Living Wage (25 years and over) – £7.50 per hour
  • 21-24 year olds – £7.05 per hour
  • 18-20 year olds – £5.60 per hour
  • 16-17 year olds – £4.05 per hour
  • Apprentice rate – £3.50 per hour

0-35 on the list...

Argos Limited

Failed to pay £1,461,881.78 to 12,176 workers

Pearson Anderson Limited

Failed to pay £49,800.41 to 169 workers

Fusion Hairdesign Limited

Failed to pay £24,352.90 to 6 workers

Nunthorpe Nurseries Group Limited

Failed to pay £22,831.38 to 118 workers

Vong's Welcome Limited trading as Vong's Hot Food Bar

Failed to pay £18,575.34 to 1 worker

Maughan Microcomputers Limited trading as Console Doctor

Failed to pay £15,010.89 to 3 workers

Islington Accommodation Services Limited

Failed to pay £14,447.82 to 1 worker

Mr Mohammed Yunas Chughtai, Mrs Azmat Ara Chughtai and Mr Aftab Chughtai trading as Aftabs

Failed to pay £14,142.26 to 1 worker

Rudan Limited trading as Hershesons

Failed to pay £14,141.06 to 7 workers

Mr Anthony Kenvig trading as Kenvig's Hair Marriott

Failed to pay £9,698.04 to 2 workers

Mr William Gareth Griffiths & Mrs Llinos Griffiths trading as Gareth Griffiths

Failed to pay £9,230.56 to 1 worker

Geoff Chapman trading as North Cowton Service Station

Failed to pay £8,229.11 to 3 workers

Miss Mackenzie Sanders trading as Filo Horses

Failed to pay £8,204.07 to 3 workers

Miss Reena Parmar trading as Antony Luka Hairdressing

Failed to pay £7,353.22 to 1 worker

Nightingales of Kidderminster Limited Failed to pay £6,895.75 to 9 workers
Wynyard Hall Limited trading as Wynyard Hall Failed to pay £6,040.05 to 3 workers
Mrs Dorothy Bello trading as Rising Stars Daycare & Shining Stars Kids Club Failed to pay £5,515.06 to 4 workers
Bull Construction Limited Failed to pay £4,998.79 to 1 worker
The Fish and Chip Ship Limited trading as McMonagles

Failed to pay £4,900.15 to 9 workers

DSL Accident Repair Limited Failed to pay £4,896.43 to 3 workers
Shores Homecare Limited Failed to pay £4,840.31 to 6 workers
Deborah Marsh and Kathryn Johnston trading as FX Hair & Beauty Failed to pay £4,790.72 to 1 worker
Bass Electrical Limited Failed to pay £4,717.05 to 1 worker
Airport Placements Limited Failed to pay £4,557.43 to 50 workers
Rainbow Room (Clarkston) Limited (name changed to JPTO Ltd) Failed to pay £4,532.94 to 21 workers
Eaglescliffe Gas Limited Failed to pay £4,492.03 to 1 worker
Idlewild Hairdressing Limited Failed to pay £4,491.02 to 2 workers
Emma's Angels Day Nursery Limited Failed to pay £4,178.89 to 5 workers
Francis John Hairdressing Ltd trading as Francis John Hairdressing Failed to pay £4,129.40 to 2 workers
Elite Hair & Beauty (North East) Limited trading as Elite Evolution Failed to pay £4,053.20 to 5 workers
Mr Mukesh Patela and Mrs Bhavna Patel trading as Eaton Lodge Care Home Failed to pay £4,026.44 to 5 workers
King's Summer Homes Limited Failed to pay £3,974.94 to 1 worker
Smiles Montessori Preschool (Bush Fair) Limited Failed to pay £3,904.90 to 3 workers
Miss Tracey Newnian trading as Tracey's Unisex Salon

Failed to pay £3,879.67 to 1 worker

Field & Rural Life Limited Failed to pay £3,606.09 to 2 workers

Posted by: Opsium Marketing
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