Why do you need HR as an SME or Start Up – what’s the point?
Are you clear on what steps to take as a business if facing a tribunal, unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal or whistleblowing claim? If your answers are no, please do read on.
I spoke to an owner of a small business the other day who told me that he never gets around to doing the HR/people tasks for his staff, it always gets pushed down the priority list. His thinking was that, although he knew he had certain legal responsibilities, ‘nothing bad had happened yet’. Does that sound familiar?
There comes a point in every start-up, fledgling or growing SME where you start to consider adding positive and value added HR to your structure.
A recent survey conducted by Croner among those working in SME organisations, including CEOs, MDs, finance directors, operations directors, line managers, PAs and secretaries, shows that one in 10 are spending up to 15 hours or two days a week managing HR issues.
The Top 7 common HR risks that small businesses take and what the potential penalties are for ignoring them or getting them wrong.
- Failure to provide written Employee Terms
Employees and workers must receive most of the information about their terms in a single “principal” document no later than when they start employment.
The employer will be ordered to pay the employee two weeks’ pay (subject to the statutory cap on a week’s pay) or, if it is just and equitable in the circumstances, a higher amount of four weeks’ pay (subject to the statutory cap). If there are exceptional circumstances where it would be unjust and inequitable to make an award against the employer, none will be made.
- Failing to check an employee’s right to work evidence
All employers in the UK have a responsibility to prevent illegal working. You do this by conducting simple right to work checks before you employ someone, to make sure the individual is not disqualified from carrying out the work in question by reason of their immigration status.
If you are found to be employing someone illegally and you have not carried out the prescribed checks, you may face sanctions including:
- a civil penalty of up to £20,000 per illegal worker;
- in serious cases, a criminal conviction carrying a prison sentence of up to 5 years and an unlimited fine;
- closure of the business and a compliance order issued by the court;
- disqualification as a director;
- not being able to sponsor migrants;
- seizure of earnings made as a result of illegal working; and
- review and possible revocation of a licence in the alcohol and late-night refreshment sector and the private hire vehicle and taxi sector.
- Unfair Dismissal
Employers are expected to comply with the principles set out in the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures when handling disciplinary situations.
If a tribunal finds that an employee has been unfairly dismissed, you might be ordered to:
- reinstate them (give them their job back);
- re-engage them (re-employ them in a different job).
You might also have to pay compensation, which depends on the employee’s:
- gross weekly pay;
- length of service.
You might have to pay extra compensation if you do not follow a tribunal’s order to reinstate someone.
There’s a limit on the amount a tribunal can award for unfair dismissal, apart from in cases relating to:
- health and safety (for example where you unfairly dismiss someone for taking action on health and safety grounds);
Procedural failings will normally render a dismissal unfair, but compensation can be reduced in proportion to the likelihood that the dismissal would have occurred had a fair procedure been followed.
There are also some circumstances in which the minimum service requirement does not apply.
Where there has been an unreasonable failure by either party to comply with the code the tribunal may increase or decrease compensation by up to 25%, depending on which party is at fault. A failure to follow the code will not, by itself, render an employer liable to legal proceedings.
- Unfair Discrimination
You’re legally protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010.
You’re also protected from discrimination if:
- you’re associated with someone who has a protected characteristic, for example a family member or friend
- you’ve complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim
- An employee who thinks they’ve been discriminated against may raise a grievance or take their case to an employment tribunal.
- You’re responsible for discrimination carried out by your employees unless you can show you’ve done everything you reasonably could to prevent or stop it.
There is no maximum cap on the amount of compensation that you can receive for discrimination.
- Lack of Company Policies & Procedures
The only express legal requirements for employers to have employment policies and procedures are as follows:
- under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers with 5 or more employees must have a written general Health and Safety Policy; and
- under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employers are required to give employees a written statement of the main terms and conditions of their employment, which includes the employer’s rules and procedures for dealing with both disciplinary and grievance issues
However, there are also a number of other areas where non-statutory codes of practice, designed to set out guidance as to how employers can comply with their statutory employment obligations, recommend that employers implement appropriate policies and/or procedures.
A prime example of this is the employment related code of practice issued under the Equality Act 2010, which outlaws discrimination and harassment on various grounds, including sex, race, age and religion. This code recommends that an employer should have an Equal Opportunities Policy and gives guidance as to what it should contain.
Although the code concerned does not itself have legal status, breaches of it can be taken into account by an Employment Tribunal in determining an employer’s liability for discrimination and harassment claims, and as a result employers would be wise to ensure that they have such a policy in place.
Even if stated to be non-contractual, it is very important for employers to note that an employer’s failure to follow their own policy, although not a breach of contract, will still generally be taken into account by an employment tribunal so far as it is relevant to determining the claim concerned. Tribunals will therefore expect an employer to be able to give a very good reason as to why any relevant non-contractual policy was not followed. Furthermore, it can be the case that, even if an employer states in a handbook that certain or all policies are not contractual in nature, policies can be deemed to be contractual, if other circumstances, such as custom and practice, supports that fact.
- Wasted Time
If you don’t handle your HR/people management responsibilities properly, you will inevitably encounter issues or complaints from your employees at some point. The management time required to sort these out is always significantly more than the time that would have been needed to do things right in the first place.
And if you are taken to an employment tribunal, the preparation required amounts to weeks of lost management time.
- Demotivated staff
Information about employee rights is widely available on the internet, so employees tend to be fairly clued up about their rights at work and the processes that their employers should follow. So if you don’t do things properly, your employees will more than likely know and that can lead to demotivation and lower productivity. Whereas if you treat your staff fairly and lawfully, they are more likely to be happy and productive at work.
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Mental Health Awareness Week takes place on 10-16 May 2021 and this year’s theme is nature.
What is Mental Health Awareness Week and why does it matter?
Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event when there is an opportunity for the whole of the UK to focus on achieving good mental health. The Mental Health Foundation started the event 21 years ago. Each year the Foundation continues to set the theme, organise and host the Week. The event has grown to become one of the biggest awareness weeks across the UK and globally.
Mental Health Awareness Week is open to everyone. It is all about starting conversations about mental health and the things in our daily lives that can affect it. This year we want as many people as possible – individuals, communities and governments – to think about connecting with nature and how nature can improve our mental health.
However, the Week is also a chance to talk about any aspect of mental health that people want to – regardless of the theme.
What do you actually want people to do during the Week?
The Week is an opportunity for people to talk about all aspects of mental health, with a focus on providing help and advice.
This year we want people to notice nature and try to make a habit of connecting to the nature every day. Stop to listen to the birdsong, smell the freshly cut grass, take care of a house plant, notice any trees, flowers or animals nearby. Take a moment to appreciate these connections.
We also want people to share images/videos/or just sound recordings of the nature on your doorstep (and how this made you feel) on social media using #ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
Why was Nature chosen as the theme for the Week?
The theme was chosen because being in nature is known to be an effective way of tackling mental health problems and of protecting our wellbeing.
This seemed particularly important this year – in the year of a pandemic. Our own research has shown that being in nature has been one of the most popular ways the public have tried to sustain good mental health at a challenging time.
Our hope is that by growing awareness of the importance of nature to good mental health – we can also work to ensure that everyone can share in it.
Nature is something that is all around us. It can be really helpful in supporting good mental health. Our ambition is to try to make that connection clearer for both individuals and policy makers.
How do you define Nature?
By “nature” we mean any environment in which we can use our senses to experience the natural world. This could include the countryside, a park or garden, coast, lakes and rivers, wilderness, plants or wildlife closer to home. It could also include nature that you can see or interact with in or from your home.
Aren’t there much more important mental health priorities than nature at the moment?
We are not saying that nature is the only priority that is important. And nature is not going to solve all mental health issues. But connecting with nature can play an important part in improving people’s mental health and make us feel better about ourselves.
During lockdown, nature has played a vital part in supporting mental health. According to our own research, last summer half of people in the UK said that being in nature was a favoured way to cope with the stress of the pandemic.
What about people who can’t access nature?
This will be a key part of the Week. Many people find it hard to access nature because of where they live or because they have no outside space. We will use the Week to launch new policy requests to enable greater access for people to nature. This can include making parks feel safer to use or planting more trees in our streets or asking developers to include plants and green spaces in their designs.
“Starting a conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be difficult.”
For any business, it is important to encourage employees to look after themselves and each other. Healthy, happy staff are more productive, and take less time off work due to sickness. We can help to develop your Wellbeing Strategy including:
- Developing a programme of initiatives to promote mental and physical wellbeing
- Educating employees and managers on topics such as emotional intelligence, resilience and stress management
- providing pragmatic advice on health and wellbeing issues which impact on the workplace
- reviewing your working practices to create a supportive culture.
Get in touch with us now to see how we can help you develop your Wellbeing Strategy.
A stress risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what in a workplace could cause staff to suffer from work-related stress. This is so that you can weigh up whether you have done enough, or should do more to prevent harm.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 employers have a general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health of their employees at work. This includes taking steps to make sure they do not suffer stress-related illness as a result of their work.
Employers also have a specific duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. They must undertake risk assessments that seek to identify, and eliminate or reduce, risks to their employees’ health, safety and welfare. Stress is one of the risks to health, safety and welfare that must be assessed.
Risk assessments must be reviewed periodically. This should be whenever there is a change to any aspect of the work activity which could significantly affect the health, safety, or wellbeing of employees. They should also be reviewed under any other circumstances where the existing risk assessment is thought to be no longer valid. The regular period of review should be decided locally. This will depend on the level of risk and how susceptible to change the activity is. This includes a stress risk assessment.
Hazard Identification – Factors to be considered
When considering the likelihood that a work-activity could result in employees becoming stressed, it is necessary to first identify the potential hazards. The section below includes the factors identified by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) as being most significant contributors to workplace stress. Also a list of eight factors – external factors that can impact on individual ability to cope with work pressures
1. Demands – High volume of work, competing priorities, unrealistic deadlines, intense periods of activity, requirement for very fast work. Also expectation of very long hours, high pressured environment.
2. Control Level over pattern of work and breaks, inability to decide on work speed, priorities, access to flexible working.
3. Role Clarity – understanding of role itself; how to carry it out; how it relates to immediate team and the wider organisation’s strategic plans.
4. Relationships – Inter-relationships with work colleagues, staff, and manager(s); bullying; harassment; conflict; unkind behaviour.
5. Support in dealing with work difficulties, accessibility, constructive feedback, praise for good work, encouragement.
6. Support from Colleagues – Support/assistance in dealing with work difficulties, respect.
7. Change Communication, consultation, and management of change.
8. External Factors – Mental health, other serious ill health, bereavement, dependant illness.
Required Actions and Prioritisation
Ideally, when considering risk assessment, the goal should be to remove the hazard. In relation to work-related stress, this may only be possible in a limited number of situations. The standard adopted in law when considering the cost, both financial and operational, of implementing a control measure is reasonable practicability. The next best measure is either to reduce the hazard, or the likelihood of it causing harm, through various control mechanisms.
When determining the specific required actions, consider the gaps you found when looking at existing control measures. Also consider whether equivalent measures could be implemented in the relevant work area.
Always consult with the affected staff for their contribution to ideas that might help resolve the difficulties. Consequently, this can either remove the hazard or reduce the level of risk.
It is important to appreciate that whilst some control measures help to reduce or prevent stress, others serve only to support employees who are already experiencing stress. Whilst, in time, these support mechanisms may assist those employees in recovering from this episode of stress, and even avoiding future episodes, the employee has already experienced harm. This in no way invalidates such measures which are widely recognised as not only valuable but also an expected facility for staff of responsible employers. However, provision of support services is generally perceived by the regulatory bodies as the minimum standard an employer can adopt to manage workplace stress.
We can help you with risk assessing your workplace, just get in touch.
If you wear a mask at work that relies on making a seal with your face then you need a face fit test.
Who should be tested?
All wearers of tight fitting face pieces e.g. respirators or compressed air breathing apparatus require a fit test.
Why wear high performance respiratory protective equipment, then compromise the protection given if the mask does not fit the wearer correctly?
Why do we need it?
To ensure that the protective mask you wear is suitable for your face profile in order to maximise protection against harmful airborne substances.
Recent research has shown that around 50% of RPE used does not offer the wearer the level of protection assumed. The major reason for this is that is simply does not fit.
What are the legal requirements?
The supporting guidance for COSHH, CLaW and CAW recommends face fit testing as a method of ensuring an adequate face seal.
The HSE may prosecute for not testing unless it can be proven that procedures meet or exceed the face fit testing protocol laid down in HSE guidance, OC 282/28.
What is Face Fit testing?
A face fit test is a simple test which checks whether a person’s mask fits their face shape and size.
When worn correctly RPE (respiratory protective equipment) should protect the wearer from airborne hazards (particulates, dusts, gases etc). As people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes it is unlikely that one particular type or size of RPE face piece will fit everyone. A face fit test will help ensure that the RPE selected is suitable for the wearer.
Morally we have a duty to ensure that workers go home safe and are not exposed to airborne hazards during their work.
Legally, face fit testing is a requirement of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, the Control of Lead at Work Regulations and the Control of Asbestos Regulations. These regulations state that PPE must be “suitable” for its purpose. In this case it should protect the wearer from the airborne hazard.
Close fitting masks
All wearers of tight fitting or close fitting face pieces require a face fit test for each mask that they wear. The following are all defined as ‘close fitting’: full breathing apparatus masks (including positive pressure), escape set masks, powered respirators, re-usable half masks and disposable half masks.
When to do Face Fit testing
Ideally face fit testing should be carried out at mask selection stage. Employers will then ensure that the correct mask, models and sizes can be purchased. Repeat face fit testing should also be carried out on a regular basis. Typically this is every one, two or three years depending on risk. It could also be if the wearer loses or gains weight, has significant dental work, or gains scars, moles or other facial features where the mask seal meets the face.
There are two forms of face fit testing, qualitative and quantitative. Both result in matching an individual’s face shape with a compatible mask to ensure a tight seal is achieved. A face fit test is a simple 20 minute test.
- Used only for disposable and half face masks.
- The individual wears a hood over the head and shoulders and the tester sprays a bitter solution into the hood.
- The wearer carries out a series of exercises, such as turning the head from side to side.
- If the individual can taste the solution, there is a break in the mask’s seal.
- Used for all tight fitting respirators, including Full Face Masks.
- The mask is attached to a particle counting machine (a Portacount).
- The machine detects whether airborne particles are passing into the mask via a break in the seal.
- At the end of the test the machine will give a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’.
If you need any assistance with Face Fit testing, get in touch and we will be able to help you.
Do you have people working from home temporarily as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak?
As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers.
HSE website has advice on how you can minimise the risks to their health, which includes information on the following topics:
- Lone working
- Working with display screen equipment (DSE)
- Stress and mental health
Employers must provide the right workplace facilities and a working environment that’s healthy and safe for everyone, including those with disabilities. Read more
Let’s face it – no one is immune to every bug and virus known to man. It is inevitable that at some point members of staff will need to stay off work due to sickness or ill health.
The majority of times a couple of days rest and recuperation is all that is needed. Your valued staff member is soon back with you, bright eyed and bushy tailed.
However, what do you do if a member of staff is continually taking time off or perhaps has been off ill for a prolonged period?
What does the law say?
In the UK if an employee is off work due to illness for more than 7 days, they must obtain a “fit note” (also known as a “sick note”) from a GP or a hospital doctor.
The 7 days includes non-working days such as weekends and bank holidays.
The employee should provide the fit note to their employer in order to receive the appropriate sick pay.
The fit note could say “not fit for work” or “may be fit for work” with suggestions of adjustments. The latter puts the responsibility onto the employer to offer adjustments or changes that would make it easier for the employee to return to work. However, these are not compulsory.
Long term sick – this term applies to an employee who is off work for more than 4 consecutive weeks.
How should you approach the matter?
Approaching any employee about their sickness absence should be done with sensitivity. Especially if the reason for their absence is because of a mental health issue.
Being pushy or unsympathetic can often make them feel worse, which in turn could lead to more time off. Try to find ways to help them feel reassured about coming back to work. Perhaps by offering reduced hours or amended duties.
At the same time if you suspect an employee’s reasons for absence are not genuine or feel that an excessive amount of time off is being taken it is advisable to keep accurate absence records and monitor an employee’s sick leave. An employer may invoke the disciplinary or capability procedure to deal with the sickness absence. They will need to obtain medical information along the way.
What can be done to help the employee?
Where an employee has been off long term, keep in touch with them. Have regular chats and discuss ways they could be accommodated.
Consider a phased return to work or, if reasonable, offer flexible or part time working.
If an employee is classed as disabled, the employer is legally obliged to make reasonable, necessary adjustments to enable the employee to return to work.
Can you dismiss an employee?
An employer can choose to dismiss an employee for long term ill health and/or excessive absence.
However, caution should be taken, advice should be obtained and other options explored before taking this step. An employee may decide to take their case to an employment tribunal if they think they’ve been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against.