Employment Issues and Bad Weather!

For the last day or so we have been faced with unprecedented weather and it seems set to continue. This is not “normal” snow and therefore a different approach is required. We set out below some guidelines for you to consider:

Normally, employees are obliged to attend work. Employers are obliged to provide work and employees should be paid for the work they do. But how is a “red” police warning treated?
Employers should bear in mind that employees have a statutory right not to have deductions made unlawfully from wages. Whether a deduction is unlawful depends on the circumstances – so don’t automatically refuse to pay someone who does not come to work because they have been advised not to travel under a “red” police warning (or even under an “amber” warning). Similarly if the employer has to close the premises then employees must still be paid as they are not able to attend work through no fault of their own.

If an employee’s failure to attend work is unavoidable then they may still be entitled to be paid. If you have a snow or adverse weather policy then it is always useful to rely on that – if there is a policy that states that people may work from home, or take annual leave for example then the policy applies, regardless of the warning issued by police. However if you do not have such a policy then consideration has to be given to what custom and practice has occurred previously. This situation is not usual and therefore employers would be expected to make an exception – pay staff now, and seek time back later.

Our advice is not to deduct pay but to have the discussion and make individual arrangements based on holiday or working up time, or working from home. Then, if you do not have a policy, let 121 help you develop one for the next Arctic blast!

ACAS advice is that the way an employer handles bad weather and travel disruption can enhance staff morale and productivity – building loyalty and resulting in staff being far more productive at home than wasting time trying to make a failed journey to work. Even if staff are not working on “normal” work but doing other things such as research or paperwork, this is more productive than frustrating and wasted travel time.

The overriding advice is not to be unreasonable. Employers must ensure that they are not putting excess pressure on employees to travel when advised by the police not to. We accept that employers may struggle to pay employees when they are unable to work, the other side of this coin is that employees may find themselves in difficult circumstances through no fault of their own.

Some alternative suggestions are:
• Making an agreement to make time up later
• Making an agreement to take the time off as paid holiday
• Suggesting a half and half split – the employee takes half the time as unpaid an half the time as paid holiday
• Suggesting allowing home working
• Suggesting working from an alternative office within walking distance of home (if feasible)

Employers are required to give notice of a compulsory holiday, of at least twice the length of the period of holiday, which means that in circumstances like this it is almost impossible for the employer to force the employee to take holiday. If an employer intends to deduct days from an employee’s holiday entitlement, they must make this clear at the earliest opportunity.

In terms of school closures, employees are entitled to take reasonable unpaid time off for unplanned circumstances which require them to look after dependents. This would almost certainly apply in the current circumstances where schools are closed and alternative childcare, particularly at such short notice, may be difficult.

However, the snow will eventually clear and this may be when there are problems. When is it reasonable to expect people to start travelling again? If an employer is concerned that an employee is using the weather to avoid returning to work this is treated in the same way as other unacceptable absence issue. Once public transport is running smoothly, not being able to take the car out of the driveway is no longer an acceptable reason for not attending work!

If you do not have an adverse weather policy and would like us to help, contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

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Is your Health and Safety provision ready for new technology?

A new report by the British Safety Council (BSC) has examined health and safety risks and is urging employers to assess and improve their and their employees’ understanding of the dangers of new technologies and the future skills required for work.

The report emphasises the need for employers to understand and mitigate against the changing risks of the future workplace. The BSC called for the regulatory systems that protect modern workers to be updated to mitigate risks arising from future technology, as machines and employees are expected to work together more.

It also raised the question of where responsibility and liability lie when automation at work goes wrong. The BSC said employers and researchers should share best practice around quality job design to help create and retain positive employee and employer relationships as the shift away from traditional working practices continues.
Another risk is employee stress and mental ill-health. Working alongside technology such as intelligent machines and robots, for instance, could add to those pressures as they outperform humans and require new skills. To counteract this, the BSC recommended that employers introduce specialist training to help employees gain skills to build their resilience to new technologies.

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Cost of Cyber Crime Rises

Cyber crime has cost Scottish businesses and individuals more than £7 million in less than a year, according to police. Officers are investigating 19 cases that have taken place since last July that involve targeting people through emails, phone calls or text messages in scams known as phishing, vishing and smishing.

Police explained that criminals use genuine-looking phone numbers or email addresses and claim they work for a bank or company that needs to verify the target’s bank account details or personal information, then empty accounts of money, with £7m stolen over 19 cases since summer 2017.

Police Scotland is calling for employees to be alert. Banks will not contact businesses or individuals asking for personal information and employers are being urged to ensure that staff are vigalent

Premiership football team Hamilton Academical was one of the organisations targeted by criminals. It was defrauded of almost £1m in a scam.

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New Employment Rights Limits announced from 6 April 2018

The new employment rights limits have been announced, including increases to unfair dismissal compensation awards. The new amounts will take effect from 6 April 2018:

• The limit on the compensatory award for unfair dismissal will be £83,682 (approx. £3000 more than it is now)
• The limit of the basic award will be £15,240 (up from £14,670)
• The limit for an additional award for failure to comply with a reinstatement or re-engagement order rises to £13,208 (up from 12,714)
• Statutory redundancy payments will also increase because the maximum weeks’ pay to be used will increase from £489 to £508 (breaking the £500 barrier for the first time)

This will mean that:

• Tribunal awards will become more costly from April 2018
• Since fees have been reduced, there is nothing preventing employees from bringing claims and, if they’re successful from 6 April, businesses and organisations will receive a greater financial hit than ever before
• Employers should take steps to reduce or remove the risk from being taken to tribunal

Unfair dismissal compensation is capped at an employee’s yearly pay. If this is £20,000, then the most they can get is £20,000. But if they earn £100,000 the new cap will limit this to £83,682.

Statutory redundancy pay is calculated using an employee’s age, length of service and weekly pay. Weekly pay is capped but this increase means that from 6 April 2018 £19 extra per week goes towards the amount of redundancy pay when someone earns more than the cap. The increase means that a 45 year old with 10 years’ service who earns £600 per week will get £6096 redundancy pay if the date of their redundancy is on or after 6 April 2018 compared to £5868 now (a £228 increase).

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With late payments continuing to blight the small business community, how can owners minimise their exposure?

According to the latest research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) over a third (37%) of small businesses have experienced cash flow difficulties as a direct result of late payments. The average amount owed is in excess of £6000, with invoice settlement periods now over 100 days in some cases. Even with the EU Late Payment Directive being enforced, this has had little impact improving the levels of late payment.

A new payment dispute service under the new Small Business Commissioner was launched in late 2017. It is hoped that this will offer more transparency when late payment occurs, plus a mechanism for checking the payment records of companies.
There are practical steps that can be taken to reduce the instances of late payments and their impact on business.

1. Always ensure terms are clearly communicated and agreed before goods or services are provided.
2. All invoices should have the correct information to avoid payment delays.
3. Sending invoices to the correct address is essential. Find out the structure of the accounts department which will give the correct people to contact for help with late payments.
4. Offer incentives for early settlement. This can often prove to be a worthwhile technique to use.
5. Develop accounting systems to escalate contact with customers to ensure late payments are identified and then chased. Don’t be afraid to ask for money owed.

Small business owners should not simply accept that late payment is a fact of doing business today, but take all the practical action they can to reduce this burden on their firms.

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Top Shop sale worries pensioners

Sir Philip Green’s plans to sell his stake in Arcadia group – which owns high street brands including TopShop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge – has been criticised by regulators for failing to address worker pensions. Last year, it was found that Arcadia’s pension deficit stood at £56million on an ongoing basis – or almost £1billion on a buyout basis.

The company has 2,800 stores around the world and 26,000 employees.
Sir Philip has been in talks to sell his stake in Arcadia – which is estimated to be worth in the region of £2billion – to Chinese investor Shandong Ruyi.
This has resulted in calls on the Government to enable the Pensions Regulator to ‘pause’ the sale until the issues of the pensions have been sorted out.
Last year, Arcadia wrote off £100million due to declining store values and falling sales.

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When a contractor is an employee

A former BBC presenter caught by the IR35 tax rules has lost her employment status appeal against HRMC and been ordered to pay more than £400k in unpaid tax after the High Court found that she was an employee, not a contractor.

In the case the court ruled that the presenter must pay backdated income tax and national insurance contributions (NICs) amounting to £419,151 for tax years 2006-07 to 2012-13. The case could have financial implications for other contractors and freelancers caught in the IR35 net, as well as for the employers they work for – in terms of who they can employ and on what basis.

The judge in the case said that whether the BBC regarded the contractor as an employee was not relevant and found that she “was an employee under the hypothetical contract”.

The BBC ultimately restricted her from providing services to other organisations in the UK without its consent; she was also contractually obliged to perform services, and the BBC was contractually obliged to pay monthly fees to her.

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National Minimum Wage increases

The National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2018 provide for the annual increase to the minimum wage and national living wage with effect from 1 April 2018 as follows:-

• 25+ – £7.83 (previously £7.50)
• 21-24 – £7.38 (previously £7.05)
• 18-20 – £5.90 (previously £5.60)
• <18 – £4.20 (previously £4.05)

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Pay rises for the UK in 2018

British workers are set to receive their biggest pay rises since 2008 this year. According to a Bank of England survey, the increases are a result of the higher minimum wage, inflation and reluctance from European workers to work in Britain.

Britain’s minimum wage for those aged 25 and over is due to rise by 4.4% in April to £7.83 an hour, while pay for some younger workers will rise by over five per cent.
The survey also found that firms plan to offer average pay settlements of 3.1% – the highest since 2008, and an increase on the 2.6% last year. However, inflation is also a cause for concern, as businesses also reported cost pressures from higher mandatory pension contributions, a lack of foreign workers and difficulty recruiting and retaining staff according to Reuters.

Inflation hit its highest in over five years in late 2017, following the Brexit vote, which has impacted the cost of imports. Last week the Bank of England forecasted that annual pay growth would reach 3% by the end of 2018 – up from 2.5% in the year to November 2017.

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Government announces measures to prevent sexual harassment at work

The Government has called on organisations and individuals in the UK to submit evidence on sexual harassment against women at work, as it launched a full inquiry to track its extent and determine how to improve existing laws.

Experts have proposed extending time limits for sexual harassment employment tribunal claims, reinstating employer tribunal questionnaires, reducing legal costs and bolstering sanctions for non-compliance with harassment laws. The inquiry will also examine the effectiveness of current legal routes to redress for female workers who suffer sexual harassment, including improved access to tribunals and options for remedies.

In measures designed to safeguard against sexual harassment, the introduction of mandatory workplace risk assessments and line manager training to change work cultures and encourage the reporting of harassment, alongside third-party liability for employers, were all suggested.

The public can submit their views on women’s experience of sexual harassment at work and proposals for effective government action for one month until Tuesday 13 March.

Currently, employers are not liable for third-party harassment of employees – after the government repealed in 2013 a legal provision to that effect in the Equality Act 2010. As part of addressing the legal action around sexual harassment, the committee will also scrutinise the pros and cons of using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases.

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