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Managing Long Term Absence

When asked by a number of different clients to support them in managing cases of Long Term Absence, we were a little taken aback by how long some of the cases had been ongoing for. However, for an issue that can be both time consuming and a drain on resources, it is little wonder that there is an inclination to put the matter to one side to be dealt with when time allows. Long term sickness cases do take a degree of effort to manage effectively and each case has its own intricacies and anomalies, so here we have compiled a few golden rules that should be employed under all circumstances.

  • Four weeks is the usual threshold for long term absence however this may vary depending on your own company’s policy so make sure you activate your long term absence policy at the right time.
  • Don’t ignore the situation. The biggest problems we encounter are when no action has been taken for several months and the employer suddenly wants to do something about it.
  • Ascertain the medical condition from which the employee is suffering, the nature of investigations/treatment that they have had to date, and the likely time scale in which they expect to return to work
  • Regular communication is vital. We recommend every two to four weeks that the employee is off and seek to establish:
    • Is the employee recovering?
    • Is there any more support they can be offered?
    • Are there company issues that he or she should be kept up to date with?
    • What you are doing to manage in the workplace during his or her absence?
  • Arranging a medical report from the employees GP should be part of your process if the absence looks likely to be extended. However GP’s can sometimes be reluctant to release medical details to people with no medical background. We recommend commissioning an Occupational Health Advisor (OHA) who will be able to interpret the results of a medical report and recommend any adjustments required in the workplace to assist the employee’s return to work.
  • Remember the employee’s rights under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 which must be explained to them, and you must get a Medical Report Consent form signed.
  • If the employee refuses you access to a medical report, you should explain that you will proceed with just the information you already have which may be out of date.
  • The results of the medical report will determine how to proceed. Whether the employee will return to work and if a support plan needs to be put in place to assist this; or if the future of the employee remaining with the company needs to be considered. Each case should be assessed individually depending on the advice from the OHA
  • Regardless of the potential outcome arrange to discuss the results with the employee.
  • Very often, underpinning Long Term Absence is the potential for disability and employers should ensure that every effort to consider reasonable adjustment should be taken. Disability Discrimination under the Equalities Act 2010 carries unlimited penalties so make sure you exhaust all possibilities before considering dismissal.
  • Get updated Medical Reports as required. Don’t base decisions on a report that is three months old.
  • As an employer you may have limits for accepting reasonable adjustments in the business, so only after all possible adjustments have been exhausted in line with ACAS best practices will dismissal be the only reasonable outcome. However you must make sure the whole process has been managed properly; including the dismissal itself.

 

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30 November -1, 00:00
 

Employee Checks: Your responsibilities

Legal migrant workers make a substantial contribution to the UK’s economy. Illegal migrant workers however, and those who employ them can often be guilty of breaking other laws relating to health and safety, tax evasion etc. It’s understandable then that the UK Border Agency takes a firm stand. Since February 2008, UK Employers and Recruiters have been fined over £65 million by the UK Border Agency for failing to carry out adequate checks on employees. The gravity of candidate checks was highlighted by the embarrassing episode in 2009 of Baroness Scotland, ironically the Government’s most senior legal advisor at the time, who was fined £5,000 for failing to keep a copy of her Tongan cleaner’s documents. The maximum fine now however is £10,000 per worker.

To help keep you on the right side of the law here are our top tips:

  • Carry out checks before employment commences. This has been on place since May 2004 so you should hold copies of documents for all staff employed since then, whether from the UK, the European Economic Area (EEA) or elsewhere
  • Carrying out the checks on all employees and candidates, keeping copies of required documents establishes your statutory excuse against payment of a civil penalty if an employee is later found to be carrying out work they are not permitted to do
  • Check documents for all staff. The UK Border Agency publishes two lists (List A and List B) of documents that a prospective employee must provide
  • List B documents are time sensitive and only provide a statutory excuse for up to 12 months so keep a record of expiry dates and act on them
  • Check photographs for likeness; consistency in information across documents such as date of birth; expiry dates; any endorsements that the UK Government may have imposed restricting the type of work the potential employee can undertake and satisfy yourself that the documents have not been tampered with in any way
  • If you knowingly employ a migrant worker who is not permitted to work you will be committing a criminal offence for which a custodial sentence is a possibility


In an increasingly ethnically diverse society, employers may expose themselves to claims of racial discrimination if they check the documents of only those potential employees that they assume to be from non EEA countries. We therefore recommend the following:

  • Maintain clear written procedures for the recruitment and selection of all staff based on equal and fair treatment of all applicants
  • Treat all applicants in the same way through each stage of the recruitment process
  • You need to check documents prior to work commencing, so you could ask those who reach second interview stage for example, to bring their documents with them to the interview. Just make sure you tell the same thing to everyone who is at the same stage of the recruitment process
  • Candidates who produce documents from list B should not be treated less favourably than other candidates
  • Only ask questions about an employee’s immigration status to determine if it places restrictions on the hours or length of time they are allowed to work


Detailed information regarding the employment of migrant workers, including the document lists can be found on the UK Border Agency website or you can contact us for further guidance or to help set up your recruitment and employee checking procedures.

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30 November -1, 00:00
 

Managing Difficult Employees: Part 2 - Identifying Triggers of Difficult Behaviour

In our last article, we looked at how to identify difficult employees so that appropriate action can be taken. However, it should be a safe assumption that nobody sets out to be a difficult employee, and so equally important to identifying difficult employees is identifying the ‘triggers’ that lead to difficult or unacceptable behaviour.

A trigger may be what appears to most to be an innocuous change in circumstances or working environment, but for the affected employee it’s enough to radically change their conduct. Triggers might include:

•    A New Boss – Many of us dislike change and a new boss may bring new ideas that will affect the status quo or ‘the way we’ve always done things around here’, which can be enough to provoke animosity.

•    New Responsibilities – Businesses often have to modify working practices or introduce new ones in order to expand or remain competitive. With them will come new responsibilities that the workforce will need to take on and some employees may not be ready to do so, particularly if there is no increase in pay.  

•    New Technology – Again, a change in working practices or the need to accept and embrace new technology which may require re-training, can often cause resentment.

•    Poorly Handled Disciplinary Issue – Because an employee has to be disciplined, it doesn’t mean that a grudge should arise. Indeed, properly managed it should clear the air and allow everyone to get on with their jobs. A badly managed disciplinary however can easily leave a bitter taste.

Many events may be triggers because they undermine the employee’s confidence or put them into a situation they are uncomfortable with or have no experience of. In an effort to save face and avoid admitting defeat, the employee takes on the new behaviour to disguise their shortcomings.

Once a clearer understanding of the employee’s behaviour has been obtained, and their problem behaviour trigger has been identified, a systematic approach of providing counselling or training can be applied, with disciplinary action being subsequently taken if performance does not improve. Counselling an employee who has started coming in to work late since he was assigned a new boss may remedy a situation without the need for disciplinary action, or sales refresher training may be all that is needed for the bolshie salesman who has just had his targets re-appraised.

Although there are no hard and fast rules in managing difficult employees, preventative measures are likely to be the most effective. Clearly defined job descriptions and a comprehensive induction programme will leave employees in no doubt of what their duties are and what is expected of them by the company. Similarly, well-conducted, regular appraisals will help anticipate and identify problems, which can be dealt with before they develop into a crisis. Effective communication practices are a must!

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30 November -1, 00:00
 

Managing Difficult Employees: Part 1 - Identifying Difficult Employees

Whilst dealing with difficult employees promptly and effectively is crucial to prohibit the potential damage they can cause to their colleagues and to the organisation, actually identifying difficult behaviour is not always as straightforward as it seems. Clearly, persistent lateness, low productivity and insubordination are examples of unacceptable behaviour that are easily identified and can be dealt with through normal disciplinary channels. However other problem behaviour can be much more complicated to define. You may know that a particular employee is difficult, but putting your finger exactly on the reason why, or describing the specific behaviour can be extremely hard to do. Consequently, dealing with the employee effectively becomes too challenging, and is often the reason why nothing is done and the situation is left to fester until the problem grows out of control.

Different industries and working environments will have their own share of these indiscernibly difficult employees. Although they will come in many different guises, with some very unique characteristics, what makes them difficult or problem employees will probably fall under one or more of just a few broader categories: -

•    Time bandits – These people impact on their manager’s time because they seek constant re-assurance, always needing to be driven to produce results, need showing or telling how to do a specific task every time it is required, or they just don’t seem capable of getting on with a job on their own.

•    Shirkers – Afraid to take responsibility, shirkers may not be confident of their own judgement and can dramatically affect productivity as they wait for somebody else to make a decision for them. More specifically, worriers, buck passers and hand holders fall into this category

•    Annoyers – Always whingeing and whining, looks for the negatives, has got a bad attitude or is impossible to hold a civil conversation with. Annoyers tend to drag down the team morale as their actions are felt mostly by their colleagues and people they work closely with. They can also have a negative effect on customers when in a customer facing role.

•    Dodgers - Some dodgers will have set routines to avoid work, such as making the tea at certain times. Others will not initiate any work for themselves but only do the tasks given directly to them, or will take their time over simple tasks, leaving challenging jobs for others to do.

Certain industries will nurture their own specific categories of problem employees that should be identified. Whilst categorising behaviours in this way helps to determine the appropriate action to take, blatantly labelling employees should of course be avoided.

Equally important is identifying triggers that may be the reason behind the employee’s behaviour which we will look at in a future blog.

In the meantime, contact us for help and assistance with any of the issues raised here or for information about our training courses on the subject.

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30 November -1, 00:00
 

Seminar Success

With as pressing a topic as Auto-Enrolment as the main theme, we weren’t surprised by the tremendous level of attendance we experienced at our recent seminar, held at Hatherley Manor in Gloucester on 13th November.

Affecting just about every employer in the UK, Auto Enrolment is the Government initiative to ensure all employees are given at least the opportunity to make provisions for an income at retirement. It is up to employers to automatically enrol their staff in approved pension schemes with significant penalties for failing to do so. The scheme has already been implemented for larger employers and over the next few years all employers will eventually have to conform to the new rules, the timeline for which depends on the number of employees in the organisation.

Our expert speakers for the event included Marcus Gomery of Brunsdon Financial Services. Marcus gave a detailed account of the compulsory pension provision explaining the impact on businesses and provided some ideas of the financial implications and how to minimise their effects.

Andréa Hopson, of Hopson Solicitors provided an Employment Law update focusing on employment tribunal reforms, TUPE legislation and atypical contract arrangements.

Our own HR Expert, Cathy O’Donoghue tied the two subjects together with a presentation about the HR implications of the new Auto-Enrolment legislation. Cathy spoke about issues that many have overlooked, such as the need to offer an opt-out of Auto Enrolment option every three years, and how changes to contractual terms that the legislation might introduce, may require a period of consultation.

Delegates’ attendance fees were donated to The James Hopkins Trust; a Gloucestershire charity which provides practical help for severely disabled and life limited young children with nursing needs. The Event raised £1200 for their ‘Overnight Campaign’ which aims to increase the level of overnight respite care they can offer by building a two bedroom extension at their Barnwood Headquarters.

A repeat of this seminar is being run on 5th December at Speech House in the Forest of Dean. You can book your free place through Chamber of Commerce Business West website here.

seminar pictures

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30 November -1, 00:00
 

Adverse Weather Policy - Worth having

Frosty Mornings already! What weather will winter bring? We recommend having a robust Adverse Weather Policy in place.

The evidence of climate change seems to be increasingly prevalent. After 2012 saw one of the wettest summers on record, we are already experiencing frost in early November. Whilst Alpine ski resorts might welcome some early snow, our past record of unpreparedness isn’t likely to be improved upon if we suffer another winter like the snow of 2010/11 or the floods of 2007.  

We can’t do anything about the weather that Mother Nature throws at us but as businesses we can be prepared to manage what we do about it.

At HR Champions we strongly recommend that all employers have a robust Adverse Weather Policy in place that clearly lays out how the organisation will behave in cases of adverse weather and how it expects its employees to act. It should state the procedure that both parties will follow in the case of adverse weather, paying particular attention to how the employees’ pay will be affected.

It is not uncommon for employees who are unable to get into work because of adverse weather to expect to be able to take the forced time off as paid holiday or unpaid leave; some may even make the assumption that they are entitled to receive full pay. It’s normal however for this to remain discretionary on the part of the employer, but again should be made clear in the Adverse Weather Policy. A clause for opting to work from home or from another location should also be considered if appropriate.

Where a business is unable to open owing to adverse weather, but employees still make themselves available for work, then they should be paid as they are fulfilling, or attempting to fulfil, their duties under their contract of employment.

For certain businesses, where adverse weather makes it too dangerous for a employees to be working, roof-workers in icy conditions for example, a “lay-off” clause may be an appropriate solution.

In all cases, you should have your Adverse Weather Policy in place in plenty of time and ensure your workers are aware of it so that everyone knows what to expect. We have one available here. For further help or advice you can call us on 01452 331331.

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30 November -1, 00:00
 

Revised Vetting and Barring Scheme

If you’ve been or are going to an Employment Law Update, you’ll want this link http://ow.ly/edrIY for the revised Vetting and Barring Scheme

The revised Vetting and Barring Scheme came into operation in England, Northern Ireland and Wales from 10 September 2012. (Scotland already has its own Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme). The main changes are:-

Changes:-

  • New Definition of regulated activity
  • Repeal of controlled activity
  • Repeal of registration and continuous monitoring
  • Repeal of additional information
  • Minimum age (16) at which someone can apply for a CRB check
  • More rigorous ‘relevancy’ test for when the police release information held locally on an enhanced CRB check.

Not Changing:-

  • You must make appropriate referrals to the ISA
  • You must not engage in regulated activity someone whom you know has been barred by the ISA
  • Everybody within the pre-September definition of regulated activity will remain eligible for enhanced CRB checks, whether or not they fall within the post-September definition regulated activity.

The government document is quite extensive and more detail than we want to go into here which is why we have provided the link so that you can download it yourself and study it at your own leisure. Enjoy!

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30 November -1, 00:00