Valentines Day: 5 potential problems with workplace romances

When a romance has been formed in the workplace, it can be difficult for the employer to put an end to it. The Human Rights Act 1998 states that everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life subject to a few limited exceptions.

We have looked at 5 potential problems that could arise from workplace romances and how to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place.

Policies on workplace romances

Employers should take a proactive approach towards office romances by having a policy that sets out guidelines for workplace dating – before problems occur. These policies should be clearly communicated to all members of staff.

Most employers will be ok with two colleagues having a relationship as long as this does not affect their work responsibilities. However, it is important to note that relationships between two parties where one has managerial authority over the other is likely to be frowned upon.

Conduct in the workplace

This policy should be used to define what conduct will be viewed as appropriate/inappropriate and what will result in disciplinary action.

A ban could be included within this policy on “intimate behaviour” during working hours. For example, kissing, holding hands etc.

One rule for all

As with all workplace policies, the rules should be applied consistently throughout the workforce, including senior members of staff. Rules set out in the policy should be applied to whatever the couples protected characteristics may be under the Equality Act 2010. For example, rules should not be more enforced to a same sex couple than they are to a heterosexual couple. This would be a clear case of sexual orientation discrimination.

When the relationship turns sour

In the event that two colleagues break up, employers may feel it would be appropriate to have a rule within its policy that requires employees in a personal relationship to inform their line manager if the relationship status changes. For example, if the two parties break up.

This would provide employers and managers with a good opportunity to address potential problems early on and remind employees of the behaviour that will be expected of them.

Workplace dating: romantic gesture or sexual harassment?

Employees with romantic feelings towards a colleague may wonder if asking them out would be viewed as sexual harassment?

As with many employment law questions, the answer is “it depends.”

The Employment Tribunal when deciding a sexual harassment complaint will always look at the context of the case.

For example, an employee asks out a colleague – the colleague declines – the employee accepts this rejection and does not push any further. A sexual harassment allegation in this case would probably not stick.

However, an employee could have a valid claim for sexual harassment if the colleague persisted after the employee made their feelings clear.

How can EmployEasily Legal Services help?

If you are an employer who requires assistance with any of the issues raised in this blog contact us today for your free consultation 0370 218 5662.

Employment Tribunal Guidance for Employers

The Employment Tribunals (ET) are an independent judicial body established to resolve disputes over employment rights between employers and employees. Claims likely to be heard in the ET will involve matters on unfair dismissal, discrimination, wages and redundancy payments.

In July 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously held that ET fees were unlawful and must be quashed. In September 2018, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) published tribunal statistics for April-June 2018 and across the boards the numbers are up!
Key figures include:

• Number of single claims lodged increased by 165% compared with the same quarter last year.
• The number of single claims outstanding rose by 130% compared with the same quarter last year.
• There have been 12,400 fee refund payments made since the fee refund scheme was introduced, totalling just over £10m.
• Disability discrimination cases had the largest average award (£30,700). Religious discrimination claims had the lowest average award (£5,100). The average award for unfair dismissal awards was £15,007.

If you are an employer and you have received an ET claim, it is crucial you act quickly and carefully to place yourself in the best position to defend the claim, or to reach a fair settlement agreement with the employee. At Employment Law Services (ELS), we have set out 5 top tips that should be applied when responding to a claim.

(1) Address the claim immediately

A tribunal claim is not something that should be set aside to deal with at a later date. Employers should have procedures in place to make sure that, when an ET1 is received, it is immediately brought to the attention of the appropriate people.
An employer should then make the decision on who is going to have the responsibility for dealing with the claim and begin working on the response.

An employer’s response should arrive at the ET office, on the appropriate form (an ET3), within 28 days of the date on which the claim was sent out.

(2) Evaluate the merits of the claim

Employees cannot submit an ET claim unless they have contacted the ACAS early conciliation service in the first instance. If both parties have gone through this process, the employer will probably already have knowledge of the employee’s complaint and had the opportunity to process its merits.

In this event, the employer should carefully carry out an assessment of the employee’s complaint and what defence they may have and then decide whether to fight the case or not.

Sometimes, employers discover that a settlement agreement is the less expensive option when weighing the costs of defending an ET claim. Settlement agreements are legally binding contracts which can be used to end an employment relationship on agreed terms. Once this document has been signed, the employee won’t be able to make an ET claim about any type of claim which is listed on the agreement.

(3) Focus on the issues relevant to the case

When responding to an ET complaint, it is crucial that employers focus on the employees specified allegations and any legal issues that may surround this. An employer’s response should be carefully drafted in as much detail as possible as they may not get the opportunity to introduce more information at a later date.

(4) Pay attention to detail

Whoever is in charge of drafting the ET3 must ensure that there are no inconsistencies and that all statements are factual and supported by the correct evidence.

(5) Submit the ET3 on time

An employer’s response form (ET3) should be submitted within 28 days of receiving the claim. This form can be submitted by using the online submission tool or returning the paper form.

The main thing to remember here is to ensure the tribunal office receive the form before the deadline, the form should not be sent on the 28th day. Employers may have the opportunity to apply for an extension, but this will be permitted at the judge’s discretion.

Fixed Fee ET work

Defending Employment Tribunal claims, or threats of a claim can be costly, but it doesn’t need to be. with Employment Law Services (ELS)’ Fixed Fee Employment Tribunal Representation offering, employers can save time and money. We understand how expensive, stressful, time consuming and distracting defending an Employment Tribunal Claim can be, even before the case ever reaches the hearing stage.

Negotiating the employment tribunal rules & procedures can be confusing & difficult but it doesn’t need to be. With our Fixed Fee Employment Tribunal Representation offering, employers can save time and money.

We believe this approach helps you control costs, minimise stress and wasted time and management resources, allowing you to continue to focus on your core business.

If you are faced with an Employment Tribunal claim, or threat of an Employment Tribunal Claim, Employment Law Services (ELS) can help. If you are an employer who requires assistance with any of the issues raised in this blog contact us today for your free consultation 0370 218 5662.

Parental Bereavement Bill receives Royal Assent

The new Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 sets out that parents who suffer the death of a child under the age of 18 or a still birth from 24 weeks of pregnancy will be entitled to two weeks paid leave. It is expected that these new rights will be incorporated into the Employment Rights Act 1996 in 2020.

At present, most employees have the statutory right to a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off under the Employment Rights Act, this is to allow them to deal with unforeseen matters or emergencies that involve a dependant.

The death of a child can have a severe impact on a parents’ physical and emotional wellbeing. Therefore, it is crucial that employers manage this difficult time carefully and see that the employee successfully returns to work in the future.

In 2016, a survey conducted by the charity, Child Bereavement UK disclosed that less than one third of British adults who were employed at the time of their loss said they felt supported by their employer. This figure highlights the need for improvement in this area.

New legislation

This Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 initially started off as a Private Members Bill, however, it has always been supported by the Government; who expressed: “This law makes parental bereavement leave a legal right for the first time in the UKs history. Losing a child is an unimaginable trauma. I am delighted we have reached this important milestone which so many people have campaigned for.”

The act sets out that:

• A bereaved parent will be entitled to take at least 2 weeks’ leave which must be taken in the first 56 days following the child’s death. This leave should be taken in blocks of 1 week and can be continuous or discontinuous;

• Leave can be taken in respect of each child if there is more than one child involved;

• The definition of a qualifying parent may be framed (in whole or part) by reference to the employee’s care of the child before he/she died (regulations will provide more detail on the definition);

• The rules about rights during that leave (and other family leave) also apply during bereavement leave, including the right to the same terms and conditions (other than in respect of pay) and (broadly) the right to return to the same role;

• The process that should be followed i.e. the requirement to give notice and provide evidence, will be set out within the regulations;

• The rates of pay will also be determined by the regulations, but in order to receive pay (rather than be able to take leave), a parent must have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service and received pay above the lower earnings limit for the last 8 weeks.

Employer considerations

• Employers should have well written bereavement policies in the workplace, this will equip employees with certainty and security during difficult times;

• Details regarding death should be kept private under data protection laws. Employers should consider asking the employee how much information they wish to pass on to their colleagues;

• It is important that employers are aware of the risk of racial or religious discrimination claims that may come as a result of refusing an employee time off for religious observances on death. This is because certain religions require a set time to mourn – For example, Muslims have certain set mourning periods, depending on the relation of the deceased relative.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

If you are an employer who requires assistance with any of the issues raised in this blog contact us today for your free consultation 0370 218 5662.

Top 5 Employment Law Questions of August 2018

1. When is it permissible for an employer to terminate the contract of employment of an employee on the grounds of ill health?

Dismissing an employee on the grounds of ill health is anything but straight forward. Lack of capability, including when assessed with reference to health can be viewed as a potentially fair reason for dismissal under s98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Assuming the employer can provide enough evidence that capability is the reason behind the dismissal, it must then be followed with a fair procedure.

Over the years, case law has established 4 main elements that constitute a fair procedure, these include:

• Consultation with the employee
• A medical investigation
• Consideration of alternative employment
• Possible ill health early retirement if there is provision for this

2. What records relating to statutory maternity pay must an employer keep?

An employer must keep the following information on each employee who receives statutory maternity pay:

• The medical certificate (MAT B1) or other evidence relating to the pregnancy that has been provided by the employee
• A record of intended dates of leave advised by the employee and the date the maternity leave officially commenced, if circumstances change
• A record of weeks that SMP was paid and the amount paid each week
• A note of any weeks in the maternity pay period for which SMP was not paid and the reasons why

3. If an employee wishes to resign after disciplinary proceedings have commenced, should the employer continue the disciplinary proceedings?

If the employee’s resignation is with immediate effect, then his or her employment will terminate. There would then be nothing to gain in continuing disciplinary proceedings without the employee who is no longer employed. However, it is important that employers store the disciplinary information for up to one year following the employee’s resignation. This information will be of great use should the employee attempt to claim constructive dismissal or unlawful discrimination following the disciplinary proceedings.

4. What will happen to EU employees after Brexit?

The rules on free movement and immigration in the UK still remain unclear. This topic has been a fundamental issue of the negotiations held between the UK and the EU.

On 8 December 2017, the UK Government announced it had come to an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights. Following this, a further agreement was reached on the terms of the implementation period. The agreement named “Settled and pre-settled status for EU Citizens and their families” is not yet law and will be subject to change depending on the final outcome of the negotiations.

The Government have implied that there will be an implementation period, which is due to commence on 29 March 2019 (the withdrawal date) and will terminate on 31 December 2020. Under this agreement, EU nationals residing in the UK before 31 2020 will meet the criteria for settled status when they have been a UK resident for 5 years. This will give them the right to work and live in the UK without a fixed time limit.

EU nationals who do not have 5 years continuous residency will be permitted to apply for a permit, which will grant them the right to remain until they reach the 5-year mark, at this point they will be able to apply for settled status.

Those who arrive in the UK throughout the implementation period will be required to register their residency if they stay for longer than 3 months.

5. Can employers still operate childcare voucher schemes following the introduction of tax-free childcare?

Yes, employers can still operate a childcare voucher scheme. However, it is important to note that new entrants will not be eligible to join the scheme from 4 October 2018.

The Government had initially announced that the scheme would end 5 April 2018. However, it was extended by 6 months in March 2018. Employees will continue to reap benefits from an existing childcare voucher scheme, as long as they continue as employees of the employer and that employer continues to offer the scheme.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

If you are an employer who requires assistance with any of the issues raised in this blog contact us today for your free consultation 0370 218 5662.

Time off for dependants: advice for employers

From the first day of employment all employees have the right to time off to care for a dependant. Under s57a and s57b of the Employment Rights Act, all employees are entitled to a “reasonable” amount of unpaid leave. However, what is deemed as reasonable can be fact specific.

Who is a dependant?
A dependant is someone who relies on the employee for care, which can vary from a spouse, partner, child, parent or someone who depends on the employee, for example an elderly neighbour.

When can time off be taken?
• When a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted;
• To make care arrangements for a dependant who has fallen ill or is injured;
• In consequence of the death of a dependant;
• To deal with an incident that concerns a child of the employee whilst in care of an educational establishment.

How much time off can an employee take?
An employee will be entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with the emergency, but there is no set amount of time as it depends on the situation.
For example, if a dependant falls ill, an employee can take time off to take that child to the doctors and make care arrangements. An employer may then ask the employee to take parental or annual leave if they wished to stay off with the child for longer.

Does the employee have to give notice?
The employee does not need to give notice; however, they should provide the employer with a reason for the absence as early as possible and when they anticipate their return to work.

Should the employee be paid for this time off?
No, an employer does not have a statutory obligation to pay employees for time off to care for dependants.

An employer must not:
• Treat employees unfairly for taking time off, for example refusing them training or promotion;
• Dismiss an employee or choose them for redundancy because they asked for time off for a dependant;
• Refuse an employee reasonable time off.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?
If you are an employer who requires assistance with any of the issues raised in this blog contact us today for your free consultation 0370 218 5662.

How to upskill your workforce to get the most out of your employees

One of the biggest concerns for small business owners is the skills gap as the UK is soon set to leave the EU.

Recruitment website have produced research identifying 2 out of 3 employees have moved on due to lack of development opportunities and training.

Providing your employees with training and further education opportunities can have a number of benefits for your business in the long-term, including, improved employee morale, higher retention and increased productivity.

Therefore, upskilling your current workforce is a crucial step to keep your employees engaged. Here are our top tips to get the most out of your team.

Workplace mentoring

New starts and junior level employees benefit from this the most. Mentoring can be done informally – simply set aside some time each week to give your employees feedback, and work alongside them when solving problems and decision making. This has been proved as a more efficient way to bring employees up to scratch more quickly than if left unsupervised.

Training courses

Training courses are effective when improving your current workforce. However, they are also viewed as attractive benefits for ambitious individuals. Benefits include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Employees develop a greater skill set which in turn allows them to undertake a wider variety of duties
  • Increased ability to adapt effectively to change in the workplace

A report published by research firm Gallup – “How millennials want to work” identified that 59% of respondents said that opportunities to learn and develop were crucial when applying for jobs.

Set out roles & responsibilities clearly

If your employees have a clearer understanding of what is expected of them and how their input contributes to the success of the business, they will have a greater sense of purpose and in turn will have a stronger commitment in what they can achieve.

We recommend holding team meetings once a month to ensure all employees are contributing. This helps them understand their own individual role as well as the importance of their team.

Reward your employees for their efforts

It is well established that happy employees are vital to the long-term success of any organisation. Recognising your employees hard work and rewarding them will:

  • Create a good impression of your business to those outside of it
  • Aid the recruitment process
  • Encourage your employees to always go that extra mile for the business
  • Supports team work and cohesiveness

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) Help?

If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662.  You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.

How to manage a disgruntled ex-employee

As an employer, you will eventually experience a disgruntled ex-employee. The problem with an angry former employee is they pose a risk to your business. Therefore, the sooner this situation is addressed, the better.

All employers should ensure they take the following steps:

(1)    Arrange An exit interview with the employee

When an employee hands in their letter of resignation, employers should arrange an exit interview to allow them to understand their thoughts and reasoning behind the resignation.

In the exit interview, the employee should be reminded of their contractual duties whilst working their notice. For example, the employee may be reminded of clauses in connection to confidentiality and accessing company records.

If it states in the employment contract things they should not do when leaving the company, they should be reminded of this too and that the company will deal with any breaches.

(2)    Ensure you have robust contracts of employment in place

Post termination restrictive covenants are contractual clauses which may be set out within a contract of employment. If this is the case, employers should use them when an employee hands his/her notice in.

The most common restrictions an employer may place on an employee who wishes to terminate the employment relationship are:

  • General confidentiality clauses; these make it unlawful for the employee to disclose sensitive information about the organisation and its clients
  • Non-solicitation clauses; this means the employee cannot approach the organisations existing clients when the employment has been terminated
  • Non-dealership restrictions; such clauses prevent the employee from doing business with the organisations clients after they leave the employment

(3)    Have everything documented

Since the Supreme Court made the decision to abolish tribunal fees in July 2017, employees can now bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal without that financial barrier. It is therefore extremely important that employers document everything to minimise risks associated with the Employment Tribunal. Employers should keep all important documents, including, the employee’s resignation letter and any minutes taken at the exit interview.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) Help?

If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662.  You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.