Thursday, 26 May 2011

Employees’ poor health is costing businesses billions every year

Employees are costing their employers billions is sick days and lost productivity because of their unhealthy lifestyles. A recent study commissioned by Bupa focused on employees who smoke, drink excessively or are obese and concluded they are responsible for a £3bn loss across industries in the UK every year.

Smokers are more likely than other employees to take time off for back pain, cancer and circulatory problems. Obese employees are more likely to take time off for heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses. Those who drink excessively are more likely to take time off for depression, stress, flu, colds, and circulatory problems.

The report, which was compiled by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, found that if employees changed their lifestyles, employers would save £1.8bn a year in sick pay paid out for alcohol-abuse illnesses and £51m a year for smoking-related sick days.

In addition, the report stated that £490m per year could be saved by 2025 in obesity-related conditions.

So how can employers encourage employees to make the lifestyle changes necessary to make these savings? Well, there are several tried and tested ways of promoting a healthier lifestyle within the workplace.

Firstly, employers can set up sports groups. Encouraging employees to participate in organised sports after work or on the weekends not only promotes exercise but can also increase morale and productivity in the workplace. Many cities have amateur leagues, for cricket and football for example, that are not expensive for work groups to join.

In addition, organising a sporting event for charity is a great way to promote a healthier lifestyle. A good example is by encouraging employees to run half or full marathons, such as the London Marathon. This encourages a long-term attitude change by the employees towards their health.

Another way of encouraging a healthy lifestyle is to subsidise gym membership or membership to other sporting groups. This gives employees a great incentive to sign up and get into the habit of exercising regularly.

Employees who work in offices are at particular risk from the health consequences of remaining sedentary for a long period of time. Employers should encourage them to get out on lunch breaks and take regular breaks from their desks.

If an employer provides any food for employees, such as lunch or snacks, they should ensure that employees have healthy options to choose.

Employers should also bear in mind that if they fail to protect employees’ health in the workplace, they can face personal injury claims. For example, if employees are prevented from taking regular breaks away from their desks, or if their claims of stress are not taken seriously by management, and they develop health issues because of this, they may be able to claim compensation.

Employers are advised to have health policies in place and keep a particular eye on the general health and fitness of their employees. This will, in the long run, reduce the amount lost through sick pay and decreased productivity that results from a sickly workforce.

Job Justice can put employers in touch with specialist employment solicitors in order to discuss this issue further.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Intern wins right to national minimum wage

Keri Hudson, 21, has become one of the first interns to take her employer to an Employment Tribunal and win the right to receive the national minimum wage.

Keri Hudson was employed by the online review site My Village for six weeks before she quit after not receiving a penny from them. Although she applied for the position as an unpaid intern, it soon became clear to her that she was doing far more than ‘training’ and was in fact doing a real job for free.

She said: “I’d done ridiculous amounts of work them. I’d practically run the site.” Keri Hudson worked form 10am till 6 pm writing and uploading content to the My Village site, and eventually managing six other unpaid interns.

Her experience mirrors that of thousands of other unpaid interns in the country, pushed by necessity into accepting a position that does not pay. Traditionally interns were taken on to provide a level of support in exchange for valuable experience of the industry and working life. Internships can transform a CV and provide an inexperienced graduate with an edge over their competitors.

However, many internships are unpaid. This means interns, like Keri Hudson, have to rely on credit cards and parents to survive during long stretches of full-time unpaid work. For some it pays off; they may be offered a full-time paid position with their employer. For others; it simply adds to their already existing debt.

Keri Hudson has been awarded £1,025 for five weeks’ work at the national minimum wage by the Employment Tribunal.

She was helped by the National Union of Journalist’s Cashback for Interns campaign. The NUJ has set up the campaign to help interns who have worked for nothing in the past six years claim the national minimum wage for their time as an intern.

The result of Keri Hudson’s award means that if an intern is doing ‘real work’ for an employer, they are entitled to the national minimum wage, regardless of whether or not they agreed to work for free.

Roy Mincoff, the legal officer for the NUJ, said: “If someone is taken on as an intern, and is doing a proper job rather than just being trained, then they will be recognised as a worker for the purposes of the national minimum wage.”

TPG Web Publishing, the owner of My Village, has indicated that it is going to appeal the judgement.

The company has, however, welcomed the opportunity for a debate on the issue. It maintains that interning is a valuable experience for people looking to get on the career ladder, and that if employers have to pay, fewer internships will be available.

Job Justice can connect employers and interns to local employment law solicitors to provide legal advice on this issue and any other surrounding employment rights.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

“That’s it, I quit!” – Are resignations in the heat of the moment final?

Have you stormed out of the office following an argument with a colleague or your boss and vowed never to return? Or have you fired an employee on the spot because they happened to catch you at a bad time? Under employment law, these situations are referred to as occurring ‘in the heat of the moment’ and do not necessarily count as the end of the employment relationship between the parties.

Both employers and employees should be aware that they can kiss and make up after a split-second decision to quit or fire someone, if they want.

For an employee, resigning in the heat of the moment might seem like the only possible way of expressing your frustration but once you’ve left the office and cooled down, you may feel differently.

If you change your mind, employment law allows you a ‘reasonable period of time’ to explain to your employer that you did not intend to resign and that you’d like to remain in your job. Employment law says that it would be unreasonable for an employer to accept your resignation and treat it as final in these circumstances.

However, you should bear in mind that a ‘reasonable period of time’ is not long; one or two days at most. A judge in a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case said a fourteen day period was not reasonable, even though Christmas fell in the middle of it.

If you have resigned in the heat of the moment but feel you had no other option to leave your job due to the conduct of your employer, you may have a constructive dismissal claim against them. For example, if your employer suddenly changed your shift from day to night in breach of your employment contract and you quit after an argument about it, you may have a claim. You should discuss the situation with an employment solicitor.

For an employer, it’s important not to overreact when an employee storms out of the office leaving you in the lurch and damaging moral. The law requires you to give them a reasonable period to cool off and come back to work. Don’t assume that their resignation was final; get in touch the next day and determine if they really intend to never come back.

If you take them at their word and refuse to let them return to work, they could claim for unfair dismissal in an employment tribunal.

Employers are advised to investigate the resignation; is there an underlying problem at work, such as bullying or discrimination, which could have contributed to the employee leaving? Investigating these issues can prepare you for possible claims from the employee and will help you decide on your action going forward.

If you have fired an employee in the heat of the moment, you are also allowed a reasonable period of time under employment law to change your mind and keep the employment contract intact. It can be advantageous to offer reinstatement even if you think the employee will not accept, as it may decrease any compensation they are awarded by a Tribunal through failure to mitigate on their behalf.

One way to avoid both situations is to train management in conflict resolution. Offering mediation to stop a dispute from escalating is advocated by Acas and they offer a mediation service.

Job Justice is a service dedicated to helping employers and employees get the legal advice on employment law issues they need from a local, experienced employment solicitor.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Parental leave to undergo radical new changes

New fathers will be allowed an additional four weeks’ paid parental leave following the birth of their child under new proposals announced by the Government on 16 May 2011.

The proposals contained in the Modern Workplaces Consultation are aimed at updating the law on parental leave to reflect the changes in the workplace and create a system that is fairer for new fathers, whilst maintaining the rights of new mothers.

New fathers are currently only entitled to two weeks’ paid paternity leave after the birth of their child. The proposals would increase this allowance to six weeks’ paid leave, two weeks to be taken off straight after the birth with a month to be taken off at a later date.

The proposals also introduce the concept of ‘shared parental leave’. Shared parental leave allows the new mother to take five months’ paid maternity leave after the birth of the baby and gives the parents an additional seven months leave, four of which will be paid, to split between them as they see fit. This means if the mother returns to work early, the new father could have almost six months’ paid paternity leave.

The plans also allow the time to be taken off in ‘chunks’, allowing the parents to take some time off at the same time. However, if the parents and their employers cannot reach a suitable arrangement, the employer can request the employee to take the parental leave in one continuous stretch.

The Business Secretary Vince Cable said of the proposals: "These measures are fairer for fathers and maintain the existing entitlements for mothers - but crucially give parents much greater choice over how to balance their work and family commitments.

"Of course, I'm mindful of the need to minimise the costs, bureaucracy and complexities on businesses ... we will ensure that businesses will still be able to take into account their needs when agreeing how leave can be taken."

His words are intended to reassure the business community that has expressed concern at the disruption the new parental leave rights could have on its businesses.

Jackie Orme, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development chief executive, expressed some concerns about the workability of the proposals: "We believe that parents should be required to take leave in reasonable blocks of time - no shorter than two weeks - if the employer is not to be subjected to unreasonable burdens."

In addition to the shared parental leave plans, the consultation also includes plans to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.

The Home Secretary Theresa May said the proposals form part of the Government’s “commitment to closing down the gender pay gap”.

Job Justice can connect employers to local and recommended employment law specialists who can provide guidance on the consultation and what it would mean for them.

The proposals are expected to come into force in 2015.

Monday, 9 May 2011

High Court rules former employer liable for critical email that led to dismissal

The High Court has ruled that a sacked lecturer can take legal action against his former employers after they sent a critical email to his new employers that led to him being dismissed.

Robert McKie was sacked by the University of Bath after they received an email from Swindon College, his former employer, criticising his behaviour and saying that other staff and students had problems with him.

Robert Rowe, the director of human resources at Swindon College, sent the email to the University of Bath in connection with McKie’s duties to liaise with schools and colleges about the degree course he taught at the university. Rowe informed the university that he could not allow McKie back onto the premises.

Shortly after the email was received, the University of Bath conducted a disciplinary meeting with McKie, after which he was dismissed.

McKie argued that his former employer owed him a duty of care and was liable for negligent misrepresentation.

An employer can be guilty of negligent misrepresentation if it can be established that they owe an employee a duty of care under the ‘Caparo’ test.

The Caparo test requires the employee to prove that it was ‘reasonably foreseeable’ that harm would be caused as a result of the employer passing on the information. In addition, a close relationship must have existed between the employer and the employee. The court must also find it fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care on the employer.

The High Court judge, Mr Justice Denyer, found that a duty of care had been owed to McKie by Swindon College and that he can take legal action against them for negligent misrepresentation.

Swindon College tried to argue that the period of six years since McKie’s employment there meant the close relationship required by the Caparo test did not exist. However, the judge said that this argument was “not sufficient” to disprove the necessary proximity of the relationship.

He called Swindon College’s procedure before writing the email “slapdash" and "sleepy”, and said the college had failed “to comply with any sort of minimum standards of fairness”.

The judge also criticised the University of Bath’s disciplinary procedure. They did not make it clear to McKie that the meeting could lead to his dismissal.

However, because the university sacked McKie within his probation period and paid him his notice, he cannot sue them for unfair dismissal.

Employers are advised to take note of the High Court ruling as it means emails sent about former employees could open them up to legal action if the employee can prove negligent misrepresentation.

Job Justice can put employers in touch with specialist employment solicitors who can advise on this area of employment law.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Final guidance published on new rights for agency workers

Agency workers are to be given the same basic employment rights as employees hired directly by the employer after new regulations come into force on 1 October 2011. The Government has published final guidance on the regulations to prepare agencies and employers.

The new regulations are called the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) and were the brainchild of the former Labour Government, the TUC and the CBI (Confederation of British Industry). The parties reached an agreement to give agency workers the same basic employment rights as standard employees once they had completed a twelve-week qualifying period.

The Conservatives, prior to the general election, said they were “very concerned” about the AWRs as the qualifying period was not set out in the European Agency Workers Directive. In addition, they were concerned about the lack of consultation with the industry, agencies and Parliament.

However, in October 2010, the new Government announced that they would not amend the AWRs and the Regulations were given the go ahead.

Once implemented, the AWRs will give agency workers the same rights to pay, annual leave, overtime, rest breaks, duration of working time, and paid time off for ante-natal appointments once they have completed a twelve-week qualifying period with the employer.

In addition, agency workers will be entitled to access to collective facilities from the first day of their assignment. Collective facilities include prayer rooms, canteens, child care facilities, showers, car parking, and staff common rooms.

Agency employees will also be entitled to access internal job vacancies from their first day once the AWRs are implemented in October.

The Government has issued the final guidance with the aim of preparing the hirers of agency staff and the recruitment sector as a whole on the application and implication of the new Regulations. The guidance informs agencies who provide agency staff and employers on their responsibilities under the AWRs.

The employment relations minister, Edward Davey, said the guidance had been compiled in collaboration with “key organisations” to ensure everyone is prepared for 1 October.

If employers are uncertain of the changes that will be brought in under the AWRs and want to know about their responsibilities, Job Justice can put them in touch with a local and recommended expert employment law solicitor.