Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Five questions on employees' rights

Do I have the right to an employment contract?

Some employers offer employment contacts to their employees, although this is not a legal obligation. An employment contract is legally binding and generally the terms cannot be changed without agreement between the employer and the employee. If an employer breaches the contract, they could be sued for wrongful dismissal. In any event, employers must give their employees a written statement of their employment, such as a staff handbook, within two months of the employee’s start date.

Is my employer obliged to look after my health and safety?

Employers have a legal duty to care and look after their employees’ health, safety and welfare at work. Employers must undertake risk-assessments of all working practices if they have more than five employees, and keep a record of their findings along with the actions they intend to take to deal with risk. Additionally, employers are legally obliged to have a health and safety policy for the workplace.

Can my employer withhold my statutory rights?

An employer must not withhold employees’ statutory employment rights, although some statutory rights are acquired only after a certain length of employment. For example, employees have the right to be paid the national minimum wage from the day they start work. Conversely, in order to bring a claim for unfair dismissal against an employer, employees generally must have given one year’s continuous service.

Do I have any rights if I am dismissed unfairly?

An employee can bring an unfair dismissal claim against an employer, if they have been dismissed without fair reason or if the process used to dismiss them was unfair. In some cases, the dismissal of an employee could be deemed automatically unfair, if the employer denies the employee a statutory employment right, such as maternity leave. You have the right to take your claim to an Employment Tribunal within three months of the dismissal; therefore you should consult an employment solicitor without delay.

Is flexible working a statutory right?

Flexible working arrangements, such as flexi-time and annualised hours, are not a statutory right for employees. However, working parents are allowed to request flexible working and the employer should give the request every consideration. A parent must have been working continuously for twenty-six weeks prior to the request, and should not make more than one request per year.

Monday, 27 February 2012

How can I make myself stand out from other job applicants?

To secure a job in a competitive marketplace you should aim at achieving excellence through every stage of the application process.

The application form, together with a CV and covering letter, is the first contact recruiters have with you. So make sure this arrives by the proper deadline, correctly and neatly filled in and that any other requested paperwork, such as a referee’s letter, is present.

It is important that your mention of qualifications, past achievements and future ambitions is made in a relevant way to the job in question. The person reading your application and CV will check first that you are qualified for the role. Make sure that your covering letter is not too long, as the recruiter may have to read a number of them. On the other hand it should be substantive rather than descriptive and the writing should be personable but professional.

If your application is well-received, you may be offered a screening phone interview. Make sure you have a copy of your CV and covering letter, in case you are asked about them in more depth and try to take the call somewhere quiet with a good, clear phone line. It is acceptable to take a moment before answering any questions and you don’t need to keep talking, just answer the question succinctly and wait for another.

After the interview you should take notes of what was said because if you are called for an in-person interview the panel may reference something from the phone-call. You can also send a thank-you note to the interviewer, as a way of keeping your interest in the job to the fore.

If you are asked to attend an interview, pay attention to grooming and dress appropriately. Most importantly, thoroughly research the company concerned and think about how your skills, experience and ambition fit in with their way of working and their future goals. It will also help you to know what kind of interview you are going to be given; for example, whether you will need to give a presentation, take part in group activities, or discuss a hypothetical case-study.

To conclude, even if you are the best candidate, it is impossible to stand out from other job applicants if you are late for an interview!

Monday, 20 February 2012

UK economy to fluctuate during 2012

New numbers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed an increase in retail sales for January, compared to December 2011. Kate Davies, Head of UK Retail at the ONS, said that the growth had been expected.

“All sectors are experiencing some growth when you look year-on-year. In particular the household goods sector has risen from where it was previously, it's ended a long run of contraction. The most prominent driver behind this growth comes from the non-store retailing sector [mail order and internet] but also from food stores and clothing stores.”

Whilst the figures were positive the Chief of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, warned that although the UK is unlikely to hit another recession, growth is predicted to be slow and fluctuate.

“The fiscal consolidation and tight credit conditions at home and the weakness of our major overseas trading partners are acting as a drag on growth.

“The underlying need for repair of balance sheets means that the path of recovery is likely to be slow and uncertain. For much of this year, there is likely to be a zigzag pattern of alternating positive and negative quarterly growth rates.”

Sir Mervyn acknowledged that some businesses had recorded a positive start of the year but highlighted that the fragile economic climate meant that this trend may weaken through the year.

He also expressed sympathy over the inflation’s impact on people’s savings, stressing that he understood the frustration over the lack of growth but said that this was a natural consequence of the financial climate.

“These are consequences of the painful adjustment prompted by the financial crisis and the need to rebalance our economy. Unfortunately there is no easy remedy.”

For jobseekers January will have been a relatively good month, compared to previous ones, as some businesses were able to recruit more staff. However, the fragile financial climate is still leaving many potential employees unengaged and many of those currently employed fear that they will be made redundant.

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Monday, 13 February 2012

Workers risk exclusion from pension schemes

Last year the Government abolished the default retirement age and many employees were concerned by the prospect of a future in which they would lose their job earlier than anticipated, leaving them in financial hardship. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) now indicate that pension schemes are getting more expensive to finance as we live longer.

In 2011 mortality rates were much lower than expected, and the ONS attributes the fall to medical advancements. The Head of Mortality Research at Punter Southall, Ross Matthews, said that as life-expectancy increases so, inevitably, does the cost of pension schemes.
"If the 2011 fall in mortality rates continued, a man of 65 retiring today could expect to live to 91, three years longer than the typical current estimate of 88. A 45-year-old would live to 95, seven years longer. This equates to an increase of up to 15% on pension scheme liabilities, potentially driving deficits by up to 50%."
Not only are pension schemes getting more expensive to finance but some low-earning employees also risk falling outside the ambit of such schemes. The trade Union Congress (TUC) has warned that a pension scheme to be launched later this year, which would automatically enrol employees, could leave out thousands of low-earning female workers.

At the moment, workers would be automatically enrolled if they earned just under £7,500 a year. However, there are indications that the limit will be increased to £10,000, which the TUC said would adversely affect 1.8 million female workers.

Brendan Barber, the General Secretary of the TUC, said that the Government should freeze the earnings threshold. He feared that the exclusion of thousands of workers would have unintended consequences beyond what could be forecasted.
"Whether this is the best way to help the low-paid is an interesting debate, but it would be disastrous if it had the unintended consequence of excluding a significant proportion of women workers from pensions saving."
If the earnings level is increased it would also affect 500,000 men according to the TUC. However, as women are more commonly found in low-wage jobs they would be worse off as a whole compared to low-earning male workers.

In the current financial climate many are struggling with making ends meet, some to the extent that it becomes necessary to take on an extra job. By removing employees from retirement schemes more insecurity will burden many workers and add to a stressful everyday life.

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Friday, 10 February 2012

Breaks during working hours

Workers over the age of 18 are allowed a rest-break of twenty minutes, if they work more than six hours per day, according to the Working Time Regulations 1998. This may be taken as a lunch break or not, but the rest period should fall somewhere in the middle of the working hours, rather than at their beginning or end. Additionally, the rest-break should be uninterrupted where possible. Some employers, of course, will allow longer or additional rest-breaks.

The Regulations do not require employers to pay their workers for rest-breaks within a period of work, however the matter of payment is frequently subject to normal practice in a particular workplace, or it may form part of a worker’s employment contract.

Young workers who are under 18 but over school leaving age have different arrangements. That is, if they work for more than four-and-a-half hours, they are allowed a rest-break of thirty minutes. As with adults, the rest-beak may be taken away from the workplace.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, pregnant workers and new mothers who have returned to work must be allowed more frequent rest-breaks and adequate seating should be made available for them during these breaks if needed. Employers must also allow any breaks a worker may need as the result of a health condition or disability.

However, there are a number of occupational exceptions to the rules concerning rest-breaks. For example, people in the armed forces, emergency services and police are not covered by the Regulations in some circumstances. Neither are some security workers, shift workers, railway workers or those who constantly travel for their work.

Furthermore, some businesses have some very busy trading periods and continuity of service is vital in some occupations such as the health industry. In these cases, instead of getting normal breaks, workers are entitled to 'compensatory rest'. This means that the rest-break can be taken later during the same day or taken on the next working day if possible.

If an employer does not allow statutory rest-breaks during working hours, or if they dismiss a worker for refusing to work through their rest-break, the matter can be raised with an employee representative or line-manager. If the matter cannot be resolved through the proper grievance procedure at work, they could seek the advice of an employment solicitor about the recourse of an Employment Tribunal.