This week we had the exciting news that we have been chosen as a finalist in The National Paralegal Awards 2019 in the Employment/HR Category. 
 
These brand-new awards are specifically aimed at recognising the achievements of Paralegals across the UK, law firms that develop Paralegals and recruitment companies who recruit Paralegals. The response to the awards was phenomenal, giving the judges a tough task deciding the finalists and winners. 
 
Rita Leat, Managing Director of The Professional Paralegal Register, the voluntary regulator for Paralegals in England and Wales, who is hosting these new awards said ‘We were delighted with the number of entries and the quality of the entrants. There are an estimated 100,000 plus Paralegals in the UK. I am delighted to be pioneering these awards as the profession needs celebrating, not only because it is the fastest growing legal sector but because it has gone unrewarded for far too long. The awards will change that’.  
 
The judging panel included legal and business experts across a variety of legal sectors including Mark Solon, Chairman from Wilmington Legal; Amir Ali MCICM, Chairman, CCUA; Sally Penni, Barrister; Katrina Robinson MBE; Keven Bader, Chief Executive of CITMA; Claire Smith, Head of Business Development, Moneypenny; Rachel Tombs, Orion Legal Marketing and Karen Babington, Solve Legal; Helen Heselwood, Heselwood and Grant Solicitors; Stephen Gowland, past President of Cilex. 
 
As a national award this is a massive achievement for us and recognises the work we have done over the years supporting companies with HR issues. We love to help and support businesses navigate their way through the maze of complex employment law. It is rarely straightforward! 
 
All too often employers do not fully understand employment law and can fail foul of it without even realising. This is why it is so important to get advice and support when employing staff and not waiting until there are issues. 
With ongoing support, we often can prevent problems occurring and advise on best practice. It is our job to know the current employment law. This give you peace of mind knowing you are compliant and ensures you can get on with running your company. 
 
Bina Briggs, CEO of Plain Talking HR was also nominated on LinkedIn as a Wonder Woman in celebration of International Women’s Day taking place on 8th March 2019. Nominated by Nabomita Mazumdar, Ambassador to Ministry of Women and Child Development in India, this is wonderful recognition 
 
We would like to thank our clients for all their support.  
We have our fingers crossed for the final of the National Paralegal Awards 2019. This is taking place on 29th March at the May Fair Hotel in London. 
 
A story on Twitter caught my eye. A young woman experienced a brutal interview at a tech company. The CEO spent 2 hours tearing both her and writing skills to shreds, also calling her an under achiever. After this ordeal the company offered her the job! 
She then sent them an eloquent response and told them exactly how worthless they had made her feel; how traumatic the interview was and how the whole experience was tantamount to bullying She ended the response saying she would not be accepting the job offer. Hardly surprising. 
You can read all about this abusive interview by clicking here
I know that other interviewers use similar techniques, and this is not the way to interview anyone! Some people consider this type of approach will show them how people perform under pressure. 
Not so! There is plenty of research that suggests this is not the case. 
 
Here are my top tips for being a top-class interviewer and how to have people who really want to work for you! 
 
1. Make sure you have really read the CV and found as much as you can about the candidate before you interview them. This is so important and often people have only glanced at the C.V. and not really taken much time to read it properly. 
2. Prepare a set of questions beforehand so you ensure you remember to cover everything you want to know. This will make the interview more structured. 
3. The questions should be sensible and related to the job they are applying for and their past experience. You will find some ideas for interview questions to ask here
4. During the interview make notes as you will not remember everything. 
5. How you impress the candidate may decide if they take the role if you decide they are suitable. By being friendly, approachable and welcoming you will leave them with a great impression. 
6. Start the interview with a positive note. Tell them about your role in the company and maybe a few facts about you and then ask them to tell you about their background. Mention some of their achievements you have noted from their C.V. This will put the interviewee at ease. This will actually give you better results than immediately firing a whole barrage of questions at someone. Then you can do into your set of questions you have. 
7. The interview is your chance to get to know someone and to help you gauge how this person might fit with the role and the team of people already employed. So, let them do the talking. 
8. Ensure you ask them at the end about any questions or concerns they have. 
9. Inform them before they leave of when and how they will hear the outcome. This is really important. 
10. Make sure you follow up with everyone. It is so important to let people know and also it can be useful to offer some feedback where appropriate. 
 
Remember you want to leave everyone you interview with a great impression of you and your business!  
The environment you hold the interview should be carefully considered and offering refreshments is a good idea. Anything that puts a person at ease will help give you a great picture of who they truly are. 
 
If you find interviewing difficult or time consuming, we can offer support and guidance. Just call us! 
 
Annual Holiday Entitlement 
This subject raises a lot of questions and can be confusing. Disputes about holiday leave are common. 
Here are a few common questions we get asked. 
 
Can I carry over annual holiday entitlement? 
As we reach the end of the year many people may not have used their holiday entitlement and therefore would like to carry this over to the following year. 
It is possible to carry over leave, but it is up to the employer to decide how many days they will allow, and this should be added in the contract along with the holiday booking policy. 
 
How much holiday entitlement do I have? 
If you are an employer, it is important that the holiday entitlement is very clear in the employees’ contract. The number of days they are entitled to should be detailed and the dates of the holiday year period. For example some companies run 1st January – 31st December and some April-April. 
 
Booking your annual leave
There might be certain days and times of the year when leave will not be allowed. Many employers need a certain amount of notice for your leave. The general guideline is a minimum of four weeks’ notice for two weeks leave; however, it is important the notice required is stated in the contract as some companies may require more notice in order to arrange staff cover. 
 
Can my employer refuse a request for holiday? 
Employers can refuse a request for leave, providing they give at least two weeks’ notice for a two-week holiday request. The contract should also state how much holiday can be taken at any one time. Many companies limit leave to a maximum of 14 days at any one time, however some companies offer more flexibility and might be able to you the option to take more. 
Always book your holiday dates with your employer before booking a holiday and paying a deposit! If your holiday request gets denied you could end up facing costs to change your holiday, so don’t take the risk! 
 
Are bank holidays included in my annual leave? 
With regard to Bank Holidays there is no automatic right to paid leave. An employer can choose to include these as part of statutory annual leave. 
 
Can I be made to take holiday at certain times by my employer? 
Yes you can! Remember that some companies may require employees to take leave at certain times, such as Christmas, bank holidays or an annual shut down so ensure this is clear in the contract. 
 
I started mid way through the holiday year - how do I know how much holiday leave I can take? 
You start to accrue a holiday entitlement from the day you start your job. You can use this online calculator to work out how much leave you will be entitled to by entering the information about your start date and leave entitlement it will work this out for you. Got to https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-holiday-entitlement 
 
How do I avoid disputes over holiday leave with staff? 
Be clear in the contract from the start! 
Clarity in the employees’ contract is vital to ensure they are fully aware of when leave can be taken, how much notice is required, how much can be taken at any one time and whether leave can be carried over. This avoid confusion and makes the company policy clear from the outset. 
 
Keeping track of annual leave 
There are a number of online programmes you can use to manage annual leave or for smaller companies a simple excel sheet can be used. Make sure there is a request form, signed off by the relevant person in the business and keep a copy on file. For larger companies using an online programme such as Breath HR or Kiss Flow will help manage staff holidays and keep track of the number of days staff are owed.  
 
Special circumstances  
There will always be situations where an employer may have to decide whether a special provision should be made, for example in the case of family illness, bereavements or an emergency and this is down to the discretion of the employer. 
 
Need more help dealing with annual leave issues? 
Contact us or check out this information on the ACAS website  
 
 
 
As the chill of winter takes hold, businesses up and down the country are bracing themselves for the treacherous conditions that can make outdoor work so difficult. Ice, snow, heavy rain, and short, dark days can all present serious hazards to employees in the construction industry, especially if your business isn’t adequately prepared. So, it’s essential that you have a plan in place to help keep your workers safe when out working in bad weather. 
To help you get winter-ready, we’ll discuss the essential personal protective equipment (PPE) that businesses need to offer their employees during dangerous conditions, as well some tips for boosting staff morale during bad weather. 
 
Provide warm clothing 
Construction workers and those who spend a lot of time on-site are at more risk of cold stress, which can lead to a range of extremely dangerous illnesses and conditions, like frostbite and hypothermia. The only way to protect your workers is to ensure they have the correct protective clothing. 
Multiple layers are warmer than one thick layer, as the air trapped between each layer acts as insulation. So, encourage employees to wear several base layers, and then offer them an insulated overcoat. This should be adequately waterproof, and not so bulky that it might limit their movement on the job. It should also feature reflective strips and other high-visibility features. 
 
Head and face protection are also essential, especially during very bad weather. Bitterly cold conditions can tempt workers to switch their helmets for hats, which can leave them vulnerable to accidents and injuries, so offer them some clothing which works with their headgear. These helmet liners from Zoro fit neatly underneath standard issue hard hats, keeping workers both comfortable and safe. 
Boots should also be waterproof, as wet feet will quickly become susceptible to cold stress, especially if staff will be working on sites with muddy ground or poor roads. Winter work boots should be large enough to accommodate either at least two pairs or thin socks, or one pair of thick ones, so it may be a good idea to order a size up. 
 
Improve visibility 
Low-light conditions are a perennial problem for the construction industry, especially in winter. So, you’ll need to have on-site work lights which are bright enough to ensure that workers can see what they’re doing during high-risk jobs. If your site is very sprawling, you may want to install mast-mounted lighting, which will illuminate a larger area more effectively. Any vehicles or mobile equipment should also be fitted with additional warning lights, as this will help to prevent collisions and encourage your workers to be aware of them as they move around the site. 
It may also be a good idea to consider your working hours: could you start work earlier or finish later in order to make the most of daylight hours? Or can certain dangerous jobs be carried out during the lightest part of the day? Not only is this often a simpler solution, but your workers will be more alert at these times, too. 
 
Minimise the risk of a fall 
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to take appropriate measures to help prevent slips and trips, both of which are more likely to occur during tough conditions. There are several ways to do this, the most important of which is to provide the right sort of footwear for both the weather and the work being performed. 
Naturally, construction workers will need protective boots that protect their feet from falling debris or other hazards, but they should also be warm enough to spend a full working day outdoors. For very icy conditions, winter boot attachments — which provide added traction and grip on the sole — may be a good idea. 
While the right footwear is a good start, you’ll also need to treat walkways, roads, pathways, loading areas, and access points with grit to stop them from freezing over. Hand rails and guardrails are a must on all raised areas and ramps where a fall from height is a possibility. 
 
Boost morale with good facilities 
As any good HR manager will tell you, promoting employee safety isn’t just about their physical health: their mental wellbeing matters, too. Having a warm employee breakroom where they can rest, socialise, and grab a hot drink can make a big difference to staff morale, especially during freezing winter weather. So, if you haven’t already, now is a great time to review your employee breakroom and other facilities and make sure they’re fully equipped for the months ahead. 
Your staff breakroom should provide adequate shelter from the worst that the British weather can throw at you, and there should be adequate heating: you may want to consider space heaters if you usually work on site. It’s also a good idea to consult your staff on whether there’s anything else they’d like to have in their break room (within reason, of course!). 
 
 
No-one relishes the prospect of the long dark winter ahead, least of all those who work in construction. But, as long as you create a plan to protect your staff, provide workers with PPE that’s appropriate for the weather, and take measures to boost morale, you should be able to make sure it doesn’t have a disproportionate effect on your business. 
 
The Ministry of Justice published figures on 8th March 2018 that single claims lodged at employment tribunals increased by a remarkable 90% between October to December 2017 compared to the same quarter in 2016. 
Claims have increased due to a change last year by the Supreme Court who abolished tribunal fees. The reasoning behind this decision was that tribunal fees meant many people were not getting access to fair justice because the fees were a barrier, especially those on low incomes. 
Anyone considering an employment tribunal claim must in the first instance speak to ACAS
ACAS will try and resolve case, acting as an intermediary between employee and employer and this can often result in a satisfactory resolution. ACAS claims to settle around 92% of disagreements between staff and their employers. 
According to ACAS the most common categories of dispute were discipline, dismissal and grievances; contracts; and wages and the national minimum wage. 
 
But what if you are a company who has been unable to resolve a dispute and have now received an employment tribunal claim? The first thing to do is act quickly. This is very important to avoid unnecessary costs. 
Allocate someone within the business to deal with the claim and respond to the paperwork within the deadlines. 
 
Our advice is always to seek legal advice and we can work with you alongside an employment lawyer to look at the case and do a full review. 
It is important to carefully look at the claim and focus on the allegations being made and do a proper investigation. 
 
An employment tribunal is an independent judicial body and its purpose is to resolve disputes according to employment law. They will listen to both the employer and employee before making a decision. 
Tribunals should be avoided as they are not a fast process and can be very time consuming. The average time is around 27 weeks and depending on the complexity it could be up to a year. It can also be very stressful for all involved. 
It is important to get legal advice relating to the success of the case and you may have to pay compensation of reinstate the claimant if you lose the case. 
 
The best advice we can give you is to avoid things ever getting to this point. This means have clear contracts with your staff, clear disciplinary procedures, staff handbook and ensure you are compliant with the latest HR and employment laws. 
We do a business health check on your company and are happy to advise you on the areas you need support and guidance. 
Preventing disputes is much better than dealing with them! 
Do not leave things to chance- act now! 
Now is the time! The weather is colder, but we haven’t had snow yet (unless you are in Scotland!) and you need to plan for the bad weather, so your business isn’t too disrupted which leads to losses or accidents. 
It a fact that Britain is never really prepared for bad weather conditions – everything seems to grind to a halt. The rail networks, buses and roads are always affected meaning that your business can lose money. We know bad weather will hit us but too many of us do little to protect our business. 
So what contingencies can you put in place to cope? 
Here are 6 top tips to ensure your business is ready for winter! 
1. Staff travel 
Start with going through all your team and making sure you know how they get to work. This should be something you do on a regular basis. A quick questionnaire – do they bus, cycle, walk, drive or come by train. 
Once you know this vital piece of information you can look at which areas were affected over the past couple of years with bad weather and what alternative transport plans can be put into place in case of issues. Proper consultation with your staff before weather issues arise is always advisable. Make sure they fully understand what measures you have in place and they know how they are going to be able to get to work should their journey be affected. It may be that you need to have a process where they can work from home. 
2. Technology 
Make sure you have a contingency plan should there be a power cut. Ensure you have up to date contact information on all your staff and clients and that this can be accessed remotely. Good IT systems are vital for any business. Consider if your office had no power – how could you continue to work? If all your phones went off – how could your customers contact, you? Good risk assessments are vital. Investing in a generator may also be advisable, depending on what your business does. 
3. Your building 
How safe is your building during the winter months? When did you last get the central heating serviced? Are your pipes lagged and have they been checked for any potential issues? Are your windows insulated? How water tight is your roof? Floods are also a risk in some areas. It is important to look at what the potential risks are to your business in adverse weather and ensure your building is safe from the elements and warm for your staff. 
Make sure you have a list of local tradesmen ready and that you have made the relevant checks before the weather hits below zero! 
4. Preventing slips and falls 
Make sure the exterior of your premises is checked daily and salt/grit added to prevent staff slipping or falling over. Ice is one of the major causes of broken and fractured limbs over the winter. Ensure you’ve gritted paths, car parks, fire escapes, access points, fire assembly points, delivery entrances 
The ‘Health and Safety at Work act 1974’ requires employers to take appropriate steps to deal with slip and trip risks. Winter is an especially dangerous time for such incidents. 
In the 2016 UK Health and safety report, it states that 20% of workplace accidents are caused by a slip, trip or fall. Don’t get caught out – make sure you have a simple daily procedure to ensure this doesn’t happen! 
5. Insurance 
Is your insurance up to date? You can also get insurance for bad weather so investing in business interruption insurance may be worthwhile. Also check your building and contents insurance and make sure you are fully covered. 
6. If your business has vehicles make sure they are ready. Ensure they are fully serviced and ready for winter and snow tyres may be a worthwhile investment if you need to deliver goods or have vehicles that need to keep moving during all weathers. 
 
Remember the 4 P’s -Proper planning, prevents, problems! 
By doing this now and ensuring you are ready for winter you will minimise disruption to your business and reduce the amount of financial loss you might suffer! 
 
It is a fact that 99% of construction workers are male. The gender diversity in the construction industry is extremely poor and the UK has one of the lowest rates in Europe. Despite campaigns such as Women in Construction Week to try and highlight the construction industry as a career choice, the increase in the numbers of women in construction is almost stagnant. 
 
Construction is one of the largest industries in the UK, which is thriving and has mass shortages of qualified workers, so this makes these facts even more shocking. So, what is the main reason that the female construction sector isn't’t growing inline with the need for more construction workers? 
 
A recent survey to women aged 16-25 cited that the main reason for not selecting a career in construction was the fact it was so male dominated and this for them felt intimidating. 
 
Clearly there needs to be more done to unite the industry and raise awareness of this issue. If more young women were encouraged into the sector this would of course increase the male to female ratio. But with an industry so heavily dominated by men is this possible and what can be done? 
 
Construction companies themselves need to get behind or create their own schemes which encourage females to take a construction career path. Several companies have taken this initiative including The Guinness Partnership, Crossrail, BuildLondon, Tideway and HS2. Many are offering schemes with free workshops, training and providing positive role models to encourage females into construction. This needs to increase dramatically as the more companies that are involved will of course increase the number of female construction workers. 
Women into Construction are working hard to raise this issue and are responsible for supporting females into construction. 
This is an independent not-for-profit organisation that promotes gender equality in construction. Offering bespoke support to women wishing to work in the construction industry, and assist contractors to recruit highly motivated, trained women, helping to reduce skills gaps and create a more gender-equal work force. Their vision is to be the construction industry’s organisation of choice for women and contractors, and to change the face of construction, normalising the position of women in the construction industry. 
 
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, launched the ‘Not Just for the Boys’ campaign with Women into Construction in February 2015. In the 3-year period since its launch this scheme has given more than 700 women employment advice, over 500 women construction related training, and brokering 225 women into employment. This is a major breakthrough and proves with the right support changes can be made. 
Society needs to change its views as females are not born with the view that building is for boys, it is our current way of raising children leads them to believe that. Changes in the perception of the building trade needs to start with children. It could be argued that leaving the discussions about trades careers until 15 is too late and that the mindset around this career is already largely fixed by this point. 
Plain Talking HR is committed to supporting construction employ more women, it’s a cause we believe is well worth championing. 
 
To read more information on a recent detailed report by The Smith Institute Think Tank which discusses the future of women in construction click here to visit this link  
I recently watched a short film I came across on social media. It was called "If I were a young woman now" and features mature women discussing the lifestyles of young women today. One of the women in the video says "Believe me, if I were a young woman now, I would spend more time being, not doing". 
 
In recent research, 4 out of 5 women say they put too much pressure on themselves. And it's not just women who seem to be so busy. Men too find themselves saying "I'm too busy....", "I'm too tired...". This got me to thinking about our busy lives and what being busy stops us being. 
 
When we're busy: 
 
- We don't have time to think straight, and we react instead of thinking things through 
- We're never just present in the moment, enjoying what each of those moments bring 
- We miss opportunities, instead we just see them as distractions 
- We make excuses for problems instead of dealing with them, and then they get worse 
- We forget to look after ourselves - physically and emotionally 
- We no longer dream about the future, things we'd like to achieve, things we long to do 
- We're not there for the people who need us 
- We forget to make time for and keep in touch with friends 
- We don't make the time to do ….. nothing 
Summer is here again and we're in the middle of Britain's longest heatwave since the drought of 1976. While the temperature outside soars, so can the heat indoors, and talk often turns to whether there's a maximum temperature for the workplace and if employees can go home once the thermometer reaches a certain level. 
 
Contrary to popular belief, there is no maximum temperature defined. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that the temperature in the workplace needs to be "reasonable". What is reasonable depends on the nature of the workplace and the type of work being carried out by employees. 
 
However, employers do have a duty to ensure their employees can work safely in heat, and may wish to consider some temporary work adjustments, especially if the work is strenuous or physical or if employees are pregnant or have medical conditions that are affected by the heat. 
 
Employers could relax dress code rules, provide extra fans, provide water to drink and encourage staff to keep hydrated. Outdoor workers may wish to do most of their work at either end of the day to avoid the mid-day sun. Flexible working hours may also help employees avoid the heat of the rush hour. 
I heard recently that a four-year-old asks up to 400 questions a day. Wow, that's a lot of questions! But it's by asking all these questions that they learn so much during their early years. When they start school, the number of questions children ask begins to decline. Indeed, throughout their school years they are rewarded not for asking questions, but for giving the right answers! 
 
This got me thinking about how many questions we, as adults, ask. How often do we assume we always know the answer (when there might be a better solution), that everything is fine (when it isn't) or that everyone agrees with us (when they don't)? 
 
I firmly believe that one of the most important characteristics in life is to have the ability and willingness to learn. Learning is a life-long process - we don't know everything and there's always the opportunity to learn new skills, knowledge or a better way of doing things. 
 
I don't know what I don't know, but I do know that there's a lot of it. So I'm always asking questions, I actively seek constructive feedback from others and I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I enjoy debate and being challenged, and this is why every day IS a school day and I never stop learning. 
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