Last month the Mental Health Foundation hosted its annual Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year the focus was on Stress. 
 
The Health and Safety Executive reports that over 500,000 workers experienced work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/2017 with 12.5 million working days being lost to these problems. 
 
However, whilst people are talking about mental health more than ever, there remains a stigma surrounding stress. Employees suffering from stress and associated problems like depression and anxiety often feel they will be thought of as weak if they admit they are finding it difficult to cope. 
 
Employers, in their duty to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, should look out for staff who may be displaying signs of stress and do what they can to support them. 
 
Of course, not all stress that employees experience is work-related. There can be personal issues outside of work or at home that cause people to come to work feeling stressed. The additional pressure of work can then cause people to feel overloaded. While it’s generally acknowledged that an amount of work pressure is normally a benefit to motivation and productivity, too much pressure, or pressure when they are already struggling can affect their emotional and physical health, reduce their productivity and lead to issues with their work performance. 
 
Spotting the signs of someone experiencing stress 
Signs you should look out for include: 
 
• changes in the employee’s behaviour, their mood and/or the way they interact with their colleagues 
• changes in the standard of the employee’s work, their ability to focus and/or loss of interest in their work 
• they may start turning up late for work or being absent due to sickness 
• the employee may become withdrawn and appear anxious or tired 
• increases in smoking, drinking and/or losing their appetite 
 
Talking to the employee 
Although it’s important not to make assumptions, if you think an employee may be suffering from stress, the worst thing to do is to avoid the issue. You should arrange to speak with the employee in private as soon as possible. Conversations of a sensitive nature can be extremely difficult, so it’s important that you are positive and supportive and try to reassure the employee. 
 
It may be that the employee doesn’t want to talk about what they are going through. If that’s the case, then it’s important you let them know you are there to help and support them in any way you can. And if the employee does wish to talk in the future, that your door is always open. 
 
If the employee does decide to talk, you should listen rather than talk, give the employee as much time as necessary and be open minded to anything that you hear. 
 
If the problem is work related, then you can try to identify what’s causing the problem. It may be possible to make some changes to their working arrangements or responsibilities. Sometimes that is all that’s needed, and any changes made can be temporary or, if necessary, made permanent. Even where the problem is not work-related, this type of support may still help, as it’s a reduction in the overall pressure in the employee’s life. 
 
Follow up 
It’s important that you continue to monitor the employee, check how they are feeling and whether any workplace changes are helping. Be sure to offer additional support as and when needed. 
If the situation isn’t improving, or appears to be getting worse, then you should seek expert HR guidance on next steps. 
 
With last week being the spring half-term holiday, it got us thinking about how it can be difficult for working parents to balance their work life with caring for a young family. In addition, all employees - parents or not - can have times when they're struggling to cope with various family difficulties. 
 
Many large corporations and public bodies have specific policies in place that address these employee needs, whilst smaller businesses often don't have anything defined. As a result, it can be confusing for employers to know what to do when an employee is experiencing problems at home. However, providing a family friendly work environment with clear work life balance policies doesn't have to be difficult or costly. 
 
Amongst your employees, you're likely to have: 
 
•Mothers and fathers with young children 
•Individuals with sick or elderly dependents 
•Individuals facing and/or coping with separation or divorce 
•Individuals facing and/or coping with bereavement 
•Pregnant women with maternity rights 
•Fathers entitled to paternity leave 
•Parents entitled to parental leave 
•Individuals with short and/or long term medical conditions 
 
There is often complex legislation surrounding employees' rights relating to these types of issues. What are the rules when someone asks for time off for a dependent, requests compassionate leave or needs to attend medical appointments during working hours? What rights does a pregnant woman or new father have, and what about when the parents are adopting a child? 
 
It can be a minefield trying to deal with employee issues if you don't know the law and don't have policies in place defining how they are handled. Mishandling an issue could ultimately see the employment relationship breaking down and you could find yourself facing an Employment Tribunal. 
 
If you would like to find out more about family friendly and work life balance policies, please feel free to give me a call on 01582 488410 or email us
The 2018 World Cup in Russia starts on 14 June and continues through to the World Cup Final on Sunday 15 July. Whilst employers will look to minimise disruption during working hours, it’s also a great opportunity to use the tournament to boost employee morale. 
 
If you have football fans amongst your workforce then they will really appreciate being able to watch the games, especially those involving their home countries. Read on for our top tips to help you manage the occasion. 
 
Decide on your approach to the tournament before it starts and let your employees know. 
 
Are you offering any flexible working arrangements during the period? For example, extended lunch times and/or allowing employees to leave work early as long as they make the time up elsewhere. 
 
What about annual leave requests? Are you able to offer additional holiday slots at short notice? Or perhaps people can swap shifts with colleagues who are not interested in the football. 
 
Will you be allowing employees to watch or listen to games during working time? If so, what are the arrangements for watching/listening to games? Will games be televised in communal/rest areas, or can employees watch/listen to games on their work PCs or their own mobile devices? 
 
Make sure you treat everyone the same. Don’t just cater for the England games, you must offer the same arrangements to fans from other countries taking part. 
 
Making special arrangements and informing employees what the approach will be can have a real positive impact on employees’ morale. It can also reduce the risk of unauthorised absences, which are much harder to manage on the day. 
 
It’s also important to set out standards of behaviour expected during the tournament. You should make it clear that antagonistic or racist comments will not be tolerated, nor will disruptive behaviour. It is unusual for disciplinary issues to arise as a result of watching this type of event. However, if an employee does misbehave then make sure to take the appropriate action. 
 
Other options include allowing employees to wear their football shirts to work, putting up national flags in the workplace, allowing people to bring in typical food eaten in their home country and making a real celebration of the event. 
 
If handled well, sporting events bring people together and create a fantastic atmosphere, which benefits both the employee and employer and has a real positive impact on employee engagement. 
 
You’re about to reach the end of an employee’s probationary period. It’s time to decide whether you confirm their employment, extend the probationary period or dismiss them. 
 
Best practice suggests that you should have a formal review meeting with the employee. Even if you are entirely happy with their performance and conduct, it’s a good opportunity to provide them with feedback on how they’ve done and give them a chance to voice their opinions about the job and what it’s like to work for the company. 
 
On the other hand, if the employee’s performance has been unsatisfactory and you’re looking to dismiss them, the formal meeting means that you can provide them with constructive feedback on their performance and conduct. You are able to discuss any areas of concern and you can give them a clear understanding of what they will need to improve for future jobs they may have. 
 
It’s also useful to get their thoughts on why their performance wasn’t up to scratch. Did they get the right training? Were they given effective support to help them succeed? Were there any issues outside of their control which stopped them doing a good job? If you identify anything that impacted their ability to do a good job, you might want to consider extending the probationary period for a time rather than simply dismiss them. This gives you the time to address any workplace problems and may also prevent a tribunal claim. The employee has the chance to improve their performance and demonstrate competence in the full range of duties and required behaviours. 
 
We also recommend that, prior to the meeting, you write up an assessment of the employee and set out any recommendations you are making, together with the reasons why. This will help you stay on course during the meeting and can be kept as a formal record of their performance. 
The National Minimum Wage is the minimum pay per hour most workers under the age of 25 are entitled to by law. The National Living Wage is the minimum pay per hour most workers aged 25 and over are entitled to by law. The rate of pay received will depend on a worker's age and whether or not they are an apprentice. 
 
From 1 April 2018 the National Living Wage and the National Minimum Wage will be increased. The new rates are set out below. 
 
National Living Wage payable to all workers aged 25 and over 
Increases from £7.50 to £7.83 per hour 
 
Adult National Minimum Wage payable to workers aged 21 to 24 
Increases from £7.05 to £7.38 per hour 
 
Youth Development National Minimum Wage payable to workers aged 18-20 
Increases from £5.60 to £5.90 per hour 
 
Young Workers National Minimum Wage payable to workers aged 16 & 17 
Increases from £4.05 to £4.20 per hour 
 
Apprentice National Minimum Wage payable to apprentices under 19 or in 1st year of their apprenticeship 
Increases from £3.50 to £3.70 per hour 
(Apprentices aged 19 or over in their second year of apprenticeship must receive the national minimum wage or national living wage rate their age entitles them to). 
 
Best practice dictates that employers should advise employees in writing that the payments will be increased in line with new legislation. Employers should also inform employees when they will receive increases required due to a change in the employee's age. 
 
The rates are reviewed annually by the Low Pay Commission and currently it's expected they are likely to rise each year. 
 
If you would like to find out more or need help with the minimum wage rates, please contact us and we will be happy to help you. 
 
All the talk we’re currently hearing about the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is its impact on how we store and process customer data. However, when the GDPR takes effect on 25 May 2018, it’s not just customer data we need to consider. From that date, employees will have the same rights over their own personal data as customers do. 
 
EMPLOYEE RIGHTS 
 
Any person – including employees - whose personal data you hold has the right to: 
 
Be informed. About the purpose and legal basis for processing the data, how the data is to be processed, how long the data will be kept, any other parties involved in the processing of data and the privacy policy that relates to their data. 
Access. There must be a Subject Access Request process so that employees may request a copy of their data. 
Rectify incorrect personal data. Employees must have a facility to request that incorrect data is corrected. 
Be forgotten. Employees may ask for personal data to be erased under certain circumstances. 
Request their data be moved. Employees can request that their data be moved elsewhere and reused for their own purposes. 
Object. Employees may be allowed to object to their personal data being processed in certain circumstances. 
Restrict processing of their data. When processing is restricted, storage of the data is permitted, but further processing is not. 
Not have their data used for automated decision making and profiling. Such processing must have specific consent, be necessary for the performance of a contract or must be authorised by law. 
 
By 25 May 2018, employers are required to have policies and processes in place that satisfy the rights of employees. Those processes will also need to demonstrate compliance with the following data protection principles. 
Two of the busiest times of the year for employee holiday requests are Easter and the school Summer Holidays. With the first of those, Easter, coming up at the end of March this year, now is a good time to look at the rights of employees and the obligations of employers for annual leave. 
 
How much holiday are my employees entitled to? 
 
Most workers in the UK are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave. A week’s annual leave is considered to be the same amount of time as the employee’s working week. 
 
For example: 
• An employee working a five day week is entitled to 5 x 5.6 = 28 days leave. 
• An employee working a three day week is entitled to 3 x 5.6 = 16.8 days leave. 
• The statutory entitlement is capped at 28 days. An employee working a 6 day week is only entitled to the maximum of 28 days leave. 
 
Paid public holidays can be counted as part of the 5.6 weeks of holiday entitlement as there is no legal right to be paid for public holidays. 
 
How much holiday pay do I need to pay my employees? 
 
Employees with fixed working hours receive holiday pay based on a week of normal pay. So they receive the same amount for a week’s holiday as they would do for a normal week of work. 
 
Employees on different working patterns are still entitled to receive holiday pay based on a week of normal pay. 
 
• For employees working shifts, a week’s holiday pay is calculated on the average number of hours worked in the preceding 12 weeks at their average hourly rate. 
• If an employee has a casual or zero hours contract with no normal working hours, their holiday pay is calculated on the average pay received over the previous 12 weeks in which they were paid. 
The Government has recently published the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2018 which confirms the new statutory rates for 2018.  
 
From 1 April 2018 the standard weekly rates of Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP), Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) are increasing to £145.18. If the employee's average weekly earnings are less than the statutory rate, the payment will be 90% of the employee's average weekly earnings. 
 
From 6 April 2018 the weekly rate of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is rising to £92.05. 
 
The weekly lower earnings limit, below which employees don't qualify for these payments, will increase to £116 per week from 6 April 2018. 
 
STATUTORY RATES 2017-18 2018-19 
Earnings Threshold £113.00 £116.00 
Statutory Adoption Pay £140.98 £145.18 
Statutory Maternity Pay £140.98 £145.18 
Statutory Paternity Pay £140.98 £145.18 
Statutory Shared Parental Pay £140.98 £145.18 
Statutory Sick Pay £89.35 £92.05 
 
If you have any questions on Statutory Payments, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss it with you. 
 
For all your HR advice and support, whether in Luton, or anywhere in the UK, look no further than Plain Talking HR. 
 
 
Even if the above statement is true, there can come a time when an employee comes to you with a grievance. The problem may be about their contract or their pay. They may have a complaint about the behaviour of a colleague. They may have a concern about changes at work or feel that they are subject to discrimination of some sort. Whatever the complaint is about, you must take it seriously and you do need to have a procedure in place to deal with it. 
 
As a first step, it’s ideal if you can handle any complaint informally. Formal grievance procedures should be the last resort when any other attempts to resolve the problem have failed. Speak to the employee (keep a record of your conversation) to understand their issue and look for a straightforward solution. Many issues can be quickly resolved through discussion with all involved and providing clarification where necessary. If, however, the complaint is more serious and cannot be resolved informally, then it is important to have a formal procedure that acts as a framework for resolving the issue. 
 
We recommend that your formal grievance procedure should include: 
 
• A requirement that the grievance be put in writing 
• Who the grievance should be addressed to (and an alternative in case the grievance relates to the normal contact) 
• How the grievance meeting or hearing will be conducted 
• Confirmation that the employee can be accompanied in meetings by a colleague or union representative 
• That an investigation will take place to establish the facts 
• How the decision on the outcome of the hearing will be communicated 
• That the employee may appeal the decision if they are not happy with the outcome 
• Time limits for each stage of the process 
 
When dealing with a grievance, follow our top tips to make sure you handle it effectively: 
 
1. Make sure you follow your grievance procedure; doing so will ensure consistency and that the situation is handled properly. 
2. Understand what outcome the employee raising the grievance is looking for; it may not be what you might assume. 
3. Carry out a full investigation to establish the facts. Gather all relevant evidence including emails, meeting minutes, interviewing other relevant parties, etc.. 
4. If the grievance is against another employee, invite them to a meeting where they can also be accompanied by a colleague or a union representative if they wish. 
5. Keep records – invite people to meetings in writing, have someone take minutes and communicate decisions in writing. This will protect you and your business in case of any further action or if there is any dispute about what was said in a meeting. 
6. Make sure that everyone involved in the grievance understands the procedure, knows what will happen at each stage, and the time limits. 
7. Communicate the outcome of the grievance in writing, giving full reasons for the decisions made. 
8. Identify who will hear any appeal made. Appeals should be heard by someone not previously involved in the grievance. 
Many employers tell us they’re not sure what the difference is between Unfair and Wrongful dismissal. They are both common employment law terms, although they are not interchangeable as is often thought. To avoid confusion, below we outline what each term means. 
 
Unfair Dismissal 
The right not to be unfairly dismissed is a statutory right. An employee earns this right after two years’ continuous service. This right can only be enforced in a tribunal and an employee cannot bring an unfair dismissal claim before they have accrued two years’ continuous service. 
 
The tribunal will consider if the reason for the dismissal is fair. Fair dismissal reasons are: 
 
The employee is unable to do their job properly 
The employee has a persistent or long-term illness that makes it impossible for them to do their job 
The employee has been made redundant 
The employee has been summarily dismissed for gross misconduct 
If continuing to employ the employee would break the law 
If it is impossible for the employer to carry on employing the worker 
Another substantial reason 
 
The tribunal will also examine whether the employer was reasonable in using the selected reason as grounds to dismiss the employee, and whether or not the employer followed a fair procedure. 
 
Where a tribunal finds that an employee has been unfairly dismissed, they will typically award a sum made up of a basic award plus compensation. This compensation will take into account future loss of earnings and other losses caused by the unfair dismissal. 
 
Wrongful Dismissal 
There is no statutory right not to be wrongly dismissed. Wrongful dismissal is actually a breach of contract. There is no minimum length of service applicable to wrongful dismissal.  
 
Wrongful dismissal can occur if an employee is dismissed without notice or without the notice period as set out in the employment contract. A wrongful dismissal claim can be heard in the County Court, the High Court or in a tribunal. 
 
Where it is found that an employee has been wrongly dismissed, the court or tribunal does not consider whether the dismissal was made on reasonable grounds. The decision is simply made on whether the terms of the employment contract were breached. 
 
If wrongful dismissal is proven, damages will be awarded. The amount awarded typically amounts to the value of pay and benefits lost by the employee during the contractual notice period. 
 
If you need help with a dimissal situation, or would like advice on any HR issue, contact us to discuss your needs. 
 
For all your HR advice and support whether in Luton, or anywhere else in the UK, look no further than Plain Talking HR. 
 
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