After the indulgence of the Christmas period and the celebrations of New Year’s Eve, it is not surprising that at this time of year people traditionally reflect on areas of self-improvement and good deeds that they could be doing over the next 12 months. In all likelihood such thoughts will last about as long as the leftover turkey and brussel sprouts, but being proactive on those good intentions early on can help make the rest of the year just a little bit smoother.
With this in mind, we provide below our suggested new year’s resolutions for employers to help make 2016 the year that the usual HR problems that arise every year are easier to handle.
Review your HR policies
If you do not already have HR policies or a staff handbook in place, maybe now is the time to think about introducing one. Many companies rely on their employees to understand unwritten rules within the business without any clear communication as to what is expected of them. Staff handbooks can deal with any number of matters that are not usually included in the contract of employment, and can provide clear guidance to staff on numerous matters. The policies can be tailored to your business and cover a range of topics, from instructions regarding disciplinary warnings and grievances, data protection and health and safety, to procedures in place for issues such as adverse weather and travel disruption, social media or sabbaticals.
The policies, whether standalone or in a handbook, can usually be amended with relative ease. Any changes should be clearly communicated to staff (ideally by email in order to have a clear record) and the updated documents should be made readily available to employees, for example by saving the latest version on a staff intranet system or, for smaller companies, in a lever arch file that can be accessed at will.
If you have a handbook or standalone policies in place, perhaps think about when these were last updated. Are they still compliant with current legislation? There have been significant changes in many areas of employment law in the last few years, both in terms of legislation and case law, in particular in respect of family-related leave rights (such as shared parental leave) and the calculation of holiday pay. If your policies do not reflect the law, employees may be confused as to what they can and cannot do, and if the policy is followed when it is not lawful you could be facing an employment tribunal claim.
We are frequently asked about whether a member of staff is correctly an employee or a self-employed contractor. Sometimes the answer is clear, but there are times where the lines are somewhat blurred. Whilst the paperwork will not be determinative, and the matter will always be determined on the facts, having a contract that accurately codifies the arrangements in place can certainly assist in satisfying either HMRC (for tax purposes) or the employment tribunal (for HR purposes) as to an individual’s correct status. It should be noted that an individual could have one status for tax purpose and another for employment law.If you have self-employed individuals who provide personal services to you, think about the level of control you have regarding their workload, the extent to which they are integrated into the business, and the freedom they have to work outside of the company. Whilst numerous other factors may apply, a contract prepared with the advice of a solicitor taking into account these issues may ensure that the documents reflect the correct status.
All employers are required to make checks in respect of their employees to prevent illegal working. Businesses should ensure that any new recruit has provided their original documents as proof of their right to work in the UK legally and that copies have been kept on file.
If the employee’s right to work in the UK is time limited (i.e. they are in the UK on a visa without indefinite leave to remain), then follow-up checks need to be conducted when the document evidencing their permission to work expires. If you do not have the appropriate documents on file, then you may not have a defence if the employee turns out to be working illegally and could face a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal worker.
Many employers will have assessed how staff performed over the previous 12 months shortly before Christmas, perhaps in assessing bonuses or just generally due to the end of the calendar year. Whether you have considered employee performance already or not, January is a good time to evaluate the areas in which staff may require further training.
Training should not be limited to improving performance, but should also cover areas in which the employer has a positive obligation to protect its employees, such as health and safety or anti-bullying training.
This article was first published on 4 January 2016 as part of our Employment Law Update series. Register above to receive our updates as soon as they are published, directly to your inbox!
This article is offered for general informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Solomon Taylor & Shaw