Employment contracts – are they worth the paper they’re written on?

So you’ve diligently issued contracts of employment to all your employees and are confident that everyone has an up to date statement of their terms and conditions.  However there are a couple of people who, despite numerous chases, will not return their signed contracts.  You are concerned that you cannot request they adhere to the terms of their contracts, as they have not accepted them.

Well we like to be able to give you good news now and again, and in this instance, it is not necessarily the case that you always need a signed contract.  Employees are deemed to have accepted their terms and conditions if they attend work, carry out the work, and accept payment for that work.

Of course, this equally means that you cannot disregard someone’s contractual entitlements if they have not signed a contract, so for example, paid sickness absence, if contained in your contracts, remains applicable in such a circumstance.

It is “cleaner” to have a signed contract on file, as amongst other things it proves that a contract was issued in the first place.  The above does not excuse your need to consult and try to reach agreement should you wish to alter contractual terms, however it may hopefully curb the administrative chasing for paperwork.


Can working from home work for your business?

Do you have people working from home already, or do people ask for this?  Is it something you’ve thought about, but are worried about the potential implications?  Are you unsure of how you can manage people if you can’t see them?

There are of course jobs that can’t be done from home, but there are many that could.  If your employees work in front of a computer all day, is there any reason why they have to travel to an office every day, or could that work be carried out at home if they were provided with the correct equipment?

Of course you still require the work to be done, and it must be done on time.  However you may be able to change the way people work without compromising your organisation’s service and quality.    Enabling working from home can significantly improve people’s wellbeing and allow them some flexibility to manage their work and home commitments, whilst still delivering what you need from them.  You may even find therefore, that with improved wellbeing and flexibility comes increased engagement and productivity.  Manage any problems when and if they arise, rather than anticipate that they will automatically happen.

If you do allow home working, it’s important to plan how people will keep in touch with colleagues and the wider business.  Perhaps you allow only some home working, with the remainder in the office, or ask for at least one day per week to be worked from the office, to ensure collaboration still takes place.  It also helps avoid any feelings of isolation that home working may unintentionally foster.

Lastly, consider health and safety of any home workers.  Ideally you should ensure their home workspace is set up in the same way as office workspaces and that they take regular breaks.

Absence of analysis of absence…

Employees going off sick is sometimes problematic, frequently concerning and nearly always something you could do without as a manager.  However whilst we soldier on without the cure for all illness and the prevention of all accidents, a certain amount of workplace absence will occur.  What is your practice on someone’s return to work after a period of absence?  This isn’t an HR call to fill in a return to work form, so that we can reassure ourselves that a form has been ticked and therefore all is right with the world.  However by looking into and using your absence data, you could uncover some interesting insights that have been hiding in plain sight all along.

Do people go off with a lot of back pain, neck pain etc?  If they work at desks, are they set up correctly?  Are they able to move around regularly?  Do people feel it’s ok to take a break?

Are people reporting a lot of stress?  Or numerous more minor issues such as stomach upsets and headaches, especially where this hadn’t previously been a problem?  Does the problem seem to centre on one team, or are you perhaps going through a difficult period as a business and there is a deal of uncertainty present in the workplace?

You may find that by looking into your reasons for absence, and talking to your people, and then making a few minor adjustments, you may find that your absence greatly reduces.

Another thing to investigate is whether there are any potential patterns to absence, for example frequent Mondays or Fridays, always off the day after a bank holiday or following annual leave?  By analysing your data, it could be that you uncover a suspicion that all may not be what it appears to be.  Don’t jump to conclusions – it may not be the case that the absence isn’t genuine, but it is certainly worth some further investigation.

Unable Mabel

Mabel is a long serving loyal employee, having been with your organisation through thick and thin.  Everyone loves her, and she is seen as the “mum” of the workplace.  Although Mabel’s actual contribution may not be as high as others, you have been happy with this, given everything else she brings to the organisation.

However, your organisation is not making the money that it used to, and tough decisions need to be made.  You simply can’t afford to keep everyone, and are reviewing where you can make efficiencies in order to keep the business going.

As Mabel is approaching 65 you hope she will soon be considering retirement, although you haven’t heard her mention this.  You know that people no longer automatically retire at 65, but hope you can have a chat with Mabel and ask her to consider retiring sooner rather than later, as given the financial situation, you can’t afford to keep everyone.   You think this will be the fairest solution, as other employees are more financially dependent on keeping their job, to pay mortgages for example, and you know Mabel is not in this position.

However, even a conversation such as this, for reasons you consider valid for the future of the business, are no longer reasonable since the abolition of the default retirement age.  This could still constitute an act of direct age discrimination, and thus should be avoided.

The way to tackle the problem the organisation finds itself in, is to consider any efficiencies that can be achieved whilst maintaining everyone in employment, and then to consider redundancies if you are unable to achieve the required cost savings otherwise.  Selection for redundancy should always be on objective grounds, and should never take into account “protected characteristics” such as age.  While we’re on the subject, “last in, first out” should never be used as a grounds for selection for redundancy either, as it is likely to unduly impact on younger employees, who haven’t had the opportunity to build up as much service as their older colleagues.

In reference to references

You have received a reference request from a former employee, who was dismissed from your company for poor performance.  You note the role he is applying for is at a more senior level to that he held with you.  However, as it’s against the law to give a bad reference, you feel you must tell his new employer he was a model employee.

Not quite.  It is an oft-repeated urban myth that there is a law precluding a “bad” reference.  However proceed with caution nonetheless.  Employment law does give some protection to employees seeking a reference from a former employer and expectedly so, as their future job prospects can be in the balance.

What is allowed is a factual reference, so, for example, many organisations choose to confirm only start and leave dates and job titles, thus avoiding any accusation of untruth or unfairness.  However should you wish to add more detail than this, such as issuing what you feel is a fair warning to your former employee’s prospective new boss, then it must be factual.  If your employee, (Mr X), went happily through his employment never being advised his performance was not up to par and left blissfully unaware of the sighs of relief that accompanied him, it will hardly be deemed fair or reasonable to condemn him in writing now.  If however, Mr X was subject to a performance improvement process where it was clear to him what needed to improve and how he could try to do so, then it may be deemed reasonable to state in a reference, if asked, that Mr X’s reason for leaving was dismissal due to capability.

-Annabel Innes (HRML)

Any of your business?

Your organisation recently held a party to mark its 10th anniversary and you anticipate nothing more than a few sore heads the next day.  Well this isn’t entirely true as an unwelcome reminder of the party has just landed on your desk and it appears to be serious.

Most of your employees attended the party a few days ago, and you felt a good time was had by all.  The following week, however, an email arrives from a female employee, let’s call her Jane, alleging that a male senior manager, let’s call him John, made some inappropriate and unwelcome suggestions to her at the party.  Jane alleges that John asked her to come back to his hotel room with him not once but four or five times.  When Jane refused, she alleges that John said he was going to let everyone know that she was not a reliable employee and should definitely not be promoted, something Jane is keen for.   As these allegations all took place quite late, at a party held off-site, and involved adults, you feel it’s nothing to do with you as an employer, and you plan to advise Jane that, whilst you’re sympathetic to her embarrassment, there’s nothing you can do.

This is unlikely to be sufficient however, and may actually land you in further hot water.  As the event in question was a works party, it has a clear connection to the workplace, as opposed to, say, an impromptu evening at the pub attended by a few colleagues.   The relationship between the two employees was forged at work and was one of senior manager and more junior colleague.  It is likely that, should you choose to do nothing and Jane was to pursue a tribunal claim for constructive dismissal, your inaction would reflect badly on you and add substance to her claim that the mutual contractual obligation of trust and confidence had been broken.

Our advice therefore would be to investigate the grievance, just as you would for any other workplace grievance, and take any action deemed appropriate following the investigation.  It may of course be that you don’t feel the investigation has shown there is a case for John to answer – the crucial thing is that you have thoroughly and impartially investigated the issue in a timely manner.


-Annabel Innes, HRML

Engagement, it’s a daily thing

Things go in peaks and troughs here at HRML towers…. Well it’s the time of year say those who know, you might expect a bit of a dip at Christmas, school holidays, Fridays, that sort of thing.

I wonder why that is though?  I’m doubting you leave your accounts unmanaged, because it’s the winter, or take your eye off customer service because it somehow matters less.  Is people management really something that you only do at certain times of the year?

Many organisations proudly state “our employees are our most important asset”, or grand words to that effect – but is this really the case?  Can anyone honestly say they prioritise their people, their experiences whilst at work, and their wellbeing over anything else?

The thing is, to truly build a successful organisation that, crucially, keeps on being successful, we can’t afford to neglect the clear link between employee engagement and satisfaction at work, and improved organisational performance.  Equally, can you really afford to ignore the potential consequences of an employee’s poor performance or inappropriate behaviour on the business or your other employees?

The key thing is, if you are spending time on people management, you ARE spending important time on your organisation’s performance and success.  Numerous studies over many years have established a link, and you don’t need to know too much about it to work out that employees who are fulfilled, motivated and supported at work are likely to do a better job than those who aren’t.

The good news is that no one is suggesting you have to throw loads of money around in order to achieve the end goal of motivated employees.  Indeed, whilst a good salary is undoubtedly nice, it is very rarely the main motivator for people, who sometimes would just like their manager to say thank you now and again.  What it will take is some time, and that is the point – people quickly get the message that they are not important if you frequently cancel time with them as something more “important” has arisen.  Yes you may need to take your focus away from the practical running of the organisation for a short time, but time spent doing so will pay dividends when you get back to that practical operational work.