Shared Parental Leave – Why don’t employees use it?

Shared Parental leave (SPL) has been available to couples since 5th April 2015. This allows parents to share 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after they have a baby. The leave can be taken separately or at the same time.

But why have less than 5% of eligible couples on average have used it since it was introduced nearly 4 years ago?

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) estimate that of 285,000 eligible couples, only 2% to 8% (i.e. 570 to 2,280) of them use the scheme. Law firm EMW said its own research pointed to figures of 1% to 3%.

Government has spent several million pounds promoting it, so why is take up so poor?

  • BEIS research says only 49% of people have heard of it
  • Only 8% of people claim to know a reasonable amount about the system; and
  • The rate of pay during Shared Parental leave paid period is £148.68 (2019 – 2020) and simply many parents cannot afford the financial hit.

It is an awkward truth, that many parents cannot afford to use SPL because Government has designed a flawed system which discourages all but a few couples from using it.

In countries where there is a more equitable system, take up is vastly more than it is in Britain, 91% of eligible couples in Iceland, 86% in Quebec and 63% in Portugal.

An exception to the rule is Aviva who introduced a scheme in November 2017 where parents employed by Aviva are eligible to the same amount of paid and unpaid time off, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or how they became a parent (birth, adoption or surrogacy). All employees are able to take up to 12 months of leave when a new child arrives, including 26 weeks at full basic pay.

  • Almost every new dad at the insurer has opted to take more than the statutory two weeks of paid paternity; and
  • Two thirds of eligible dads opt to take six months off work

What employee would opt for a fortnight of shared parental leave for which they are paid £297.36 (the statutory rate) when an employee working the average working week on the highest rate of NMW will get £607.54 in the same period (2019 – 2020 rates used). The gap widens further if we use the average weekly wage from the ONS, for which a fortnight’s pay will exceed a £1,000.00.

It was one of the Government’s key objectives to “encourage more fathers to play a greater caring role in the first year, via longer, more flexible shared leave,” when SPL was introduced. Most parents cannot afford to take SPL because of the hit financially.

Has this system failed the Government’s original intentions? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.

Blog divider RAC

Flexible Working

The Labour Party recently announced that employees would have the right to request flexible working from day one of their employment under a Labour government, with a “presumption in favour of flexible working”.

Why are they suggesting this when there has been a right to request flexible working since 2003?

Labour highlighted a recent Office for National Statistics study which showed that “sandwich carers” – those looking after young children and elderly parents – feel shut out of the labour market because of a lack of flexibility.

Nearly half (46%) of women in such a situation said they either felt unable to work at all, or as much as they would like. One third of male (35%) carers felt the same. Meanwhile 28% of female sandwich carers are deemed ‘economically inactive’ and not classed as part of the UK workforce, compared with 10% for men.

Butler said: “Women do the vast majority of unpaid care, but this must not be a barrier to women in work. That’s why I’m announcing Labour’s plans to introduce rights to flexible working from day one of employment.

“This change to the law is essential to closing the gender pay gap and dismantling the structural barriers that hold women back from promotion and progression. It may also result in more men taking on caring responsibilities themselves, finally lightening the load that women bear.”

The current legal provision allows all employees to request to work flexibly BUT unlike the Labour proposal;

  • An employee must have at least 26 weeks continuous employment to make a request
  • An employee can only make one request in every 12 months (whether granted or not)
  • The employer has to consider the request but there is no presumption that it must be granted (there are 9 grounds on which it can be declined)

Questions that we have no information on yet;

  • Will the request have to be in writing?
  • Will it be still one request whether successful or not every 12 months; and
  • Will there any prioritisation of certain people’s requests if made at the same time. Currently, the employer can decide which request will be given priority.

If you require any guidance on your flexible working policies then please give us a call or email us at hrsupport@agilityrac.com

Blog divider RAC

Managing Workplace Relationships

There are 260 working day in every calendar year. This equates to over 2,080 working hours each year for a full-time employee. We spend the majority of our lives within the workplace and therefore workplace relationships can have a significant impact on our lives. Within this you will have colleagues, colleagues who become friends, colleagues who become partners. Managing these relationships can often be a sensitive topic.

As with any HR issue you will rely upon people skills, communication, listening to manage the situation and develop a solution. It is important as an employer you set clear standards of behaviour and attitude for your work environment.

If conflict does arise it is important as an employer, you step in to manage the situation and reduce any damage to the work environment. Conflict often rises because of lack of understanding, miscommunication or from stress. To resolve the conflict, you must identify cause and reactions, be aware of the ways to communicate and work as a team to resolve the conflict.

See below case regarding a workplace relationship:

Fred is a manager at Springs ‘R’ Us Ltd. Gloria his wife has gone to work at their biggest competitor Springs Inc.

The MD called Fred in today and says that either his wife leaves her job, or he will sack Fred as he sees it as a conflict of interest and is afraid, that Fred will share confidential information with his spouse who will pass it on to her employer. Fred has 10 years’ unblemished service.  Can the Company do this?

In theory yes but in practice, probably not for the reasons below.

To make the dismissal as defensible as possible, the Company would need to show that there was no alternative. This is, after all, an employee that the Company had no previous grounds to complain about.

Much more information would be required including:

  • Are there alternative roles available for the employee?
  • What role does Gloria perform for the competitor?
  • Is this a real concern or an unfounded worry?
  • Do you have any reason to believe the employee who leak information?
  • Is your competitor aware of this conflict of interest?
  • Do you have the relevant policies about employees’ private lives to act in this way?

If having considered and have the evidence to back up all these questions, then you genuinely and reasonably conclude that the risk is too great to ignore and that there is no alternative but to dismiss, then you might – just might – be able to persuade a tribunal that this constituted some other substantial reason justifying the dismissal.

Blog divider RAC

Sexual Harassment

Following the #MeToo campaign sexual harassment continues to have momentum in the news and on social media, with many high-profile names, using different social media platforms to highlight the topic.  This has been reported to be the reason for more employees reporting sexual harassment in the workplace and a recent BBC survey stated that of the people asked, half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work.

When defining harassment, the UK looks to the Equality Act 2010 for a definition. The Act describes it as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose and effect of violating the victim’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Unless it can be demonstrated that an employer took steps to stop an employee taking discriminatory action, an employer is responsible for the actions of employee’s during their employment, whether they had knowledge of the actions or not.

I’m getting the feeling that you’re thinking ‘That’s great but what do I actually do if one of my members of staff raises a sexual harassment matter?’.

First of all, don’t panic! It can be daunting if you have never dealt with sexual harassment complaint but keep calm and keep reading and we will guide you through.

‘It was just one email and it wasn’t anything that bad.’ It is important to treat each complaint seriously. Sexual harassment can come in lots of different forms such as comments, jokes, displaying pictures of a sexual nature, unwelcome sexual advances or emails which contain sexual content. An act can still be considered sexual harassment even if the harasser did not intend it to be and it does not have to be intentionally directed at a specific person.

Follow your company grievance and disciplinary procedures to address the complaint, and if your company doesn’t have one check out guides by ACAS online. Ensure that you deal with any complaint promptly and fairly.

Get prepared now. Make sure that your organisation is equipped and prepared to handle sexual harassment claim by ensuring there are clear policies in place, training is provided in the workplace on the matter and that action is taken if an allegation of sexual harassment is raised. Sexual harassment cases which are not dealt with properly can have costly consequences.

If you need any advice or assistance on the topic of sexual harassment or any other HR matters, contact the HR Team at Agility Risk & Compliance on 01527 571617.

Blog divider RAC

Top Tips for Having a Difficult Conversation

Most people dread having a challenging conversation, but it is likely that at some point that you will have to have a conversation which you know will broach a difficult topic. A challenging conversation can be anything from discussing a delicate subject, delivering unpleasant news or a talk about something that hasn’t gone to plan, or which needs to change.

Talking face to face with an employee about issues or problems might be a daunting prospect but below are Agility R&C’s top tips for having a difficult.

Do….

  1. Be prepared – Have an outline of the key points that you intend to discuss. Although be careful to not to write yourself a script as this can stifle the conversation.
  2. Gather evidence and establish the facts – if your conversation is about the performance of the individual then you should have the employee’s performance targets to hand and how they have failed to meet them. You should also establish whether there is any mitigating circumstances, such as whether the employee has been off sick or if their targets had been altered. Check your internal policies and procedures as this may also give you some guidance on the action which may need to be taken.
  3. Choose a suitable time and place – To have an open and frank conversation, the conversation needs to be held in a private place. Remember to allow enough time so that the conversation is not rushed and factor in time for breaks if there is a lot to discuss.
  4. Always have a face-to-face conversation – emails can be misinterpreted and face to face is more effective as the employee can see that the matter is being taken seriously.
  5. Be direct – Don’t beat around the bush and state exactly what you want to talk about in your first few sentences and why the conversation has to happen. If the conversation loses its focus at any point, this should help you to get it back on track.
  6. Use non-defensive communication – Starting sentences with ‘you’ can sound like and attack and is more likely to make the person you are speaking to respond in a defensive way.

Don’t….

  1. Let your emotions get in the way – stay focused, objective and non-judgmental at all times. Being in control is not always about winners and losers, therefore you may need to reach a compromise or agree a way to move forward.
  2. Rush the conversation – Take your time and make sure you cover all the points you need to discuss and any other which arise in the meeting.
  3. End the meeting without agreeing a way forward – Like stories, meetings need to have a beginning, middle and end. Start by setting out the purpose of the meeting, discuss the points then finish by stating what is expected moving forward and a time line.

Blog divider RAC

Social Media

Otherwise known as “it’s a free country and I have the right to say what I want wherever I want”. Well that’s mostly true but there are limits

English law has long established the rules about what we can say about each other and what redress might be sought by a person who has been “wronged” by another individual. This is generally known as Defamation.

You can defame a person in one of two ways:

  • Slander – where the defaming comment is made verbally and by gestures; and
  • Libel – where the defaming comment is published in a permanent form, e.g. a newspaper, broadcast or stage production.

A person who has been defamed has a right of remedy through the courts but the process is time consuming and costly.

Where does social media fit into this and what can a company do if an employee decides to make derogatory comments about their colleagues at work, their employer and its customers, suppliers and clients?

The employer may be able to pursue the remedy above but is that suitable? How can a company have a swifter more practical remedy? Have a social media policy.

A social media policy allows you to establish clear rules on the extent to which employees may use social media at work and on what employees can and cannot say online.

A policy can prevent employees from posting inappropriate material out of thoughtlessness. Many employees when faced with disciplinary action for what they have posted online, often react with surprise and indignation. They may not have realised that the content could be seen by a potentially unlimited audience and have not appreciated that it might be inappropriate to post certain content on social networks.

Drawing up a social media policy is a good way to raise awareness of the issue and inform all staff of what is acceptable and what is not.

The lack of a clear social media policy will be a big challenge for an employer who wants to take disciplinary action over pictures or posts which they consider inappropriate or irresponsible as the law has not yet settled on a clear set of rules on what is and is not acceptable for employees to upload on social media sites.

This presents an employer with the opportunity to step in and set the boundaries by adopting a policy approach. This will avoid having to rely on the law and trying to infer from existing rules that an employee is in breach of their terms of employment.

You can develop your own boundaries and communicate them to employees. you can create a set of rules which are bespoke to your organisation and you will be in a stronger position to enforce your policy and control what employees are saying about your business online.

A social media policy can also be a place where you set controls and standards on business usage of social media and give guidance on the usage of social media in the recruitment process.

In conclusion, why would you not have a social media policy?

Blog divider RAC

Employment Tribunals – Whether to Contest it or Conclude

In other words, should the head rule the heart not the other way around?

The cost to employers of defending an employment tribunal claim was highlighted when Times Higher Education reported that a university had spent more than £200,000 defending an unfair dismissal claim that could, it said, have been settled for much less. Although this case was over a decade ago it shows that a pragmatic approach might have resulted in the matter being settled for less than a tenth of the costs incurred. Estimates range from less than £10,000 to £15,000 at most as opposed to the £200,000 spent.

The university was proven to be right but at what cost?

Points to consider:

  1. What will it cost to defend it? Costs are recovered in less than 5% of cases.
  2. What are the chances of success in defending the claim? Have we done the right things in the right manner?
  3. What is the claimant likely to get in compensation? Can we settle for less and save on costs and resources?
  4. Think of the wider implications (e.g. negative publicity, a judgement on a public register and effects on employee and business morale). Will a judgement harm our business and attract other litigious people?
  5. DO NOT LET the principle sway you away from deciding the matter on simple economics. Being right may cost a lot more than settling and moving on.
  6. Remember that a Tribunal will often find both parties wanting and one party being wholly vindicated and the other being found to be entirely at fault is rare. Employment judges can investigate both claimant and respondent and ask questions of both. Do you want this?

 

Always try to make an informed decision based on the facts not feelings.

Blog divider RAC