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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Sexual Harassment

Over the past 12 months the dialogue around sexual harassment in the workplace has been prominent in the news and on social media, and it doesn’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon.

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.

Around 52% of women in report by the TUC and Everyday Sexism stated that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Although research suggests it is mostly women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important not to forget that male colleagues can also be victims.

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 dauting 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 sexual comments or 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 procedure 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.

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BREXIT – Where Are We Now?

With 4 months to go until Brexit how will the UK leaving Europe affect your business? what should you be planning for?

The legal framework of laws and regulations under which a British company employs people will remain unchanged as upon leaving the EU, the UK will move into a transitional period where the rules will remain the same. This period will end on 31st DECEMBER 2020 currently.

However, what practically should businesses be thinking about?

  1. Have you identified which of your staff are EU nationals? And have they acquired the right to remain in the UK and have they exercised this right?
  2. Are they in key roles or if they decide to leave the UK will this affect your ability to run your business in terms of numbers?
  3. What have you done or what will you need to do to meet a skills or numbers deficit in your business?
  4. What if there is no Brexit agreement and we leave the EU in a “disorderly fashion” which may interrupt manufacturing and services. What contingencies do you have in place?

With regard to point 4, while all parties say this is unlikely there are a few things that employers can be looking at should their businesses be interrupted by a “disorderly” leaving of the EU.

  1. Do you have a reserve of raw materials, parts or other essentials of the manufacturing process?
  2. Has your business planned for the contingency of an interruption to normal service or supply?
  3. Have you the flexibility with regard to your staff to work shorter hours or to lay people off? Lay-off does not mean make people redundant on this context.

With regard to point 3 an employer may seek to use lay-off and short-time working as a way of coping with a sudden downturn in business, or unexpected interruption to production. They can provide significant temporary reductions in costs, whilst keeping the workforce intact and hopefully avoiding redundancies and its cost implications.

Short-time working involves a temporary reduction in the working hours of employees with a corresponding reduction in pay. Upon a return to normal conditions, then hours and pay return to normal.

Lay-off involves the employer not providing any work or pay to the employees for a period of time but the employer retains the employees during this period.

These may sound tempting to an employer who might be looking at a temporary interruption in business but there are some catches or limitations on their use. These provisions cannot be used unilaterally, they must either be agreed with the staff affected or an employer must show that there is a right for them to utilise them by way of the employee’s contract or the employee handbook.

For a general overview click on the following link – https://www.gov.uk/lay-offs-short-timeworking

As you can see, this is a tricky area and advice should always be taken from your HR practitioner before proceeding.  Have you checked the employee handbook and your staffs’ terms and conditions?

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Stress at Work

Deadlines? Hours? Pressure? A lot of things about people’s current work life can cause necessary stress. Knowing, managing and dealing with stress in the workplace has become a hot topic due to mental health awareness.

Often employees benefit from a certain level of stress at work to keep them motivated and organised. This is where the difficulty lies for the employer as they must assess when there is too much stress on the employee. Creating an environment whereby employees feel like they can talk about the pressures on themselves will help the company manage stress.

Industries such as Medical, Educational and Public Sector have all been highlighted as having higher than average rates of stress.  The strain of stress is not only felt by the employee but also by the Company. Approximately 12 million working days were lost in 2016-2017 due to work related stress and depression.

Implementing new company initiatives is one way to reduce and manage stress:

1. Employee Assistance Programmes

EAP Schemes are a great way to provide extra support for employees who may not want to openly talk about the way they are feeling at work. Purchasing an Employee Assistance Programme will provide all employees with the opportunity to speak to a third party to discuss the workplace issues they are experiencing.

2. Encourage Break

Leading by example as a manager to take regular breaks has shown to improve work related stress. Taking half an hour break from your screen or task has been found to not only reduce employee stress but also improve nutritional habits, improve mood and allow yourself to relax.

3. Flexibility at Work

44% over people stated in 2015-2016 that workload was the greatest cause of stress at work. As companies become more productive and efficient work loads can often be mismanaged. It is important to regularly assess employee’s workloads and potentially offer more flexibility in terms of working hours and duties to lighten the burden.

The above aren’t the only ways to reduce stress. Identifying stress and finding its cause can often be difficult and it is important as an employee you tailor a solution to suit the employee. Doing so the employee will feel supported by the company and not isolated.

If you have any concerns in relation to work place stress contact our HR team who will be happy to support you.

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