British stiff upper lips can mean mental health is a topic that’s rarely discussed. But with 12.5 million working days lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2016/2017, spotting the telltale signs of poor employee mental health is business critical.
We look at five red flags that show all’s not well with your workforce and we review how you can take the initiative in opening up mental health discussion in your organisation.
Red Flag #1 – Silly Mistakes
We all make silly mistakes from time to time. But when you notice someone making more errors than usual, it could be a sign that something’s wrong.
Maybe your employee is turning over a problem in their mind making it difficult to concentrate. Or perhaps raised anxiety levels and adrenaline mean they’re easily distracted. Both behaviours can be a sign of an underlying problem.
Red Flag #2 – Short Tempers or Skittishness
When the usually calm and kind Jane snaps, shouts or loses her temper, it’s time for a chat.
You might also find that people who are suffering with mental health problems speed up and talk more or faster or jump between topics. All these behaviours are a result of a cortisol spike or a long-term increase in adrenaline.
While some people are naturally more likely to flare up or topic-hop than others, you need to be aware of times when this is out of the ordinary for a particular individual. Then be prepared to step in.
Red Flag #3 – Flat-lining
Keep your eye out for any staff who are unusually quiet or who fail to see the funny side of things. If something goes wrong and an individual gets a bit teary, becomes subdued or leaves the room, you might find that they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Other signs of mental ill health can include people avoiding social situations like team lunches or drinks after work.
Forcing people to join in or expecting someone to resolve this situation alone is a definite no-no. Instead, take them to one side and check in to make sure they’re ok.
Red Flag #4 – Alcohol on the Breath
Everyone has the odd mid-week evening when they really need a drink. But if one of your team is regularly coming into work with alcohol on their breath, you need to address the situation.
This isn’t just for the wellbeing of the individual concerned but for the safety of those around them, particularly in roles where staff drive or operate machinery. Immediate action is called for in this case to prevent an accident.
Red Flag #5 – Appearance
Appearance might only be skin deep but it can tell us a lot about an individual’s state of mind. When we’re under pressure, or feeling exhausted due to depression, self-care can be one of the first things to go.
Someone who’s looking a bit dishevelled, seems to showering less or is failing to take care of their appearance might be struggling to maintain their mental health.
Another telltale sign can be an individual’s weight. People with anxiety often feel like they don’t want to eat due to the high levels of adrenaline in their system. Others find that depression and anxiety make them turn to food for comfort.
Either way, weight can be a good indicator that someone is struggling. Of course, referencing someone’s appearance is not a good jumping off point for a supportive conversation. So, what should you do to help your staff?
Take the Mental Health Wellbeing Initiative
Talking about mental health is the first step to addressing it. As a leader, it can be encouraging to talk about the support you find helpful and the tactics you use to keep on top of stress and anxiety.
One way to to help is to ask your team for a list of early signs of mental distress and the tactics that aid them. They can share these with you so you know what to look out for and the best way to intervene.
Beyond this, developing a wellness plan for your business will formalise your response as an organisation and also helps employees know that you care about their wellbeing.
Keeping an eye on your employee’s mental wellbeing is good for your staff and your business. By following the advice in this article, you’ll be ready to spot issues and respond appropriately when your employees need you most.
To develop your employee wellbeing plan, contact Crosse HR on 0330 555 1139 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres in your skull.”
― George Orwell, 1984
Nobody wants to be accused of being Big Brother, but monitoring employees’ emails is perfectly legal if you go about it in the right way. So, what should you do – monitor or not?
Data Protection and Employee Rights
As a business owner, you need to make sure your employees are carrying out their work effectively. You also have a responsibility to ensure they’re not using work email to do things they shouldn’t. Like sending offensive emails or sharing unprotected data. At the same time, you don’t want to encroach on your employees’ privacy or demonstrate a lack of trust.
Before we consider whether you should monitor employees emails, let’s take a look at whether you can.
The Information Commissioner’s Office states that, in general, it is considered intrusive to monitor your employees’ emails.
That’s because employees have a right to respect for a private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This means people can send personal emails from a work computer and email address and expect them not to be monitored or read by employers.
But what about work email?
It’s perfectly legal for employers to monitor employees’ emails as long as certain criteria are fulfilled. This includes being:
- clear about the reasons for the monitoring
- satisfied that the monitoring arrangement is justified by real benefits
- clear with employees for the reasons, extent and nature of any monitoring that’s in place
If you decide to monitor, you’ll need to warn employees that emails sent from a work computer may be observed. A good way to do this is to include suitable wording in your contract of employment.
Before implementing a monitoring policy, employers must carry out an assessment of the proposed activity to establish
- the reasons for monitoring staff and the benefits that this will bring
- any negative effects the monitoring may have on staff
- whether the monitoring can be achieved through any less intrusive means
- whether the monitoring is justified, taking into account all of the above
Think you might have sufficient reason to monitor? Then the next thing to consider is proportion.
In-depth or Light-touch?
Depending on your business and sector there may be highly valid reasons for monitoring staff email. For example, financial services organisations often monitor communications to ensure sensitive data is not being shared, accidentally or otherwise.
However, all businesses considering email monitoring should act proportionately and fairly to achieve the right balance between organisational needs and employee privacy.
In most cases assessing the date, time and recipient or sender of an email will help you determine whether it relates to work or not. Reading private emails, particularly those that contain confidential information is likely to breach an employees’ privacy.
Automated email monitoring can analyse huge amounts of email traffic, spot inappropriate content and deliver reports for managers. This distances managers from the emails themselves and raises a red flag indicating that further investigation is required.
Before jumping straight into an in-depth review of an employee’s inbox, it can often be a good idea to hold a meeting. By discussing how the individual has been using email and the kinds of information they’ve sent you can decide on a proportionate response.
The Potential Impact of Email Monitoring
Monitoring employees’ emails can create an atmosphere of distrust if implemented and acted on incorrectly.
In some sectors, like those with significant data protection requirements, employees are likely to be more understanding of the need for monitoring. However, organisations where data is less sensitive may not find employees so tolerant.
Should any breach in policy be identified, managers’ next steps are key to how your monitoring policy is perceived. Managers using the information inappropriately will bring the policy intro disrepute. However, used effectively – to curtail inappropriate behaviour or prevent action being taken against the business – employees will likely support the policy.
Coupled with well-handled conversations and a genuine respect for employees’ privacy, email monitoring can be helpful for businesses. However, history has shown most people don’t appreciate their emails being monitored so introducing this policy requires careful handling.
If you do decide to go down this route ensure you’re acting legally, in line with your policy and for the good of your employees as well as the health of your business.
For help navigating email monitoring and other employment contract issues, contact Crosse HR on 0330 555 1139 or at email@example.com.
Since the #metoo movement hit the headlines, I’ve seen a big increase in the number of workplace sexual harassment cases.
In this climate, it can be tempting to focus on protecting those who make allegations. But as we all know, there are always two sides to every story.
In the eyes of the law, employers are responsible for giving both the person making the complaint and the person being accused a fair hearing.
In this article, I explore:
- what you need to do to protect your business from legal proceedings
- how you should deal with people who lodge a sexual harassment claim
- and how to treat those who have been accused, falsely or otherwise
What Counts as Sexual Harassment?
ACAS defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that violates the dignity of a worker. Or that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be intentionally directed at an individual. Making sexual references, gestures or behaving inappropriately in a sexual way can still count as sexual harassment. Even if there’s no intended victim.
Critically, the nature of sexual harassment is defined by the person experiencing it. This means something can be considered sexual harassment even if the alleged harasser didn’t intend it to be.
- making comments of a sexual nature about an individual’s appearance
- asking questions about someone’s sex life
- telling offensive jokes
- displaying pornographic imagery
- sending emails of a sexual nature
- making unwanted physical contact
- sexual assault
Legally, all your employees, male and female, at all levels of the company are protected from sexual harassment. Depending on the nature of the incident, they will be covered by employment and/or criminal law.
As a business owner, you’re responsible for the safety of your people. Which means dealing appropriately with claims of sexual harassment is critical for the security of your business.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
Like many crimes of a sexual nature, harassment often takes place behind closed doors or away from other people. Without witnesses, cases often set one person’s account against the other’s.
As with any grievance, sexual harassment can only be alleged until a full investigation has taken place. This should align with your grievance policy and procedure which should follow the ACAS Code of Practice.
Investigate Thoroughly and Sensitively
Although it may feel like there’s a lot of pressure to act in the face of claims of sexual harassment, it’s important that you don’t jump to conclusions.
You will need to conduct an investigation into the alleged sexual harassment. In cases of serious sexual harassment you may need to involve the police. Your investigation can run alongside the police investigation and you can take the police’s findings into account.
Depending on the type of allegation, you may need to consider working arrangements while the matter is investigated. This could include asking the accused to work from home or putting them on paid leave if paths are likely to cross.
Experiencing – and being accused of – sexual harassment is often extremely upsetting, so the case needs to be handled sensitively. It’s extremely important that both the claimant and the accused are supported throughout the process.
The individual making the claim can choose to remain anonymous. However, it’s really important that the person being accused of sexual harassment understands the claim being made against them. This will allow them to mount a defence.
The individual making the claim should provide as much proof as possible to support their case. If emails have been sent they should provide copies of them. Or if there are witnesses, they should be asked to provide evidence.
If the outcome of the case is that the accused is guilty, you will need to take appropriate disciplinary action in line with your procedures. What constitutes a reasonable or justified action will depend on the details of the case. However, all outcomes should be fair and consistent.
Failing to deal with sexual harassment claims fairly for both parties can place your business at risk from tribunal or criminal claims.
What Happens if the Claims Are Groundless?
When someone is falsely accused of sexual harassment they will likely find the experience traumatic. It’s important that you deal with these individuals fairly as other employees will be watching your approach. If possible, you should integrate them back into the business.
Depending on the circumstances, you may feel that you need to take action against the accuser. This forms part of your duty to ensure your employees work in a safe environment where they are not put at risk. Even from false accusations.
Sexual harassment is one of the most difficult claims to investigate and deal with. As long as you do so legally, promptly and deal sensitively with all parties involved, you will be acting appropriately. Which will safeguard your employees and protect your business.
Don’t deal with sexual harassment claims alone. Contact Crosse HR for pragmatic support on 0330 555 1139 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thinking of saying goodbye to a new hire? Then something obviously hasn’t worked out. To ensure their departure goes smoothly, you need to give them the right amount of notice.
But how long should that be when an individual is still in their probation period? And what else do you need to consider? Read on for the answers.
Probation – Not Just For Criminals
Most employers operate a trial period for new employees – also known as a probation period – which can vary from a few days to several weeks or months. The length of probation should be clearly set out in the employee’s contract alongside the employee’s standard notice period.
But what happens if they hand their notice in, or you want them to leave, during their probationary period? Does the standard notice period apply? Or can you legally give less notice and hasten their departure?
It Depends on Length of Service
People with probation periods shorter than one month are not entitled to any notice so you can exit them from your firm immediately.
Of course, notice periods work both ways and employees can notify you of their intent to leave too. Which means you could be left in the lurch if someone leaves within their one-month probation period.
That’s why most organisations stipulate a probation period of three months. This often increases to six months for more senior roles and jobs that are difficult to recruit. By extending the notice period, both employers and employees are protected.
There are two types of notice that employees and employers must give.
Contractual notice is the agreed notice period, as set out in the employment contract, that must be given by either side to terminate the arrangement.
You can choose to give more notice than legally required. But of course you cannot give less than the law stipulates.
Typically, contractual notice periods are:
- Less than one week for staff with under one month’s service
- One week for people with between one and six months’ service
- One month for people who have recently passed their probation
These notice periods give both sides a degree of protection and tie in nicely with the following legal minimums.
If you don’t include a notice period in your employees’ contracts you have to abide by legally predefined notice periods based on the individual’s length of service:
- Less than one month’s service > no notice
- One month to two years’ service > one week’s notice
- Two years’ service > two week’s notice
- Three years’ service > three week’s notice
The notice periods increase by one week for every complete year of tenure. So someone with eight years’ service would need to give and be given eight weeks’ notice.
Notice Has Been Served – What Happens Next?
This usually depends on who gave notice and the reasons why.
If an employee gave notice and there’s no problem (like performance issues), you will probably want them to work for the duration. This helps your organisation by keeping work moving and giving you time to recruit.
If you’ve given notice to a member of staff during the probation period, it’s usually because performance or attitude is not up to scratch. Which might mean you don’t want the employee to come in.
In this instance, you will still need to pay them for their notice period and you can do this in one of two ways:
- Pay in lieu of notice – you end the employment before the individual serves their notice and pay them as if they had worked their notice period.
- Garden leave – the employee serves their notice but doesn’t do any work for your company. This might happen if they are leaving to work for a competitor. Again, they must be paid for the full notice period.
Nobody wants to recruit the wrong person for the role. But occasionally it happens. Protect your business by:
- checking your contracts of employment
- paying notice periods as required
- revisiting your recruitment practices to spot any gaps
If you want help protecting your business from the unexpected, get in touch with Crosse HR.
The intricacies of employment law often trip business owners up. And one of the most common hazards is dismissing someone in line with the letter of the law. There are two kinds of dismissal that sound similar but mean very different things and you need to avoid getting either of them wrong.
In this blog, we explore the differences between unfair and wrongful dismissal and explain how you can avoid falling foul of either.
Isn’t Unfair the Same as Wrongful?
Not quite. In fact, in legal terms, they are entirely different concepts, as we explain.
This happens when you breach an individual’s contract in the process of dismissing them. The most common breach is failing to give an employee the correct length of contractual or statutory notice.
When are employees protected?
Employees have this right from day one so you need to be vigilant from the outset of a new employment contract. If you cannot settle the issue via conciliation with HR support, you could be looking at a tribunal or court case.
Claims for £25,000 or less would be settled in an employment tribunal whereas those over £25,000, would require a county or high court action.
How much could it cost?
Damages are not fixed. The figure will be set in reference to the individual’s pay and benefits for the period of their notice had they received it. This can include items like a company car, bonus, health cover and pension payments.
The more senior the employee, the longer their notice period is likely to be and therefore the more costly their claim. It’s also worth noting that it’s unlikely you will be able to recover your court costs.
On the plus side, employees are required to look for a new job as soon as possible. If they secure one and work during what would have been their notice period, their new pay and benefits will be taken into consideration. This could reduce the amount of any monies owed.
What can you do to avoid it?
If you want to dismiss an employee, ensure you give them notice in line with their contract or statutory minimums. If you want the individual out of the business immediately, you could pay them in lieu of notice. This means paying them all their usual pay and benefits as if they had still been working up until the end of their notice period.
This is a very common practice and in many cases will be cheaper than paying court, salary and benefit costs. You’ll also save time and effort into the bargain.
What else do you need to know?
What constitutes wrongful dismissal is defined by referring to case law. This means that the most recent judgement on the topic sets a precedent by which wrongful dismissal is assessed.
As such, it can change form time to time so you need to keep abreast of any changes. Or work with someone who does that as their day job.
Employees are protected by law from being unfairly dismissed. It’s a statutory right and is based on the employer’s reason for dismissal. For you to defend an employee’s claim you must show that:
- the reason for dismissal is one of the potentially fair reasons listed in the Employment Rights Act 1996 including:
- statutory illegality
- some other substantial reason
- your conduct was fair and reasonable in the circumstances, taking into consideration the size and resources of your organisation. This means:
Both these tests must be passed: if you dismiss for a fair reason but carry out the dismissal unfairly, you will still be deemed to have acted unfairly. The only good news in this scenario is that the amount of compensation might be reduced.
When are employees protected?
Except in specific circumstances, employees must have a minimum of two years’ continuous service to qualify for the right to bring an unfair dismissal claim. And it can only be pursued in an employment tribunal.
How much could it cost?
Compensation is made up of a basic award (calculated on the basis of age, length of service and salary) and a compensatory award limited to one year’s gross pay or £80,541, whichever is lowest. This takes into account future loss of earnings and loss of statutory rights.
What can you do to avoid it?
If you have an employee who you want to dismiss, you need to tread carefully. The Acas Discipline and Grievance Guide provides step-by-step advice on dealing with challenging situations including capability and conduct.
If you find you have dismissed someone unfairly and you do not have a case to defend, you could reinstate or re-engage your employee.
What else do you need to know?
Sometimes an employee will pursue tandem claims. While this will mean a more complicated case it doesn’t necessarily mean more compensation as an employee would not be entitled to double recovery for the same loss.
What’s the key takeaway from all this? Bring in an HR specialist early on if you’re thinking of dismissing someone. It might cost you a few hours of their time but it’s likely to be a lot cheaper and quicker than getting it wrong and having to pay compensation and undergo a lengthy legal process.
There’s a lot being said about GDPR at the moment so we thought we’d uncomplicate matters and keep it simple with the what, when and why of GDPR from an HR perspective.
What is GDPR?
GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulations. It’s a piece of EU legislation that harmonises a raft of data protection laws across Europe.
The regulations apply to any company processing the personal data of European citizens, even if that firm is outside the EU. Whether you’re handling this information in relation to offering goods, services or for the purposes of monitoring people’s behaviour, these regulations apply to you.
Why is the Law Changing?
In recent years, there has been a massive shift in technology and a huge increase in the volumes of data being processed. This has impacted how we gather, store and manage data. And it has also led to rising concern amongst EU citizens with regards how their data is handled and the level of control they have over it.
The existing legislation was published over 20 years ago so it was high time for an update.
When do You Need to Meet Your Obligations?
You need to ensure you’re compliant by 25th May 2018 and on an ongoing basis thereafter. If you’re found to be in breach, you can be fined up to €20m or 4% of annual turnover, whichever is larger.
What Does This Mean for HR Data?
Employers have been required to provide staff and job applicants with a privacy notice that sets out certain information under the Data Protection Act. However, the GDPR means you will be required to provide additional information like how long you will store an individual’s data for and whether their data will be transferred to other countries.
You’ll also need to let employees know how to request a copy of their own data and how they can apply to have their personal data deleted or rectified. This means ensuring your data is labelled and stored to enable these activities to happen.
It’s important to be aware that employees can retract their consent for you to process their data at any time so you’ll need processes in place to help you swing quickly into action.
If your organisation is in the business of monitoring or processing sensitive data on a large scale, you will need to appoint a data officer. This role is in place to advise you on your obligations under the GDPR, monitor compliance and liaise with the data protection authorities.
What if I have a Data Breach?
Should you be unfortunate enough to suffer a data violation – be it through disclosure, loss or unlawful means, like a hacking incident – you must comply with the GDPR’s reporting requirements.
You will need to report specific information to the data protection authority within 72 hours. If there’s a major risk to the rights or freedoms of those employees whose data has been impacted, they will need to be notified.
All of which can cause a huge workload and significant embarrassment to your business.
What Steps Should You Take Next?
On a positive note, the GDPR isn’t there to trick businesses into falling foul of the law. It’s aim is to protect individuals’ personal data, a right that all of us are entitled to.
To protect your employees’ data, there are several stages you need to undertake:
- Audit – know what employee data you’ve got, where it is, who has access to it and what you do with it. This is a good opportunity to minimise the data you hold by questioning whether you really need it or not.
- Gap analysis – are there any holes in your data handling processes that mean you won’t be compliant with GDPR? Identifying whether it’s a necessity to retain and process each piece of data is key as is taking action to correct any issues.
- Review privacy notices – this is one area where nearly all employers will need to make changes. Update your privacy notices to ensure they’re compliant whilst also being easy to understand.
- Do your legal homework – if you currently rely on existing consent to handle employee data you will need to get employees to sign a new, GDPR-compliant privacy statement to ensure you’re legal.
- Prepare your data breach response – you need to have a written policy and process so you can take immediate action should the worst happen. This could include training employees to be able to recognise a data breach and know how to take the appropriate next steps.
- Hire your data protection officer if required – be prepared to pay as these roles will be in demand.
The technicalities of the GDPR can feel dizzying, but by taking the steps outlined in this article you’ll have a much better handle on the personal data you manage. Not only will this help you take the actions required to keep employee data and the people it relates to safe from harm, but you’ll protect your business to boot.
Hidden in the detail of the Autumn budget, the Chancellor announced the increases to the National Minimum Wage that will apply from next April:
• from £7.05 to £7.38 for 21 to 24 year olds;
• from £5.60 to £5.90 for 18 to 20 year olds;
• from £4.05 to £4.20 for 16 and 17 year olds; and
• from £3.50 to £3.70 for apprentices.
We’ve all made comments at work we wish we could take back. But what if those remarks caused someone such distress that they had a mental breakdown? And what if the remarks were made in relation to a legally protected characteristic – gender?
You might think larger organisations would have a handle on this kind of behaviour. However, arms manufacturing giant BAE Systems were fined £360,000 for a single sexist comment. This blog outlines how this comment was really the tip of the iceberg and what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes in your business.
Marion Konczak had complained of bullying and sexual harassment, by four male colleagues to her line manager. She was moved to another role but when this didn’t work out she was asked to return to her old job working alongside the four men.
Konczak told her manager that she couldn’t do this because of the bullying and harassment history. Her manager responded with a comment about women taking things ‘more emotionally than men who tend to forget things and move on.’
Before this point Konczak had felt ‘dispirited and demoralised’ but this remark made her feel she wasn’t being taken seriously. It was the final straw that tipped her into depression and a period of sickness absence. She was dismissed in July 2007 and was unable to work for 11 years.
The Tribunal rejected 15 other sex discrimination complaints but found the comment by her manager constituted sex discrimination. They also found her dismissal to be unfair and an act of victimisation.
The sum awarded was so large because it took account of the preceding incidents which were deemed to have pushed Konczak to the edge making her vulnerable. The manager’s comment was the final straw.
What BAE Systems Got Wrong And How To Get It Right
Respond to Bullying and Harassment Claims
Regardless of whether the earlier behaviour Konczak experienced was illegal or not, it made her feel uncomfortable enough that BAE Systems felt bound to move her to another role. Having a bullying and harassment policy in place would have guided HR and managers through what to do and how to react. So far, so good.
Don’t Ask A Victim to Work With the Same People Again
By asking Konczak to work with people she had accused of harassment, the manager was insensitive to her concerns. In a company the size of BAE Systems, it should have been possible to find an alternative position.
In smaller businesses, moving people’s desks can be an effective way to separate warring parties. Keeping the lines of communication open will help everyone to feel heard. And ensuring all parties are clear that they must behave professionally will prevent a repeat of any upsetting comments.
Know Your People – And Act Accordingly
What’s bullying and harassment to one is a remark that can be easily brushed off to another. In this case, as well as making a sexist comment, the line manager missed the impact the situation was having on Konczak.
In summing up, the Judge said, “the basic rule is that a wrongdoer must take his victim as he finds him, eggshell personality and all.” This means line managers need to focus on two things:
- Whether what was said concerned:
- a protected characteristic, like race, age or religion
- a non-protected characteristic, like ginger hair, height or weight
- How the comment was received and the emotional state of the individual receiving it
Comments about protected characteristics place businesses at risk of a legal case if, as in the case of Konczak vs. BAE Systems, the appropriate steps aren’t followed. Any case where a protected trait is involved should ring alarm bells and mean you tread very carefully.
The ruling also underlines managers’ responsibility for considering and ensuring the mental health of employees. The crux of the BAE case is that the manager failed to spot the seriousness of the situation and to respond accordingly.
Changing individuals’ behaviour is not a simple fix. But you can put training and awareness programmes in place to help. Ensure your managers know how to listen, what to listen for and how to act in similar situations.
Develop a Culture of Equality And Safety For All
Allowing office banter about non-protected characteristics would make your business an unpleasant place to work for many individuals. And it would also be difficult for them to speak out if the behaviour appeared to be condoned at the top.
Go beyond the letter of the law and ensure that people feel able to speak out when any comments make them feel uncomfortable, not just those relating to protected characteristics.
Be prepared to lead from the front by challenging inappropriate behaviour publicly. This will help to create a safe place where your employees enjoy doing their best work as well as reducing risk for your business.
Bullying and harassment, sex discrimination, victimisation and mental health is a challenging combination of factors to deal with. If your business ever finds itself dealing with any one of these situations, bring in HR support sooner rather than later. It might cost you a little in time and money up front but it could save you a lot of pain, reputational damage and, potentially, £360,000.