Working from Home – Legal and Contractual Considerations

With working from home being a key means for many workers and organisations to keep going during the coronavirus outbreak, I wanted to remind you of some areas that still need to be considered:

Ireland has moved into 'delay phase' of coronavirus | Lovin.ie
  1. Review your homeworking policy. Make sure it addresses how employees will be supervised, how the organisation and line managers will communicate with them and how performance and output will be monitored. The homeworking arrangement may be confirmed by a consent form, detailed homeworking arrangement or by amendments to the employee’s contract.
  2. Confirm employee rights. Homeworkers must be treated the same as office-based staff, with equal access to development and promotion opportunities. Consult the relevant trade union, if any, to ensure equal treatment for these workers. In the current context, it may be prudent to expressly state that any changes are temporary and that the employee will, if applicable, return to office-based working once the situation ends. 
  3. Confirm contact methods and regularity. Advise homeworkers to establish when and how they will have contact with their manager; reporting in at regular times can also help combat isolation and stress. 
  4. Providing equipment. There is no obligation for employers to provide computer or other equipment necessary for working at home, although, given the latest Government advice, employers should do what they can to enable home working. It is prudent to list the equipment that has been supplied in the home working agreement, consent or policy. Remember that provision of equipment could be a reasonable adjustment for some disabled employees and may be the safest option for those with existing health conditions or pregnant employees at this time. 
  5. IT and Broadband. Employers should confirm in the contractual arrangements if the employee is expected to cover the broadband cost (plus heating and lighting) or if the employer will contribute towards these costs and, if so, to what extent. The employer should also confirm any IT support (likely to be remote at this time) and responsibility for repair or replacement if the employee’s equipment is used. 
  6. Think about health and safety obligations. Employers are responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare, even when working from home. Employers need to make sure that homeworkers are knowledgeable about health and safety and that they comply with the organisation’s health and safety policy. Employers may remind staff that they should ensure a suitable and safe environment where they can focus on work. Remind employees that they should continue to comply with your sickness absence policy and report their sickness to their line manager when they are sick and unable to work. 
  7. Carry out risk assessment. Employers should usually conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees those working from home. However, at this time undertaking physical risk assessments of each employee’s home will not feasible and so employers could use electronic risk assessment questions instead. It is the employee’s responsibility to address any flaws in the home revealed by the assessment. The Health and Safety legislation also puts some responsibility on the home worker to ensure that they and members of the household are not endangered by work activities undertaken at home. 
  8. Review working time and length of period. Will employees need to be available for work during strict office hours or work a specified a set number of hours per day? There may be more flexibility over working hours in a work from home arrangement, but working time regulations should still be complied with, including the working week and daily rest break. Instruct managers to look out for signs of overwork. 
  9. Clarify salary, benefits, insurance, tax. Salary and benefits should obviously remain the same during a period of homeworking, although changes to expenses may be appropriate if normal travel expenses and allowances are no longer needed. Usually it is the employee’s responsibility to check that no issues arise with their mortgage provider, landlord, local authority, Revenue or their home insurer when homeworking. In this unprecedented situation it is hoped that any issues, for example increases in house insurance premiums, would be minimal but it is prudent for employees to check. Employers also need to check that insurance covers business equipment in the homeworker’s premises. 
  10. Data protection. Employers should make sure data protection obligations are maintained and employees using their own computer should still process information in compliance with data protection principles. Employers should remind employees about home security, confidential information, passwords, shredding etc. 
Two more coronavirus cases confirmed in Northern Ireland | Newstalk

Note: many thanks to CIPD Ireland for providing the information

Closures Due To Adverse Weather

We were all impacted by Storm Ophelia recently. It did untold damage to property, caused chaos to the public services and as a result many businesses were forced to close.  Were you prepared!!

The following guidelines may give you a few tips for how to handle the next storm or adverse weather conditions that come our way.

When absences arise because employees are excluded from work in exceptionable circumstances such as adverse weather conditions, such as Red, Orange, or Yellow Status weather warnings, the employer reserves the right to introduce any of the following:

  • Employees take unpaid leave
  • Employees take annual leave
  • Employees work from home
  • Employees are paid for the day

Management should assess each situation on a case by case basis and take into consideration   any health and safety issues with due regard for these special circumstances.

If an employer receives adequate notice regarding such circumstances (adverse weather forecast) an action plan should be put in place and communicated to employees. If it is the decision of the Management to close the office then employees will be advised which option is being applied.

The applied action plan may be dependent on the severity and longevity of the situation that arises. In the event that the situation is short-term management may decide to pay the employee a maximum of <<number >> of days in a rolling year.

However if the employee excludes themselves (business opened and accessible) from work payment may/will not be made.

 Employees should be expected to make reasonable efforts to get into work (for example, using alternative travel arrangements).

If the employee believes that there is a health and safety risk involved they should not travel, but should contact their manager and discuss his /her situation.

Communication is the key.  Employees should be asked to notify their Manager by phone, or by some other means, as soon as possible if they have any problems getting into work and to seek clarification on the situation.

Guidance on How to Conduct Disciplinary Hearings

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GUIDANCE NOTES:

When preparing for a hearing it is prudent to list a series of questions before the meeting so that you can ensure you discuss all the relevant issues arising from the allegations and also cross reference to any witness statements.

  • Ensure that before you start the meeting you can, were possible identify clearly in your company policies which procedures or regulations have been breached. Having a copy of the employee handbook and the signed employee contract at the meeting is a useful tool for this.
  • Where possible have all witness statements to hand (ensure that they have been given to the employee in good time before the meeting) you can quote directly from them in order to aid your argument (e.g. employer: did you refuse to follow the instruction of the manager? Employee: No, employer: in that case why did the manager and the witness both state that you did?  At this point refer and produce these statements).
  • Minutes should b, where possible, written word for word (example at the rear of this document) and all discussions should be recorded even if you do not consider it to be relevant.
  • These minutes are a suggested template only, as each hearing will differ depending on its facts; this document covers salient points which should as a matter of course be included in the minutes of any disciplinary meeting.
  • This document should not be on show or available in the disciplinary hearing for this document “itself” may become evidence, we recommend that you jot down or transpose for yourself as an reminder as to how to conduct the proceedings
  • Where possible, ensure that the manager conducting the disciplinary hearing has had no involvement in the investigation procedure or is not a witness, and does have the authority to issue a disciplinary sanction up to and including dismissal: (due to the size of the organization this may not be possible, and if this is the case it should be stated in the Employee Handbook
  • At any point during the hearing, the manger/disciplinary officer may adjourn the proceedings if it appears necessary or desirable to do so, e.g. for the purpose of gathering further information.

Give Mary a call on 086 8225448 or email on mryan@righthandhr.ie for more information

 

 

 

 

Carrying Over Annual Leave

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It’s coming to the end of the year and I’m sure everyone is trying to get the last few loose ends tied up in anticipation of the Christmas break and the New Year.                                                                                                   christmas

However this time of year also throws up one of the major administrative headaches that an Company may encounter, and this is regarding annual leave entitlements and people carrying over leave into the following year.

This can be quite onerous for employers as the more people you employ and the more that take over additional annual leave, the more difficult it becomes to manage the process effectively.

Strictly speaking all employees should receive at least 20 working days or four working weeks annual leave in a year. However there are times when it is simply unavoidable due to employee or business circumstances (maternity leave/sick leave/specific projects that need completion) to ensure all employees take their annual leave in the calendar year. In certain cases it may be detrimental to the business to allow persons to take all of their annual leave by the end of the leave year if they have a very short window in which to take this, so the end result is employees having to carry over annual leave.

The other scenario is where an employee just hasn’t used up their annual leave in the leave year and so has days remaining which they must carry over. In the latter case there may be a situation where an employee has been doing this on a regular basis and so year on year there is annual leave being carried over and it can be an administrative nightmare.

An employee’s annual leave is governed by the provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997, and it specifies that the timing at which the annual leave can be taken shall be determined by the employer having regard to certain requirements. These requirements relate to the opportunities for rest and recreation and taking into account the work life balance. However the legislation also specifies that an employee should take their annual leave entitlement in a leave year and if they do not then within the first six months of the following year.

In cases where an employee is carrying over annual leave, it is important to highlight the time frame in which the additional annual leave should be taken. Some employers are willing to allow up to six months in which to take the additional leave, whereas some require it be taken in the first quarter of the year. Some companies also have a “use it or lose it” approach. It is at the discretion of the employer. However it should be specified in the company’s annual leave policy as to what the situation regarding this will be.

In an effort to address this issue it is important to have a well-structured policy which employees and management alike can refer to with regards to issues like annual leave.

Internally it is also worthwhile to pre-empt such a situation by setting a reminder in the calendar for September or October where you can go and proactively check how many days annual leave are remaining for some staff. This will give you the opportunity to address this matter with staff who have a large amount of days remaining and request that they take these days within the leave year. It will resolve the headache of carry over days and lead to an easier life for those controlling this issue.

If there are employees who are carrying over days and not using them, you could potentially look to give them notice of these days and book them for the employees by giving sufficient notice. This should only be used where the employee is unwilling, despite several requests, to take the annual leave and the company is left with no option but to book the days for the employee.

A well thought out and easily communicated policy will resolve a large amount of issues employees may have with regards to taking leave and carrying over excess days, which in the long run will lead to a more efficient and streamlined process.

HR Nugget – Employee Recognition and Changes to The Workplace Relations Act 2015

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Every month we will send you a useful nugget of information that takes only two – three minutes to read. At the bottom of this page, you can share this nugget with others. We hope you enjoy our HR Nuggets and find them useful.

HR Nugget – Employee Recognition

As unemployment levels are falling, it is now time to start to think about how you can retain your employees.   A strong employee recognition program can support this.

Employee recognition is a large part of a company’s culture. On average 1-2% of payroll is spent on awards and programs for employee recognition and reward. But do they give a positive return on investment?

Research shows that companies with traditional employee recognition programs were found to only have 31% lower voluntary turn-over than companies without a program at all.

Most employees viewed traditional employee recognition programs as just another “top-down” management scheme. They saw it as a public judgment, by management, of a small handful of employees, without peer input or opinion. Unrewarded employees often feel the system is bias or unfair. In the end, rewarded employees feel manipulated or targeted (by management) and the whole process creates an “Us versus Them” environment. Very counterproductive!

By contrast, organizations giving regular or routine “employee thanks” have been found by some researchers to out-perform their traditional counterparts, give employers a better ROI and improve retention of high performing employees. These ‘new generation’ approaches include drives to:

  • Make recognition easy and frequent. Recognizing outstanding achievements during regularly scheduled conference calls within departments or business units
  • Give “awards” for specific, results driven successes. This isn’t a typical “employee of the month” award, rather an award for a specific action or service during a specific time or event.
  • Allow peers to nominate or drive rewards program
  • Story-tell about great employees by highlighting their achievement via an internal newsletter or your company blog (so that your customers see the value your employees are bringing to them!)
  • For a better boost in employee engagement in their employee recognition program, tie recognition to your company’s mission, vision, purpose or goals.

For support with an employee recognition program please contact Mary on mryan@righthandhr.ie

HR Nugget – The Workplace Relations Act 2015

 Employees to Accrue Annual Leave while on Sick Leave

 There has been an amendment to The Workplace Relations Act 2015 which affects Employers. This is an important update for employers to be mindful of, as employees will now accrue annual leave whilst on sick leave.  This could have major financial implications.

What Are the Changes?

The Workplace Relations Act 2015 has introduced the following changes:
Where an employee is absent from work then that absence will count as working time where it is covered by a medical certificate from a registered medical practitioner.

  • Where an employee is unable to take all or part of their annual leave during a leave year due to a medically certified illness then the employee will still be permitted to take that annual leave for up to 15 months after the leave year has ended.
  • If an employee’s employment is terminated during the 15 month period mentioned above the employee will be entitled to payment in lieu of any such outstanding annual leave.

For more information please contact Mary on mryan@righthandhr.ie on download The Workplace Relations Act 2015.

How to Manage Holiday Requests

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 Everybody wants time off in the summer or at Christmas – it’s an age-old problem. This is compounded by some staff that save up their holiday entitlement to disappear for weeks at a time. Naturally, you need to manage these multiple requests so that your company is able to operate, but also so that dissatisfaction doesn’t set it.

 Refusing people their paid leave simply because you have not planned or foreseen their requests is bad management and leaves you having to do the inevitable and make subjective judgement about who can and cannot have their leave. This, of course, generates a certain amount of ill-will when emotions are running high.

Being Positive 

Holiday entitlement, and extra days off, form some of the perks that you can give employees as an added bonus, so instead of waiting for the holiday period to hit you, why not design a strategy that offers time-off at peak holiday time in a measured way?

Knowing that summer and Christmas are hot spot for time off discuss and plan the potential requests well in advance.  Planning this time way ahead is a key. It allows employees to participate (up to a point) and it also prevents certain people feeling disappointed later on.

The Traditional Request Form 

The best thing that you can do to help manage the employees’ time off is to have each employee fill out a request form some time before they need it.  Request forms the best way to keep track of who is taking off and when they are taking the time off to give your company a measure of control. This also allows you to monitor which people appear to be building up large amounts of unused leave which could cause you staffing problems when taken later on — or all in one go.

When it comes to key dates or holiday hot spots, you can introduce a ‘bartering’ scheme so that employees take it upon themselves to make sure your company has enough staff during the time they want to take off. Such things do, of course, happen informally, but having it as a part of your company culture confers employees with a sense of control and responsibility. It also makes the system a little more democratic.

Rewards and Perks 

Additionally, having prime-time days off can be offered as a perk or a reward to high achievers, or those who may have made sacrifices earlier in the years — such as staying later or taking pay cuts when the company is struggling.

In Summary

Just looking at requests for leave as a reactive policy is not going to please anyone. You need to look at your business cycle and staffing requirements. In a multicultural workforce, you also need to consider staff availability in view of differing religious calendars.

 Set expectations early. Review your company or department’s strategic plans for the year and then make everyone aware of critical dates where employees cannot be absent.

This early warning also encourages employees to use some of their leave rather than building it up. Do all of the above and set a good example not taking hot-spot time off yourself, and you’ll create an acceptance of the need to regulate or diffuse multiple leave requests.

HR Nugget – Dealing with Sickness Absence

Every month we will send you a useful nugget of information that takes only two – three minutes to read. We hope you enjoy our HR Nuggets and find them useful.

 Dealing with Sickness Absence

Sick leave costs Irish employees hundreds of thousands of euro each year.  The cost is not only financial costs, but also the disruption to the business and the amount of management time consumed on managing sick leave is significant.

In this month’s Nugget Right Hand HR give you a number of top tips for dealing with sickness absence.  These include:

  • Have a written sickness policy – Documentation is very important and is the first thing an employer should refer to as this ensures all employees are dealt with in a fair and systematic manner.  If you do not have a policy right Hand HR can support you with this.
  • Keep in touch with employee during sick leave – The employer still has obligations to employee while on sick leave.
  •  Obtain regular updates on the employee’s medical condition.
  • Keep records – this is crucial.  Make a note of when you contacted the employee and what the employee told you.
  • Conduct return to work interviews – these can be informal but ensure in all cases that the policy is applied consistently to all employees.  This does not mean that common sense cannot be applied.
  • Don’t terminate unless you have engaged.

Make sure you have the facts
Make sure the employee is aware that you are considering termination
Give the employee a chance to respond to any decision the company may be taking.

There is lots of evidence of case law where employees have successful won cases they have taken against their employer.  The key for the employer is that the Sick Leave Policy is applied consistently and that the employees are aware of the policy.   Employees can take a case under many of the Acts such as the Disability Act.

If you want more information please contact Mary.