If we took a holiday it would be so nice

Conservative Prime Ministerial hopeful Jeremy Hunt caused a stir this week when he announced that, if elected, he would cancel all Civil Service holidays in August in order to make sure that preparations for a No-Deal Brexit were fully implemented. But can an employer simply just cancel holidays, especially if they have already been authorised and staff may have paid out for a trip away?

It may surprise you, but legally the answer is yes. In fact, in certain sectors (e.g. the NHS or emergency services) it’s not that uncommon – think for example of nurses and doctors having leave cancelled because of a winter flu epidemic.

However, it’s not quite that straightforward. Firstly, there are minimum periods of notice which must be given to cancel someone’s holidays. Unless you have a different written agreement, this is the same length of time as the period of the holiday. So someone who’d booked a fortnight’s leave must be given two weeks’ notice of cancellation.  As the new Prime Minister is only expected to take office a week before the beginning of August, and unless the Civil Service has specific rules, Mr Hunt would not have time to stop someone taking two weeks off at the beginning of August.

Secondly, you need to have a clear and urgent business reason. Preparing for an imminent ‘disorderly’ departure from the EU in 12 weeks would probably fit this description, as might things like a high level of staff sickness, or a major and unexpected change in business. If you don’t have a valid reason, however, you might find yourself facing a claim for constructive dismissal.

Thirdly, cancelling someone’s holiday is not likely to motivate or endear them to your business. So you need to balance the short-term issue against the longer-term impacts.

This post doesn’t cover the issue of whether you are liable to compensate people for losses caused by a cancellation. Most travel insurance policies wouldn’t cover cancellation by the employer, potentially leaving your staff significantly out of pocket. Not being a lawyer, I can’t say whether individuals would have grounds to make a civil claim for their loss (if you are a lawyer reading this please feel free to comment) but if they can you might find yourself exposed to significant liabilities.

So, overall, cancelling holidays is something that can be done, but it is an extreme decision to take and would require extreme circumstances, and a proper evaluation of the pros and cons, before I would suggest you do it. As with so much of employment law, the rule is

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”

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It was 20 years ago today…

That I launched Ariadne Associates to provide HR help and advice to small organisations. In that time, we’ve supported around 150 small businesses and charities – primarily in the North West of England but sometimes further afield. And to celebrate 20 years in business we’ve got some fantastic birthday deals 

1.  20% off our normal day rate for new and returning clients (subject to T&C below)

If there’s an HR issue that you wanted to tackle (for example setting up contracts, reviewing policies and procedures, making changes in your organisation, or needing some help with recruitment) then now is the time to do it. Visit our Services page for some ways we can help

For a limited time, our day rate will be reduced from £550 to £440 (for charities it will go from £495 to £395) To qualify, simply get in touch using the form at the bottom of this page, and we’ll get back to you to discuss how we can help.

2. Simon’s successful book on what small businesses need to know about Employment Issues for just £4.99 (and only £1.99 on Kindle)

Shortlisted for the CMI Management Book of the Year 2018, Happy Working Relationships has received numerous positive reviews as a plain English guide to Employment Law and People Management.

To order the paperback, visit https://ariadne-associates.co.uk/simons-book/

To order the Kindle version, visit https://www.amazon.co.uk/Happy-Working-Relationships-business-employment-ebook/dp/B071Y6C852

T&Cs

1. To qualify for 20% off our day rate, work must be agreed and committed by 31 July 2019 and must be completed and invoiced by 31 October 2019. Payment must be made within our normal timescales

2. 20% discount applies to a maximum of 3 days’ work.

3. Does not apply to existing clients or work already in progress

4. A returning client is an organisation that we’ve not worked with for over 12 months and which doesn’t currently receive our free employment law updates.

5. Book promotions run until 5th July 2019

lighted happy birthday candles

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The 12 things HR can do for your business

Last year, I published a post which outlined the 15 things that HR should do – at a minimum – for the people who work within a business. Although I’d argue that doing these things for workers has a positive impact on employers as well, a more sceptical businessperson might wonder if and how their company would benefit from HR. After all, why would you pay for something if you aren’t getting something in return? So here are my 12 reasons why a business would want HR:

1. We’ll make sure that not only do you comply with employment laws, but that we implement them in a way that fits the business strategy and culture

2. We’ll make sure that the business is able to get the right people, in the right number, at the right time.

3. We’ll advise you on the ‘people consequences’ of any business proposals, so that you are taking decisions on the future with full knowledge of all the issues (not just the financial ones)

4. When problems occur with individuals, or groups of employees, we’ll look to find sensible, legal and effective solutions to minimise the damage to the organisation

5. We’ll be your experts in the labour market, knowing what outside factors will have an impact on helping us to deliver – or which need to be overcome to deliver – point 2 above.

6. When changes happen, we’ll understand the best way to minimise disruption and achieve what you want to set out.

7. HR isn’t your business conscience – but we will remind you that you have ethical responsibilities (and normal human emotions) that need to be factored in

8. We’re not your police either – so if we need to put in policies, systems, or procedures,  we’ll make sure they are there for a clear and understandable reason and that everyone understands the consequences of not complying

9. We’ll manage training and development, so that people in the business get the skills they need to do their jobs in a way that’s cost-effective.

10. We’ll use our specialist knowledge to support managers to manage people more effectively

11. If a problem needs a long-term solution, we won’t just offer you a quick fix

12. If there’s a new idea floating around, we’ll look for evidence that it will actually improve things before recommending you implement it

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Human Resources by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Left Holding the Baby (and other employment problems)

There are certain questions that crop up regularly among my small business clients, and while every circumstance is slightly different, here’s some advice on how to approach some of these common issues if they occur in your organisation

I’ve an employee who always seems to need time off because of problems with her toddler. Last week she took two days off because he had an upset stomach. Her colleagues are getting a bit fed up with covering for her.

First of all, your employee has a legal right to take unpaid time off if an emergency situation arises with a dependant. This right is restricted to genuine emergencies (for example, if nursery ring to say the child is sick and needs to be collected) and not known issues (such as a hospital appointment for the child), and is also restricted to the time required to put in place alternative arrangements – which depending on the circumstances might be anything from an hour to a day – not to provide the care itself. It would be unusual for an ‘emergency’ to last more than a day. If the individual does need more time off, you may be prepared to allow them to take holidays or some other arrangement, but this is at your discretion.

If the employee seems to have ‘emergencies’ regularly, you can discuss with them the situation and look at ways of resolving it. Current case law suggests that the employee is not entitled to an unlimited use of this right. Consider ways that you might be able to get around the situation – for example short-term changes to working hours, or some other flexible arrangement. In the case of childcare particularly, you might want to discreetly find out if the employee’s partner could assist more (often in these cases it is the mum who ends up dealing with the problem every time, not the dad).

My business trades a lot with the EU and we’re badly affected by Brexit. A few members of our staff are vocally pro-Brexit. Can I sack them for promoting something which is damaging their employer?

Probably not. Although political views are not a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act, if someone feels they have been dismissed for holding a political opinion they can make an unfair dismissal claim even if they don’t have the normal two years’ service. You would have to have to show that dismissal was a reasonable response – and given that it’s unlikely that you can directly blame your employees for the current situation, it would be difficult to substantiate this.

What you can do is make it clear that people should not be using the workplace to promote political views. Someone who repeatedly broke this rule could be taken through the disciplinary procedure and ultimately dismissed. Make sure you apply the rule consistently though, not just against views that you disagree with!

I’m closing down part of my business in a few months and told the one employee in this area he’d be losing his job, and that he would be doing lower paid work somewhere else in the business. He got very irate and walked off the job, and has never returned. Now he’s threatening constructive dismissal – does he have a case?

Unless you were particularly abrupt or unpleasant in the way you told him or did it in a humiliating way (announcing it unexpectedly in front of colleagues for example), it’s unlikely. You are however putting him at risk of redundancy and needed to consult with him – including on whether the alternative work is suitable (if lower paid, it’s unlikely to be). That could leave you at risk of an unfair dismissal claim if the employee has more than 2 years’ service. As he’s walked off before you could undertake proper consultation, or even give him his legal notice, you are likely to have a defence against a claim, but it could get messy and time-consuming. If he does make a claim, consider settling through ACAS early conciliation or via a Settlement Agreement.

Overeducated and Underskilled – is it Recruiters’ fault?

Yesterday’s report by the Office for National Statistics that “31% of graduates are ‘over-educated’ for their job” has attracted a lot of attention, especially given the apparent conundrum that businesses are constantly complaining that people lack the right skills for the jobs.

There are a lot of issues here – including the question of whether the education system’s purpose is simply to provide trained labour for business; the consequences of the expansion of the university system; and even the philosophical question of whether it’s possible to be ‘over-educated’.

However, I want to concentrate on one factor which business has direct control over: recruitment. It seems to me that part of the problem is either laziness or ignorance on the part of those who manage recruitment.

The ONS report makes what I consider the same error as many businesses – to confuse education levels with skills. And as a result, we get what the CIPD’s David D’Souza describes as ‘weak signals’ in the labour market.

Too many recruiters will simply add in the phrase “degree-level educated” as an easy way to sift candidates, without even thinking about whether the skills or knowledge a degree brings are relevant to the job being advertised.

Take for example a recent job I saw advertised, for a Project Manager. It was in a very specialist sector and yet the first requirement in the person specification was to hold a degree. Not a specific, job related degree, but any degree. Given that many companies use automated sifting systems as part of their recruitment process, they would presumably reject someone without a degree but who had very relevant experience, but someone with a degree in a totally unrelated subject (let’s say Mediaeval History) would make it through to the next stage.  When they came to review the shortlist, hiring managers would no doubt tut about the shortage of good candidates.

Degrees are important in certain situations – particularly when we want people to demonstrate a certain level of independently verified knowledge of a subject. But in most cases we need to be understand what skills and knowledge a degree demonstrates; whether our job role actually requires these; and if there are other ways candidates can demonstrate that they possess these skills and knowledge.

Of course, this takes more time than the simple “just put out the advert on the job board” approach. But as I’ve argued repeatedly, recruitment is a major investment decision (especially in small businesses) and it’s worth taking a little more time to get the right person rather than making lazy assumptions.

College graduate students