Employment Review - March 2019

Welcome to our March Employment Update. In this bulletin we observe the new guidance published by ACAS regarding age discrimination for employers. We look into how a four day working week may be beneficial to both your business and employees. And we also examine a number of upcoming and potential employment changes, such as mental health at work, payslips and paternity rights.

We still have places left at our Spring HR update seminars covering Performance Management in Sheffield on 19 March and in Birmingham on 4 April.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has published a new guide on age discrimination in the workplace. This looks at ways in which this may arise, as well as advice on prevention and how it should be dealt with if it does occur.

With news that the Wellcome Trust is considering a move to a four day working week, it is worth considering the pros and cons. For employees this can provide better work-life balance, whilst the benefits for employers is the potential for greater efficiency and increased productivity.

For British passport holders who travel within the EU for work, it is important to check how long they have left to run on their passport. If it is less than 6 months, time is running out if the UK leaves the EU without a deal at the end of the month.

From 6 April a change to regulations mean that employers will be required to provide itemised payslips to all workers (rather than just employees) and these must clearly show the hours for which they are being paid where relevant.

In January Parliament debated a proposal over whether there should be a requirement for a mental health first aider in every workplace. With 70 million work days a year lost to mental health problems it is little surprise that this is an issue that is gaining awareness.

Neonatal charity Bliss is campaigning for greater rights for fathers of premature and sick babies to extend their paternity leave whilst the child remains in hospital.

ACAS publishes new guidance on age discrimination for employers

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has recently published a new guide on age discrimination in the workplace. The guide comes with two additional documents covering age discrimination myths and top ten obligations for employers. It is particularly useful for employers, managers, HR professionals, employees, trade union representatives, job applicants and employees. The guide looks at the ways in which age discrimination may occur, provides advice about prevention of age discrimination in the workplace and ultimately, if it does arise, how it should be dealt with. In their supplementary document, ACAS recommends the following ways in which employers can help to prevent age discrimination in the workplace:

  1. Employers should not make ageist remarks against their employees under any circumstances;
  2. Job applicants and employees should not be discriminated against due to their age, perceived age or the age of someone they are associated with;
  3. A job applicant should not be discriminated against during any part of the recruitment process, whether that be within the job description or the job offer;
  4. Assumptions should not be made about an applicant or employee due to their age;
  5. An older employee should not be forced into retiring;
  6. An employee's pay, benefits and/or perks should not be based on their age but instead, their job role and skills;
  7. Training should be widely available for all employees and not just junior members of staff;
  8. In considering the performance and capabilities of employees, all staff members should be treated consistently and fairly;
  9. Workplace policies and practices should not disadvantage employees due to their age.

This guide emphasises employee's rights by highlighting the various ways in which age discrimination may take place during the recruitment process and/or the course of employment and sets out what changes employers should make to ensure that age discrimination does not arise in the workplace. A copy of the new guidance as well as the additional documents published by ACAS can be found here

A four day working week: how it can help your company and employees

In September 2018 the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Frances O'Grady, spoke out about working hours in the 21st century, insisting that employers should consider a four day working week without any reduction in pay. In January a major institution, The Wellcome Trust, announced that they may consider a four day working week for their employees to increase productivity in the workplace and improve work-life balance. Whilst no final decisions about this potential shift in working patterns has been made, it is worth considering the benefits and of course, the risks, that such a change may bring for employers and employees.

Benefits of a four day working week:

  1. Increased productivity - by limiting the number of days an employee is at work, there is less time to procrastinate during the working week. Ed Whiting, Wellcome's Director of Policy, explained that a shorter working week would encourage employees to manage their workload more effectively. Surveys have found that employees often procrastinate at work, whether that be checking their social media, speaking with their colleagues about non-work related matters or browsing the web. Arguably, a four day week may reduce the amount of time spent engaging in such activities as time at work will be limited.
  2. Reduced stress - Perpetual Guardian (a New Zealand financial services company that switched to a four day working week in November 2018) found that the level of stress amongst their employees was reduced by 7% as a result of their shorter working week. Whilst the removal of a working day may be seen as a factor that would add to the stress of employees (as they would have less time to finish their work), it is possible that when there is an extra day to tackle life outside the workplace, external pressures no longer impact the level of stress an employee faces during their working hours.
  3. Greater work-life balance - employees have extra time away from work to spend with their family and friends, catch up with household chores or even take up a new hobby. The study by the University of Auckland regarding the reduction of working days by Perpetual Guardian highlighted that whilst only 24% of employees felt that they were able to successfully manage their work-life balance when working a five day week, a massive 78% it improved with a four day working week. Thus a shorter working week may help employees to balance their home life better, ultimately leading to greater productivity in the workplace.

Potential risks of a four day working week:

  1. Temporary change in productivity - whilst there may be an initial boost in employee productivity, will this continue when the novelty wears off and a four day working week becomes normalised? Some smaller companies trialling a shorter working week have experienced such problems, so benefits may be short lived for employers. If productivity falls, there will be no incentive for employers to provide a shorter working week whilst needing to continue to pay their employees the same salary.
  2. Increased pressure during the working week - despite in a drop in the number of days worked, the number of working hours per week are likely to remain the same for many businesses. Longer working hours each day could increase stress and fatigue - leading to employees missing out on other events in their personal lives. Although this is a clear contradiction to the perceived benefits outlined above, it is definitely something for employers to consider as in the long run it may have a detrimental effect on employees.

Clearly there is a lot to think about for employers. Whilst it would potentially be a great benefit for employees to enjoy an extra day away from their workplace, the potential risks involved must also be considered.

Brexit Update: travel warning for employees

British passport holders who travel within the EU for work, and have less than 6 months left on their passport, may encounter problems at the border if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019. Sarah Dennis, Head of International for The Health Insurance Group urges all those with less than 6 months left on their passport to renew their passport before the March deadline. Failure to update British passports in time may result in employees being treated as 'third country nationals', ultimately being denied entry into the EU. With the potential to cause serious disruption for businesses, it is necessary to ensure that all employees have valid passports before travelling to the EU for work.

Deadline for payslip changes looming

The current regulations regarding payslips (found in section 8 Employment Rights Act 1996) require employers to provide their employees with an itemised payslip, either electronically or in paper form. The payslip should include an employee's gross and net pay, as well as any deductions that have been made (e.g. tax and national insurance).From 6 April 2019 there will be two key changes:

  1. Employers will be required to provide payslips to all workers and not just employees
  2. Where an employee's rate of pay changes according to the hours they have worked, their payslip must clearly outline the number of hours which they are being paid for.

It is important that employers are taking the necessary steps to ensure that they provide the correct information on payslips from 6 April 2019. Failure to comply with the new regulations may result in an employee bringing a claim against their employer before an Employment Tribunal, whereby if the employee succeeds in their claim, the tribunal will be required to make a declaration to this effect, which ultimately can be published on their website. Where the employee has not been notified of their deductions, the tribunal can also order the employer to repay all such deductions made within the thirteen weeks prior to the claim, regardless of whether the deductions were lawful or not.

Mental Health First Aiders: a change to wellbeing practices in the workplace?

In October 2018 Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, emphasised the importance of mental health awareness in the workplace. This followed a petition to Downing Street by mental health campaigners and businesses which gained almost 200,000 signatures in favour of a compulsory requirement for businesses to have mental health first aiders. In January 2019, the House of Commons debated whether the use and implementation of mental health first aiders would be a positive step for employees and employers alike. Luciana Berger MP, introducing the debate proposed that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 should be amended through secondary legislation to require a trained mental health first aider in every workplace. With the topic of mental health much more openly discussed and understood today, it is no surprise to see that further support is required for the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace.


Why is mental health awareness in the workplace important?

It is estimated that almost 1 in 3 people will be affected by mental health problems during the course of their employment. This affects both individuals involved and their employers. According to Greg Clark's report, the economic and social cost of mental health problems in the UK equates to more than £100 billion per year. With approximately 70 million work days lost, it is the number one cause of sickness absence in the UK as well as the single largest cause of disability. Research by ACAS highlights the negative impact on employees that a lack of mental health support in the workplace can have:

  1. 37% of sufferers are more likely to become involved in conflict with their colleagues;
  2. 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks;
  3. 80% find it difficult to concentrate;
  4. 62% take longer to perform their duties;
  5. 50% are potentially less patient when dealing with customers/clients.

To maintain a solid, strong workforce, it is not only a social responsibility for employers to ensure the good mental health of their employees but it makes business sense too. ACAS suggests that staff with good mental health are more engaged with their work, have good attendance levels and are likely to perform better than their colleagues who are experiencing mental ill health. Ultimately, supporting employees who are suffering with mental health problems can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.


ACAS recommendations for improved wellbeing in the workplace

To tackle the issues outlined above, ACAS recommends the following ways to encourage employee wellbeing:

  1. Autonomy - rather than dictating the exact way employees should carry out their duties, allowing flexibility and the freedom to choose a way that best works for them will enable employees to feel as though they have a voice within their workplace.
  2. Clear rules and procedures - all employees should be aware of rules and procedures within the workplace, ideally during the induction process. This includes who employees can refer to if a problem arises. This clarity at the start of their employment will ensure employees do not keep problems to themselves.
  3. Security - this includes both physical and job security. Naturally, employees should feel comfortable in their place of work, so employers should provide staff with the appropriate equipment for the job, suitable working environments and adequate Health and Safety policies and procedures. Pressure on employees is also relieved by knowing that their job is secure.
  4. Opportunity for growth - by making it known that employees have an opportunity to develop their career, skills and responsibility within the workplace, it can motivate employees to work harder and perform better in the workplace.
  5. Equality - with the recent rise of equal pay and discrimination cases coming to light, employers should ensure all employees are treated equally and where the work done is similar, employees should also be paid equally regardless of their age, gender, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic.
  6. Promote wellbeing -it is important for senior members of staff to send a clear message to their employees that staff wellbeing matters.

In light of the recent focus on mental health and employee wellbeing in the workplace, it is likely that employers may also have to shift their focus and re-evaluate their own policies to ensure that adequate support is available for their employees.

Campaign for fathers of premature and sick babies to receive extra leave

Following MP David Linden's request to Theresa May in November 2018 to extend statutory paternity pay for fathers of premature and sick babies, neonatal charity Bliss and BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates are now calling for fathers to receive more time off following the birth of their premature and/or sick children. Whilst ACAS has produced guidance for employers on how they can support parents if such a situation does arise, it is not legally binding and employers have the discretion to choose whether they allow parents, particularly fathers, to take off additional time. The current guidance for employers can be found here

Current rules provide that:

  • statutory maternity pay commences as soon as the baby is born
  • up to two weeks' statutory paternity pay commences from a mutually agreed date with the employer.

Parents of premature babies are likely to find it difficult to return to work after their two week statutory paternity leave is over. Chief Executive of Bliss, Caroline Lee-Davey, pointed out that in most cases, the premature and/or sick baby is still in hospital when the father is expected to return to work. A survey they conducted found that 66% of fathers returned to work while their baby was still receiving neonatal care. Whilst there may be a number of reasons behind this, including the possibility that fathers are not actually asking for an extension to their paternity leave, the evidence seems to suggest that many employers may be unwilling to extend paternity leave. This is supported by the charity's research which also found that 1 in 10 parents left their job completely because of their baby's extended time in hospital. Campaigners have asked for a change to the law to ensure parent's paid leave is extended in accordance with the time their baby is in the hospital, to allow both parents to be present at the hospital with their premature/sick baby and to allow them to support each other. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has confirmed that they will be reviewing the current rules and guidelines for parents of premature and sick babies.

There are limited places left at some venues for our Spring HR update seminar programme on Performance Management. You can book a place here.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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