Employment Contracts

A woman signing a contractAll employees have an employment contract with their employer from the moment they accept a job offer. It’s an agreement that sets out the terms of employment and gives an employee’s:

  • employment conditions
  • rights
  • responsibilities
  • duties

It is good practice to write the terms down, for the sake of clarity, but they don’t have to be.

The overarching “contract” usually comprises a number of documents:

  • an offer of employment (sometimes referred to as a letter of appointment or offer letter),
  • a statement of particulars which is required on or before the individual starts work, and
  • a contract of employment which can be provided up to two months later.

Some employers combine all or some of these documents rather than provide three separate documents.

Both parties must stick to the contract until it ends (for example, by either party giving notice or with an employee being dismissed) or until the terms are changed (usually by agreement). When a letter of appointment (offer letter) is provided, it may incorporate some conditional terms to allow for receipt of employment checks such as the to right to work in the UK, qualifications required to undertake the role and references to be received and deemed satisfactory to the employer.

If a person has an agreement to do some work for someone (like paint their house), this isn’t an employment contract but a ‘contract to provide services’. Please refer to our guidance on employment status which can be found here.

An employer should make it clear which parts of the contract are legally binding and the terms could be:

  • in a written contract, or similar document like a written statement of employment
  • verbally agreed
  • in an employee handbook or on a company notice board
  • in an offer letter from the employer
  • required by law (for example, an employer must pay employees at least the National Minimum Wage)
  • in collective agreements- negotiated agreements between employers and trade unions or staff associations
  • implied terms – automatically part of a contract even if they’re not written down

If there’s nothing clearly agreed about a particular issue, it may be covered by an implied term – for example:

  • the employer providing a safe and secure working environment
  • a legal requirement like the right to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holidays
  • something necessary to do the job like a driver having a valid licence
  • something that’s been done regularly in a company over a long time like paying a Christmas bonus.

A written statement of employment particulars stating the main conditions of employment must be given to employees and workers when they start work.

Technically, the employer must provide the principal statement (statement of particulars) on the first day of employment and the wider written statement (contract) within 2 months of the start of employment. However, at HRWise we believe it is good practice to provide all of the relevant information prior to an employee starting work.

Employers must tell employees or workers about any changes to the written statement within one month of making the change.

The principal statement must include certain specified information:

On the first day of employment the employer must also provide the employee or worker with information about:

  • the employer’s name
  • the employee’s or worker’s name, job title or a description of work and start date
  • how much and how often an employee or worker will get paid
  • hours and days of work and if and how they may vary (also if employees or workers will have to work Sundaysnights  or overtime)
  • holiday entitlement (and if that includes public holidays)
  • where an employee or worker will be working and whether they might have to relocate.

If an employee or worker has to work outside the UK for more than a month, the principal statement must also include:

  • how long they’ll be abroad
  • what currency they’ll be paid in
  • what additional pay or benefits they’ll get
  • terms relating to their return to the UK

Certain additional information must also be provided. This can be included in the principal statement (statement of particulars) or be provided in a separate document. If it is in a separate document, this must be something that the employee or worker has reasonable access to, such as on an intranet:

  • if an employee or worker works in different places, where these will be and what the employer’s address is
  • how long a job is expected to last (and what the end date is if it’s a fixed-term contract)
  • how long any probation period is and what its conditions are
  • any other benefits (for example, childcare vouchers and lunch)
  • obligatory training, whether or not this is paid for by the employee
  • For employees, it must also include the date that a previous job started if it counts towards a period of continuous employment in some cases a company will recognise service with another company when calculating continuous employment.
  • sick pay and procedures
  • other paid leave (for example, maternity leave and paternity leave)
  • notice periods

Employers must give employees and workers a wider written statement within two months of the start of employment. This must include information about:

  • pensions and pension schemes
  • collective agreements
  • any other right to non-compulsory training provided by the employer
  • disciplinary and grievance procedures

HR Wise provide an employee handbook and employment contracts (incorporating a statement of particulars) that comply with these requirements. They are regularly updated by an industry expert, so you don’t have to worry about keeping on top of things.

Please get in touch if you would like to enjoy affordable peace of mind in this respect.A woman signing a contract

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Workstation Assessments under COVID

The DSE/Workstation Assessment:

Legislation and guidance on managing Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and Workstation Assessments, like most guidance in 2020, has been ever changing under COVID-19.

“Work from home” instructions introduced during the lockdown back in March brought confusion towards undertaking assessments as this was considered a temporary measure which would not ordinarily constitute the requirement to undertake a formal assessment at the new workspace ie: the kitchen table!.     7 months on, and employers are faced with the choice of returning home workers back to the workspace OR keeping them home worked which is now considered a permanent measure meaning that, in either case, a DSE Assessment will need to be carried out.

So, it’s time to dust down the DSE Assessment forms and ensure that all workers are conducting those regular reviews.

What is DSE or Workstation equipment?

Any work equipment which is used continuously and needed to undertake desk activity is classed as Workstation equipment such as the chair, keyboard, mouse and screen. Items which are used infrequently such as staplers or pens are not usually included as part DSE Assessment

When should a DSE Assessment by carried and by whom?

Any employee who is required to sit for periods of more than one hour at a workstation to undertake their work should carry out regular assessments to ensure that the equipment being used, and how it is used, is safe and adequate. There are several triggers for undertaking or updating a DSE Assessment including:

  • When starting a new job – usually within the first few weeks once settled at the workstation.
  • Following a desk location change or new office layout
  • Following workstation equipment change
  • For pregnant workers – immediately then every trimester until maternity leave begins
  • Following return to work after a long period of absence or following time off through ill health or injury
  • Annually, if not triggered by any of the above

What does the Assessment look at?

A good DSE Assessment will ask a number of detailed questions relating to the equipment and how it is being used along with other aspects of the work environment such as noise levels and facilities. Any concerns should be identified from the assessment and passed to line management for addressing. The assessment should also aim to provide the opportunity for employees to raise any concerns they may have whilst using their workstation. Things considered include:

  • Condition and use of the equipment
  • Posture
  • Work routines
  • Understanding of adjustments

Where do I go for DSE Assessment support?

The HSE website has a range of support tools and advice to help you understand what is required of a DSE Assessment. The HSE guidance is reviewed and updated regularly in line with COVID-19 guidance so keep a close eye on changes to ensure your business remains compliant.

Grounded Safety (groundedsafety.co.uk) are offering a free DSE Assessment Tool to get you started. We are also producing regular blogs focussing on COVID updates to keep you and your business COVID Secure and on track with the latest guidance.

Job Support Scheme – What Do the Changes Mean for Your Business?

On 24 September 2020, the Government announced the next steps for supporting workers and businesses as the Coronavirus pandemic continues.

The job support scheme will open on 1 November 2020 and run for 6 months, until April 2021 and is designed to support jobs which will be sustainable once the pandemic has receded.

You will continue to pay your employee for the time they actually work, but the cost of hours not worked will be split between the employer, the Government (through wage support) and the employee (through a wage reduction).

The important factor being that jobs sustainable in the longer term are able to be preserved despite a downturn in activity over the winter. Employers will also be able to claim the Job Retention Bonus of £1k for each those workers still on the payroll at the end of January if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Further guidance will be published shortly so, for the moment, the key points you need to note are:

All small and medium-sized businesses will be eligible for the scheme. Large businesses will have to meet a financial assessment test, the scheme is only available where turnover is lower now than before Covid-19 started to impact UK businesses.

If you are a UK business you can apply, even if you have not previously used the furlough scheme at all, or if the employees you are now claiming for were not furloughed as part of the job retention scheme.

Your employees must work at least a third (33%) of their normal hours

for the first three months of the scheme. After 3 months, the Government will consider whether to increase the minimum hours required. Note:

    • You must pay staff for the hours they work at their normal contractual rate of pay.
    • For time not worked, the employee will be paid up to two-thirds of their usual pay.

This means an employee working a third of their usual hours would receive 77% of their pay where the Government contribution has not been capped i.e. the government will pay a maximum of 22% of someone’s normal monthly salary. The government’s grant contribution will be capped at £697.92 per month.

Employees must be on an employer’s PAYE payroll on or before 23 September 2020. This means a Real-Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment to that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 23 September 2020.

Grants will be payable in arrears meaning that a claim can only be submitted in respect of a given pay period after payment to the employee has been made and that payment has been reported to HMRC via an RTI return.

The grant will not cover Class 1 employer NICs or pension contributions, although these contributions will remain payable by the employer.

Employers must agree the new “short-time” working arrangements with their staff, make any changes to the employment contract by agreement, and notify the employee in writing. This agreement must be made available to HMRC on request.

Employers can rotate employees on and off the scheme and employees do not have to work the same hours each week, but each “short time” period claimed must cover a minimum period of seven days.

Employees cannot be made redundant or put on notice of redundancy during the period within which their employer is claiming the grant for that employee.

We await further news on how you can claim, according to the updates on the Government website you will be able to claim through their website from December 2020 and payments will be made monthly (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/job-support-scheme

When ‘Banging Their Heads Together’ Doesn’t Work…

Mosaic Mediation Logo

A mediator’s guide to workplace conflict, by our Guest Blogger Emma Jenkings of Mosaic Mediation.

Profile picture of Emma Jenkings

“Why can’t people just ‘get on’?”

I haven’t met a single adult who hasn’t been involved with, or witnessed, workplace conflict. At some point in your working life, you will need to work with or alongside people who you don’t enjoy being around. And, at work you have little choice about who you have to interact with.

The first way to approach the issue of workplace conflict is to realise that at some point in your working life you will encounter conflict – which, most simply put, is any form of ‘disagreement’. This can manifest in the form of frustration, hurt, anger, or disappointment – all of which result from
conscious or unconscious ‘disagreement’ with someone’s behaviour, where a person doesn’t like, agree with, or understand why someone behaves as they do.

Not all conflict is negative but it may lead to hostile disagreement, passive aggressive communication, withdrawal or even physical altercations, at the extreme. Any of these behaviours WILL negatively impact the way people work together, and their individual performance at work.

One of my favourite quotes is by Blaine Lee: Almost all conflict is a result of violated expectations.”

Having realistic expectations of others could be the difference between peace and conflict. Unfortunately, in the workplace (especially if our roles are similar) we subconsciously expect people to communicate, behave and understand things the same way we do. Even acknowledging that ‘everyone is different’ doesn’t stop us from those inherent feelings of frustration if, for example, we have explained something multiple times, and the other person still doesn’t seem to understand what we mean!

Differences between colleagues can have the potential to help an organisation perform beautifully, when pulling together these different skills, insights and personalities. However, they also have the potential to cause disruption and communication breakdown if those differences are neither expected nor appreciated.

Such ‘expectation and appreciation’ may be demonstrated by developing a culture within an organisation that is equipped to prevent ‘unnecessary conflict’ and to handle reasonable conflict effectively, when it does occur.

What constitutes ‘unnecessary conflict’?

As I have already stated, at some point in your working life you will encounter conflict. What is preventable is: the degree of fallout from the conflict, the escalation of issues, and the extended length of time it can take to resolve things.

So ‘unnecessary conflict’ is where – had there been a greater level of understanding, and willingness to see a different perspective, and the awareness and knowledge to communicate effectively with behavioural tendencies that are different to their own – the degree of disruption,
miscommunication or friction would have been significantly reduced or avoided.

What can be done to prevent ‘unnecessary conflict’?

In my book, ‘The Four Pillars of Conflict Prevention’, I discuss four main areas to be aware of. Essentially, these are the areas that I look at when both helping an individual or organisation prevent conflict, or areas that I will take note of when determining what has to an already-present conflict.

These 4 areas are: Communication, Approach, Notice Change, and Trust.

1. Communication is involved in every interaction we ever have, but it truly is a skill to communicate effectively with different people in all manner of situations. Preventing unnecessary conflict is possible by developing your knowledge of communication, particularly around: listening skills, clarity of mindset, the impact of someone’s perceived identity, emotions, and different communication tendencies.

2. Having the most appropriate ‘approach’ goes beyond working on your tone of voice. If you are aiming to prevent unnecessary conflict, it helps to understand which factors should determine your approach to a conversation, to give you the greatest likelihood of your communication being received exactly as you had intended.

3. Change is often a major factor in conflict developing. So, if you notice changes in how the organisation or the team is structured – a new manager for example – it is likely you will be more prepared to tackle ‘minor niggles’ before they become major issues. Other areas of change to pay attention to include: employee’s social lives, body language, any inconsistent treatment amongst staff, an increase in critical attitudes.

4. Finally, TRUST. It is what underpins the balance and ‘health’ of all relationships – whether work or personal. If you notice a change in how people are interacting or engaging with each other, think about how much they may (or may NOT) have trust in the other person’s credibility and/or character.

If there is low trust between people, that will impact how they communicate, how they perceive the intentions of the other person and will inevitably lead to some form of conflict. Noticing which area of trust is low, will enable you to focus on what each individual can do to re-build trust in that area.

How to manage conflict effectively

Each situation is different, so the approach will need to be adjusted to match each situation.

That being said, there are some general rules which are helpful:

1. No ‘winning’ – If you are involved in the dispute, trying to ‘win’ an argument is a recipe for conflict escalation. If you are helping to support other people to resolve an issue, don’t take sides – not in reality, nor in perception. Neutrality is an essential skill as a mediator – knowing that taking sides will be a block to an effective and long-lasting resolution. When mediations are done by someone where there is the potential for perceived bias, it has a very low chance of working out. (I have done mediations to clear up previous failed mediations because of this exact issue.)

2. No apportioning of blame – I’m not suggesting that we allow people to avoid accountability; but that it is more effective to talk in less emotive terms than ‘blame’. Using different phrases, and an approach that encourages people to address their ‘contribution’ to a situation, is less likely to make people feel defensive.

3. Ask curious questions – Often, people feel they are being asked questions to trap them into an answer that will put them in a vulnerable position. Asking questions that show an intention to understand, and maybe gently challenge, will encourage more open and honest answers.

4. Don’t ignore the ‘red flags’ – Most issues don’t get resolved by time itself. Most need addressing and require effective communication about them – and if done when they are minor and new, it’s likely that they will be quickly and efficiently resolved. Issues that are ignored will fester and escalate (even if it takes a while). The longer they are ignored for, the harder it is to resolve.

5. Don’t try to resolve things too quickly – Far too often I have been brought into a situation where there has been a previous discussion where people agree to ‘move on’, without actually having discussed the key concerns or feelings involved. Moving on can only happen once there is a greater level of understanding from each person about the other. (No ‘banging of heads’ please!)

6. Encourage problem-solving – Once issues have been addressed, misunderstandings clarified and the core concerns are clear, then you can move onto to forward-thinking. Any solution that the individuals mutually agree upon and champion is going to have a greater likelihood of ‘sticking’, so get them involved in the suggestions as much as possible.

One last tip: Aim for preventing ‘unnecessary conflict’, not for avoiding all conflict! Some conflict is necessary to promote positive change.

Conflict (or ‘disagreement’) of some sort is inevitable because everyone is different – with different histories, personalities, skills, communication styles and perspectives. However, that doesn’t mean the conflict needs to be long-lasting, nor should it be damaging to individuals or the organisation.

I love being a mediator, and what I enjoy about my job is not the arguments or negativity, but seeing the positive results that come from conflict resolution. For the vast majority of mediation, the issues and discord are resolved. And, in every mediation I have been involved in, individuals discover more self-awareness and a greater understanding of others – as an inevitable by-product of the mediation process.

If you are involved in, or supporting people through, workplace conflict currently, have hope. Most conflict is ‘resolvable’, and it may lead to far more positive results than you could anticipate.

Emma Jenkings is a qualified Workplace & Employment Mediator and set up Mosaic Mediation in 2016. She has since been involved in a wide range of mediations to resolve disputes and tackle difficult conversations. She is now also a DISC assessor, conflict resolution coach, communication
trainer, and speaker on conflict and communication. Her online ‘Kindly Speak Up’ course on positive assertiveness is now available to purchase.

‘The 4 Pillars of Conflict Prevention’ ebook by Emma Jenkings can be purchased on www.amazon.co.uk . For more information on workplace mediation, coaching, training, courses and resources, please go to www.mosaicmediation.co.uk . Or, you can contact Emma Jenkings by
emailing emma.jenkings@mosaicmediation.co.uk .

The Uber Case

The Supreme Court’s two-day hearing of the Uber BV and others v Aslam and others case took place week commencing 20 July 2020. It will be a landmark judgement in the field of employment law in relation to the definition of an employee, worker or self-employed contract. We can expect to hear the outcome in the next couple of months.

Why does it matter?

Employment status disputes are when an individual feels they are entitled to the same rights as if they were employed (or potentially vice versa). There are different categories of employment:

  • employees, who are entitled to a wide range of employment rights and benefits;
  • dependant workers, who are entitled to some, but not all, of those rights; and
  • third party contractors (self employed), who receive very little protection under employment legislation.

This is important for the Uber drivers, as if they are considered to be workers, they are entitled to many more rights (including paid leave, etc.) than if they are considered self employed.

The merits or otherwise of the gig-economy and zero-hours contracts have been debated widely over the last few years. There are benefits to some people of having flexible working but for some this is the only work they can obtain. More and more people are looking to work for companies like Uber, in a job market which could see a rise in unemployment of up to 13%, in a worst case scenario (Office for Budget Responsibility Fiscal sustainability report July 2020) .

The Supreme Court decision will be of vital importance to those who drive for Uber or work for other such similar companies, and for their employers…..

Long term impact on you and your employees

The changes we have made to manage the spread of COVID 19 have led to improvements in the environment (albeit short-term) and in some cases improvements to the quality of life, it’s been a period of reflection for many of us, as individuals and employers. For some sectors, this will be a time to flourish, sadly for others it will be a long road to recovery.  Anecdotally, the number of retirements is increasing following furlough and there is a strong possibility of a baby boom in the first half of next year!

Inevitably and it is always with much regret for employers, financial challenges have necessitated the need to consider making roles redundant but for others, the situation has created more opportunities.  As an employer, it is time to consider your outgoings and you may want to consider the following opportunities when seeking to sustain jobs:

  • Homeworking means there is the potential to save on travel expenses, printing and other consumables
  • Review your supplier contracts
  • Implementation of new technology
  • Consider news ways of working for example shift patterns
  • Online trading
  • The use of temporary staff to navigate peaks and troughs in demand as businesses catch up with backlogs in production and or a reduction in certain types of activity

Apprenticeships and Work Placements

The Government announced support for those looking to for a new job and needing to learn new skills, particularly young workers.

As an employer, you may want to consider an apprentice. In England, if you employ a new apprentice between 1 August 2020 and 31 January 2021, you will receive a payment of £2,000 for each new apprentice you hire aged under 25, and a £1,500 payment for each new apprentice you hire aged 25 and over.

The Government wants to create six-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding will be available for each placement. It will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.

Furlough Scheme

The current furlough scheme has been extended to the end of October 2020.

The deadline to furlough an employee for the first time was 10 June 2020.

You have until the end of July to make a claim for June wage costs.

The number of furloughed employees claimed for after 1 July in any one claim period cannot exceed the maximum number claimed for in any one claim made prior to that date.

Furloughed staff can now return part-time for a minimum period of one week.

We strongly advise that you keep records of your agreements with your employees to place them on furlough or to move them to flexible furlough and retain those records for at least 5 years.

Travel/Quarantine

On 10 July the Government’s travel advice changed, with exemptions removed for travelling to certain countries and territories that no longer pose a high risk for British travellers’.

As an employer, we recommend you work with your employees to understand what their travel plans are. Look at the best way of supporting employees to get the break they need and consider family or financial commitments they may have as a result of decisions made before COVID-19. They may be able to look at whether they can delay their travel plans or transfer their travel to a destination without quarantine restrictions.

If you do have employees that need to quarantine upon returning to the UK you need to consider if they can work from home or if you could provide alternative work which can be undertaken from home.

If an employee cannot do their job from home, possible options are:

  • They need to take extra annual leave to cover the 14 days of self-isolation. In some cases, this might mean their annual leave request is refused.
  • Place an employee on furlough for the time they’re self-isolating.
  • Provide the opportunity for employees to make up the hours taken to observe quarantine over an extended period of time
  • Ask your employee to use additional annual leave to observe quarantine
  • Ask you, employee, to take unpaid leave.

If you wish to cancel an employee’s planned annual leave you must give them at least the same number of days’ notice as the original holiday request. We strongly recommend you consider your reasons for wanting to cancel an employee’s holiday and have a conversation with your employee if this is something you want them to do and document the outcome.

If you would like an employee to take their annual leave at a specific time you must provide notice which is double the length of the period of holiday you are asking to be taken, i.e. two weeks notice of a one week holiday and four weeks notice of a two week holiday.

 

What if I have employees who are shielding?

The government has announced that shielding will be paused from 1 August 2020.

As an employer, you need to consider whether shielding employees can continue to work from home.

If they can’t, you need to undertake a risk assessment of the work environment, alongside an individual COVID-19 risk assessment prior to the employees return to work.

Please refer to the blog post – “Employees Returning to Work” .