HR News March 2011
Welcome to the March edition of HR News. In this issue we look at the impending review by the Government on sickness and absence and the introduction on the 6th April of the new Additional Paternity Leave Law. With Facebook and Twitter increasingly becoming popular we also take a look at what policies, if any, organisations should put in place to stop sensitive information being shared by their staff via social networking sites.
Business leaders welcome review of sickness absence
The Government’s Welfare Department has announced that they are reviewing sickness absence. This has been welcomed by business groups and leaders across the UK.
Led by Dame Carol Black, the Government's national director for health and work and a former president of the Royal College of Physicians, and David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, the review
will consider whether or not, with the right help and support, more people suffering from ill health could remain in some form of employment.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the CBI, have welcomed the announcement. A short spell of sickness can far too easily become a gradual slide into a lifetime of benefit dependency. It is therefore welcomed that efforts are being made to solve this seemingly intractable problem.
It is hoped that the review will help shine a light on some of the obstacles that prevent companies from supporting employee well being and managing absence effectively. For example, only a minority of small firms provide access to occupational health services for their staff even though evidence suggests such services are the most effective means of helping people with health problems back to work. Support should also be given to those who are genuinely sick to get them back into the workforce, offerering counselling or physiotherapy for example.
A staggering 180 million working days are lost at a cost of £17 billion per year; long-term sickness today still remains a thorn in the side of employers, especially for smaller firms.
The review will form part of the Government's welfare reforms, which aim to ensure that people in work are better off than those who are unemployed.
Measures include introducing a universal credit to "make work pay", changes to disability living allowance, benefit caps linked to average weekly earnings and tougher rules on fraudulent benefit claims.
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Underformance - still a worry for managers
Underformance is still a problem in many workforces. With management perhaps lacking the confidence and training to deal with underperforming staff.
The five main performance problems employers cited were: high levels of sickness absence, the capability of the individual, poor attitude or behaviour to colleagues, poor standard of work and failure to meet set objectives.
Employers considered the most effective strategy in managing underperformance to be providing regular informal feedback and guidance to the individual.
Despite this lack of confidence in line managers' ability to deal with unsatisfactory performance, more than nine organisations in ten said that management take principal responsibility for dealing with it. Having appropriate training and having up do date information and reports on employees, is key to a manager’s ability to be able to handle and deal with difficult staff.
TeamSpirit Human Resources Software lets you monitor, agree and keep up-to-date with staff training requirements. It also allows personnel to produce strategic management reports and gives you the facilities to ensure your business motivates and retains its best people.
Additional paternity leave right introduced on 6th April 2011
On the 6 April 2011, in an effort to promote equality and good parenting, the new paternity leave law comes into force. Giving parents greater flexibility with the sharing of childcare responsibilites.
Under the new act, eligible fathers, will be able to take up to 26 weeks' additional paternity leave on top of their existing two weeks' paternity leave entitlement, provided that the mother has returned to work.
The news has been welcomed by many couples, who for financial or social reasons, might prefer to adopt a shared approach to parenting in the early stages of their child’s life. Some employers, however, have voiced disquiet over the new legislation.
A recent survey of HR professionals revealed that 45% expressed concern over its introduction, citing anxieties over managing the new policy. Despite the Government’s assertion that the rules have been ‘designed to minimise the administrative burdens on business’ it is inevitable that increased resources will be spent on running this form of new leave. Because leave entitlement will be effectively shared between parents who will usually work for different employers, there may be some cases where one employer needs to verify from the other what leave has been taken in order to assess eligibility for Additional Paternity leave.
Employers may also be worried about having to accommodate lengthy periods of absence from work. Although some sectors will be very familiar with dealing with maternity absences, others, perhaps in traditionally male dominated areas of work, might not have had to deal with covering leave to the same extent.
Whether or not these concerns turn out to be well-founded will depend to an extent on the level of uptake of Additional Paternity Leave. The Government has estimated that between 4% and 8% of eligible fathers would take APL. Whether or not that turns out to be a realistic estimate remains to be seen. Factors such as cultural and social considerations will have a significant bearing on the level of uptake, but probably the most important factor will be financial.
Compared to other countries, the UK period of paid leave is far less generous. An employee taking Additional Paternity Leave will only receive pay where the mother returns to work before her own paid leave period expires. It is the Government's view that employers who offer enhanced maternity pay do not need to offer the same to fathers taking additional paternity leave, meaning that pay will only need to mirror statutory maternity pay rates.
The father cannot take leave within the first 20 weeks, any paid leave will be at a weekly rate of just under £129 – unless employers chose to offer enhanced pay. This approach could result in disgruntled employees if, for example, a man working in the same department as a woman on maternity leave is not entitled to the same pay in respect of his period of leave. An interesting scenario! It could be argued that it is discriminatory for an employer not to offer the same enhanced pay to those taking Additional Paternity Leave. If challenges to this took place we could see a changing workplace with couples picking and choosing who takes the leave. We watch with interest…
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Should employers put a social network monitoring system in place?
Employers worried about client contact information leaking out of their business via social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook or even losing their star employees by the same route - should perhaps consider putting a monitoring policy in place, experts have said.
However, employers who want to check up on employees’ use of LinkedIn or Facebook should make sure that their employees have given their agreement to the policy first. A leading Intellectual property lawyer has pointed out that it very unlikely that an employer could establish ownership of social networking sites, looking at employees Facebook or Twitter sites could be impinging on their data protection rights.
Monitoring is possible if employers had “expressed their intention to do so in a policy, if employees had consented to it and the activity was going on in your time and on your equipment. It is still a very difficult situation on what is private and what is not. Before social media was ‘rife’ employees could still easily pass company information on verbally.
There are alternative ways of dealing with the situation. Do nothing, or prevent the use of Facebook, Twitter etc at work or on work equipment, or control their use but maintain ownership via a policy.
An employer has the right to protect data and sensitive company information, therefore clear social networking policies at work should be made clear to all employees. Being fair and reasonable is the key.
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