As we slowly exit lockdown, this is the ideal opportunity to spend some time giving your business a ‘spring clean’. Hayley Marles, Senior Associate Solicitor, DAS Law, has six tips for a clean and tidy SME.
Do your employment contracts contain the terms that are legally required? Do those terms provide adequate protection for the business? Do the contracts actually align to the jobs in practice? And are the contracts fair to your employees?
Employers should carry out an annual audit of their contracts of employment across the whole workforce. This may sound tedious and time-consuming, but it’s at the top of the list for a reason.
Especially since the outbreak of Covid-19, there is more of a need to brush up on the contractual documents. Were you one of the businesses that were caught unsure of what you could do when considering furlough because your contracts don’t allow you to vary terms with employees? Would you have benefitted from a ‘lay off clause’ in your contracts?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it is reactive. Review those contracts sooner rather than later and remember that they need to be issued at the commencement of employment now as opposed to within two months of your new starters joining.
2. Staff Status
With apologies for all the inverted commas, are you confident that ‘self-employed’ staff are not actually ‘workers’ or even ‘employees’? It’s important to ensure that you have accurately assessed the status of everyone engaged by the business as getting this wrong could prove costly.
Some businesses have been affected by the lack of clarity around the status of their workforce during the pandemic. For instance if a self-employed person is actually a worker, this would allow them to be eligible for furlough.
Are your staff handbooks up to date? In particular, did you pay attention to the changes in employment law that have taken place in the last 12 months?
Your handbooks will need updating since the outbreak of Covid-19 to ensure that your health and safety policies reflect the requirements. You will need to check your policies around IT, confidentiality, use of company devices and working from home policies if you have staff working from home.
Having a decent, up to date handbook has many benefits; it will provide clarity for staff, gives them reassurance that you as an employer have considered their needs, and it will ultimately provide protection and structure for the business.
It’s also important to ensure your management team know the policies of the business and have had training on them, enabling them to provide both leadership and consistency.
Since April 2018, businesses with more than 250 employees have been required to publish data comparing the earnings of their male and female employees.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the gender pay gap from 2017 to 2018 stands at 8.6% among full-time employees.
Regardless of the size of your business, it is imperative that you continue to monitor the gender pay gap and ensure that you are implementing a transparent and fair pay structure regardless of gender. How are you getting on with yours? Is your gender pay-gap closing? If not, what steps can be taken to improve this?
5. HR Admin
Are you on top of your admin? For example, have you organised probationary reviews for your new starters?
It’s particularly important to remember that if you treat those on probation differently to existing staff (i.e. they are not be entitled to bonus, other benefits, have a shorter notice period, may not be able to work from home etc) then they may actually become eligible for these benefits if you have not formally extended the probationary period and communicated this properly – even if they are not performing to a required standard.
6. Holiday and Wellbeing
Finally, what measures have you got in place to ensure that your people take their all of holiday this year? We frequently talk to businesses who are struggling with the operational challenge of ensuring that staff take their holiday entitlement by the year end and this will only be made more difficult given the impact of Covid-19.
Not taking holiday can lead to a whole list of issues such as burn out, illness, stress, and damage to morale (not to mention the fact that it is contrary to the working time regulations). Rolling over holiday to the next year is an acceptable practice and is now permitted where staff cannot take leave due to issues associated with Covid-19 but it’s certainly not best practice, and should be avoided where possible. Carryover also provides headache for you as employers.
This is a tricky topic for employers at the moment. We are hearing of difficult conversations taking place with employers compelling employees to take leave whilst on furlough or during lockdown. Employees would prefer not to take it as they cannot travel as they may have done if they had the chance.
Despite this, employees should be encouraged to take rest for their wellbeing and if working from home, this is really important to ensure they are getting that separation from home and work.
Need more help?
DAS UK customers have access to templates and guides on www.dasbusinesslaw.co.uk to help with keeping your business in order. DAS Businesslaw can be accessed via the voucher code in your policy provider’s documentation.
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Hayley Marles is a senior associate at DAS Law.
Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.