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Is your HR policy run ‘by the book’?

Is your HR policy run ‘by the book’?

Everyone knows that having company policies in the workplace is a healthy thing all round. Having in place a staff manual or handbook means both employers and employees know exactly what is expected on both sides of the employment relationship.

Employers should therefore have a whole host of policies in place covering important HR issues ranging from equal opportunities to data protection. But do you know what the legal status of your policies is? You may have thought they were there for guidance purposes, but did you know they could contain serious contractual obligations?

Lara Murray, an employment law specialist with Palmers, explains: “Usually, employers want their policies to offer guidelines only, rather than being part of employees’ contractual terms of employment.

“That way, the policies can largely be changed or updated in line with the needs of the business. If they are part of the employment contract, it is much more difficult for employers to change them and the slightest slip could lead to a legal claim.”

A recent case has highlighted the potential problems for employers. The Department for Transport (DfT), responsible for several agencies including the DVLA, was sued by a group of its employees.

The DfT’s attendance management policy, which was found in the staff handbook, said that disciplinary action for short term absences could only begin once an employee had hit a trigger point of 21 days off in any 12 month period.

The DfT then tried to introduce a new policy which was less favourable to staff, widening the circumstances in which disciplinary procedures would be triggered. A group of employees argued that the original policy needed to remain in place because it had contractual effect and could not be altered unilaterally by the employer.

The dispute was hard fought all the way to the Court of Appeal, which ultimately found in the employees’ favour.

Lara added: “Although the Court’s decision is very fact specific, it serves as a reminder to make sure that the ever growing volume of HR documentation employers are expected to have in place actually does what it is supposed to.”

For further information on all aspects of employment law, please contact us.

Driver shortage in summit spotlight

A leading freight industry body is to hold a special summit to tackle the shortage of qualified professional drivers.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) announced on 12 January that it would hold the Solving the Driver Crisis event on 12 March at the Ricoh Stadium, Coventry.

More than 200 people have already signed up to attend the free summit, which the FTA said would bring together government officials, professional HR advisors and operators to work towards solutions to the driver shortage.

James Hookham, the FTA’s managing director for membership and policy, said: “We are facing a long-term challenge to attract and recruit sufficient people to professional driving. We need to up our game in recruitment practices and start addressing some deep-seated problems in the industry.

“We also need to ensure government and other agencies are on our side and that we make best use of the support and funding that is already available.”

The summit will also offer advice on dealing with driver shortage issues, tapping into government funding and learning how other attendees have overcome the driver shortage problem.

Whether a haulage or other business is seeking to attract new staff, or to retain existing staff by maintaining a strong employment relationship with existing workers, expert legal advice can add real value.

At Palmers, we provide a comprehensive range of employment law and HR services, including auditing existing employment documentation, such as recruitment policies and employment contracts, and advising on any changes necessary to ensure compliance with legal requirements.

We can also advise on new policies that might make the business more attractive to new and existing employees, for example around flexible working. For more information about our employment law services or our HR package, please contact Lara Murray.

Driver shortage in summit spotlight

A leading freight industry body is to hold a special summit to tackle the shortage of qualified professional drivers.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) announced on 12 January that it would hold the Solving the Driver Crisis event on 12 March at the Ricoh Stadium, Coventry.

More than 200 people have already signed up to attend the free summit, which the FTA said would bring together government officials, professional HR advisors and operators to work towards solutions to the driver shortage.

James Hookham, the FTA’s managing director for membership and policy, said: “We are facing a long-term challenge to attract and recruit sufficient people to professional driving. We need to up our game in recruitment practices and start addressing some deep-seated problems in the industry.

“We also need to ensure government and other agencies are on our side and that we make best use of the support and funding that is already available.”

The summit will also offer advice on dealing with driver shortage issues, tapping into government funding and learning how other attendees have overcome the driver shortage problem.

Whether a haulage or other business is seeking to attract new staff, or to retain existing staff by maintaining a strong employment relationship with existing workers, expert legal advice can add real value.

At Palmers, we provide a comprehensive range of employment law and HR services, including auditing existing employment documentation, such as recruitment policies and employment contracts, and advising on any changes necessary to ensure compliance with legal requirements.

We can also advise on new policies that might make the business more attractive to new and existing employees, for example around flexible working. For more information about our employment law services or our HR package, please contact Lara Murray.

Secret recordings ‘can be heard’

Secret recordings made by an employee during grievance and disciplinary hearings were admissible as tribunal evidence, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has ruled.

After the employee made claims of sexual harassment, sex discrimination and constructive dismissal, she secretly recorded conversations made during the internal hearings and during breaks.

Her employer appealed after an employment tribunal ruled that there was no reason why the comments should be treated as an exception to a general rule that relevant evidence is admissible.

Upholding the tribunal decision, the EAT said that the fact that the recordings were made covertly was not in itself grounds for ruling them inadmissible, adding that the tribunal had correctly carried out a balancing exercise that set “the general rule of admissibility of relevant evidence against the public policy interest in preserving the confidentiality of private deliberations in the internal grievance/disciplinary context”.

It said: “It will be for the full tribunal to assess the cogency of the recordings and their impact on the issues which it must determine.”

The Palmers employment law team can provide expert advice on all aspects of employment law, including on putting in place clear employment policies and procedures, to help minimise the risk of claims, and assisting in employment disputes to avoid the need for the intervention of an employment tribunal.

Our services include the provision of a white-branded HR package, which contains guidance, policies, sample documents, such as employment contracts and other information for employers.

Our HR website service is also a cost-effective way to give employees quick access to necessary employment policies and procedures and other relevant documentation, which will help to reduce the risk of employment problems and put employers in a stronger position should a workplace issue or dispute arise. For more information, please visit our website or contact Lara Murray.

Secret recordings ‘can be heard’

Secret recordings made by an employee during grievance and disciplinary hearings were admissible as tribunal evidence, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has ruled.

After the employee made claims of sexual harassment, sex discrimination and constructive dismissal, she secretly recorded conversations made during the internal hearings and during breaks.

Her employer appealed after an employment tribunal ruled that there was no reason why the comments should be treated as an exception to a general rule that relevant evidence is admissible.

Upholding the tribunal decision, the EAT said that the fact that the recordings were made covertly was not in itself grounds for ruling them inadmissible, adding that the tribunal had correctly carried out a balancing exercise that set “the general rule of admissibility of relevant evidence against the public policy interest in preserving the confidentiality of private deliberations in the internal grievance/disciplinary context”.

It said: “It will be for the full tribunal to assess the cogency of the recordings and their impact on the issues which it must determine.”

The Palmers employment law team can provide expert advice on all aspects of employment law, including on putting in place clear employment policies and procedures, to help minimise the risk of claims, and assisting in employment disputes to avoid the need for the intervention of an employment tribunal.

Our services include the provision of a white-branded HR package, which contains guidance, policies, sample documents, such as employment contracts and other information for employers.

Our HR website service is also a cost-effective way to give employees quick access to necessary employment policies and procedures and other relevant documentation, which will help to reduce the risk of employment problems and put employers in a stronger position should a workplace issue or dispute arise. For more information, please visit our website or contact Lara Murray.

Post-natal depression dismissal ‘not discriminatory’

The dismissal of a woman on sick leave with post-natal depression was not discriminatory, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has ruled.

In a case reported in March, the woman had gone on sick leave on expiry of her maternity leave, following a diagnosis of moderately severe post-natal depression, and was dismissed after about a year’s absence.

She then brought claims for unfair dismissal, direct sex discrimination and/or pregnancy and maternity discrimination. After the discrimination aspects of the claim were rejected by an employment tribunal, she appealed to the EAT.

Pregnancy discrimination under section 18 of the Equality Act 2010 only occurs where a woman is treated unfavourably during a protected period, which runs from the beginning of the pregnancy to the end of maternity leave.

The EAT found the legislation made clear that pregnancy and maternity discrimination could not occur when the alleged treatment happened outside the protected period. It also found that even if illness was related to pregnancy, if it occurred after maternity leave it should be treated in the same way as any other illness.

The EAT said: “When a pregnancy-related illness arises during pregnancy or maternity leave and persists after the maternity leave period, an employer is permitted to take into account periods of absence due to that illness, after the end of maternity leave, in computing any period of absence justifying dismissal, in the same way that a man’s absences for illness are taken into account.”

The Palmers employment team can provide expert advice to employers relating to sickness absence management and advise on and draft policies and content for staff handbooks. We also offer an HR package that includes guidance, policies, sample documents, such as employment contracts, and other information for employers.

For more information, please visit our website or contact Lara Murray.