Understanding more about Forensic HR

The background

We are all aware that the police use forensic techniques to collect evidence and build a criminal case. Likewise many will be aware of the growing discipline of Forensic Accounting and Taxation which often results in expert witness presentations in court for criminal or civil actions.

Forensic HR (FHR) is still quite rare in the UK partly because of how HR practitioners are trained.  Initially they qualify with the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) who don’t recognise or promote FHR and then most of their CPD is in the form of legal updates led by lawyers whose risk adverse cautious approach is infectious. Lawyers are informed by case law which is basically the latest legal argument or debate.  Interestingly recent case law allows employers to monitor private telephone calls if they have reasonable cause to do so.

Forensic HR is more common in countries like America, South African and Australia.

Ultimately anyone in dispute wants a swift resolution and the law allows companies to agree Settlements with employees without going through a protracted disciplinary process although the majority of companies seem to go through a long process as advised by their HR department, legal helpline or lawyers before they agree to settle. Likewise good contracts of employment will usually have the provision for reasonable investigations if the employer has just cause.

What is it?

In a nutshell the Forensic HR expert is called in to hear an allegation or suspicions regarding an individual, group of individuals or a company. Often the individual or company has an outstanding complex case and what is required is new or fresh evidence to present a counter claim or new angle and help close the matter.

The Forensic HR expert will always ensure there is just cause to investigate and that any investigations don’t stray out of a tight and agreed remit. Likewise if they feel there are any medical concerns they will ensure those are closed off before and if they proceed. Any investigations must meet the high standards demanded by the CIPD code of conduct and be both ethical and lawful.

Typical investigations can include:

  • Private investigators – for cases like sickness absence where there is good reason to suspect the case is not genuine or theft where stock is going missing or where the company wishes to investigate a potential new senior employee
  • Forensic laboratory techniques – To restore a document to it’s original state like a taxi receipt, set of accounts, or hard copy notes from a meeting.
  • CV, qualification & background checking services – to verify that every piece of information given to the employer is 100% correct.
  • Social media searches – it is quite common for employees to put information on social media and therefore in the public domain that is useful to a FHR investigation.
  • PC, mobile and other devices investigations – Looking at this in-house or sending it away to recreate deleted files. Particular focus on emails sent by the employee externally.
  • Interviews as part of a Protected discussion which present select pieces of evidence and use of intensive interviewing techniques designed to stress test the individuals case & resolve.
  • Time recording evidence – Many companies have systems which track how long employees are in the office or online. This information can be very useful.

The skill with Forensic HR is to gather just enough evidence to help present a case and agree a settlement.  The purpose is always to avoid paying out large sums due to fear or management incompetence. The forensic HR expert will often be looking in a different area to the one the complaint originated from.

Forensic HR takes a brief from the highest level within a company and needs an “Access All Areas Pass” to carry out a thorough investigation & present a report and recommended actions. Often we may take charge of negotiations with the employee regarding a swift exit or they can work closely with the in-house HR team, employment lawyers etc

A Forensic HR case

A great example of a successful Forensic HR case was a large firm of brokers who employed a well connected female broker whose nationality was Greek. She enjoyed lots of flexibility from her employer including 10 weeks paid leave to return to Greece when her father was ill.

One evening when her boss had gone home without signing out, she accessed his emails (without his permission) and saw that he had referred to her as a “bubble” in a jokey conversation with a collegue about how long she took off. He had said “These bubbles take a lot of time off”. (From the Cockney rhyming slang – bubble and squeak – Greek).

She immediately complained to HR that this was racially offensive and as the Director admitted he had said it, he was suspended pending an investigation.  He made a lot of money for the firm and was unable to trade. The firm were advised by a lawyer they consulted that as racism was discrimination, the total compensation paid out could be excessive as it would be uncapped.

Amelore were brought in by the CEO who was flabbergasted by this and wanted an alternative viewpoint. We quickly investigated and presented a case to show that she had regularly altered her taxi receipts to claim expenses relating to the weekends & also traded over her limit. Neither had been picked up or challenged as staff were frightened of her.   

She also had no right to access her bosses emails without permission which was a disciplinary matter in itself. She was a registered person with the FCA so when dismissed for gross misconduct it was the end of her career.  She was not entitled to any notice or other pay.

As part of our service we did some training with the HR team who had failed to see the bigger picture.

Can any HR practitioner have a go at Forensic HR?

Forensic HR should only be practiced by individuals with long experience of Employee Relations; a good understanding of employment and other relevant legislation, human behaviour and the right type of inquisitive, intelligent, objective and impartial approach. Training is recommended. Equally it is much harder to practice Forensic HR as an in-house practitioner. As the employer you have a duty of care to the individual you are investigating and this can present a conflict of interest. Likewise the trust and confidence in HR by the rest of the workforce may be damaged by your actions.

Criminal cases

Whilst most companies choose not to pass information on to the Police once an investigation is concluded, some of our clients have done this for extremely serious cases which have resulted in custodial sentences.  All our investigations are highly confidential however, if we come across anything that is criminal, involves children or vulnerable persons we will immediately notify the relevant authorities.

A good result

Ultimately Forensic HR is about saving the Company money – reducing a potential liability by introducing and presenting a stronger case. But equally its about leaving the organisation in a better and stronger place. Our final debrief with the CEO/COO/FD/HRD is a critical and important part of the process.

If you are interested in finding out more about Forensic HR or arranging some training for your HR team, do get in contact with us.

www.amelore.com

How to avoid Tribunal Claims for your company.

tribunalTribunal claims have dropped significantly since the introduction of fees. Despite this many organisations (including legal firms) still sell HR services linked to Tribunal insurance, which introduces a risk adverse much slower pace and lengthy process for resolving disputes. Failure to follow advice or a long winded process

In the most expensive pay-outs for 2015, it is easy to see both a public sector bias and also a theme regarding the types of claims. For instance, due to the Equality Act, any situation where your approach to staff with additional protection may deemed to be unfair might leave your business exposed.

Ensuring you are treating all your staff fairly and even handedly will be important. Likewise getting good pragmatic advice as early as possible if you have any concerns. Ask whoever you are going to work with if they have ever lost a Tribunal? We haven’t in 25+years across a variety of sectors and we are very proud of that fact.

Personnel Today have done a great summary to round up the six-figure employment tribunal awards that employers were ordered to pay in 2015, with a total compensation amounting to £2.5 million.

Expensive employment tribunal awards: six-figure sums in 2015 

  1. Large award for caste discrimination claimant

In Tirkey v Chandok and another, a claimant who brought a groundbreaking caste discrimination case was awarded a total of £266,537.

  1. Employees dismissed after raising commission concerns

In Gilmore and others v Vodafone Ltd, five salespeople who were dismissed after complaining about how their commission worked were awarded £264,349. 

  1. Mismanagement of sick leave was disability discrimination

In Turner v DHL Services Ltd and another, the claimant was awarded £257,127 over his employer’s lack of support when he went off sick as a result of work-related stress.

  1. Redundancy of mother of disabled child

In J v H Ltd, the employer was required to pay out £251,460 to the mother of a disabled child over the way in which her redundancy was handled.

  1. Dismissal of employee with acute anxiety

In Marcelin v Hewlett Packard Ltd, a claimant who was disciplined for, among other things, his refusal to consent to the release of a medical report was awarded £239,913 for disability discrimination. 

  1. Large award for senior NHS whistleblower

In Sardari and another v South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and another, the employment tribunal found that a senior NHS manager who raised concerns about an alleged biased recruitment process was subjected to a detriment for making a protected disclosure. She was awarded £228,778.

  1. Deceased London Underground worker in large payout

In O’Sullivan v London Underground Ltd, a deceased London Underground worker was awarded £223,869 for disability discrimination. In the event of a successful claimant’s death, the tribunal award goes to the claimant’s estate.

  1. Disability discrimination against ME sufferer

In A v S, an employee with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) was able to show that the way in which a move to a new role and her subsequent absences were handled was discriminatory. Her compensation totalled £192,656. 

  1. Financial officer dismissed after accounting disclosure

In Nishioka v C&S Shops Ltd, a financial officer who was suspended and summarily dismissed after raising accounting concerns was awarded £184,741 in a tribunal. 

  1. Employer admits constructive dismissal

In Asare-Brown v Mortgage 27 Ltd, an employer that admitted that it constructively dismissed a web designer after non-payment of wages was required to pay £130,702.

Median employment tribunal awards 2014/15

Sex discrimination: £13,500

Disability discrimination: £8,646

Race discrimination: £8,025

Age discrimination: £7,500

Unfair dismissal: £6,955

Sexual orientation discrimination: £6,000

Religious discrimination: £1,080

THE REAL COST OF GETTING IT WRONG

Generally the cost of getting it wrong is much bigger than the actual claim. Management time, morale and reputation, retention and if it gets in the press it can affect sales.

At Amelore we have a tailored our services to help business grow quickly and feel confident about making the right decisions. We have never lost a Tribunal (as a company) or in the history of Ruth Cornish our founder who has worked in a variety of sectors including the City and the Public Sector.

Call us on 01453 548070 if you’d like to discuss your needs.

 

HR – how does it work in an emergency?

For many years I worked at the Environment Agency and without doubt everyone got involved when there was flooding. As a senior manager I used to take turns with other managers to be a Duty Manager (and give the Regional Director a rest) and lead our region‘s response to any emergency situations over the weekend.

One weekend in particular in July 2007 sticks in my mind. The summer floods rudely interrupted everyone’s plans including mine for my daughter’s first birthday and I spent all weekend on the phone organizing sandbags and staff, to send to other parts of the country to stop people’s homes being flooded. It was serious life changing stuff.

As an HR professional I am aware that there are knock on effects. When I returned to my desk on Monday our organisation was in full scale GOLD alert mode in response to the flooding we were dealing with. This involved most of our staff and as the lead operational HR team we also went into Emergency response mode.

The recent weather has caused me to reflect on what I learnt then.

HR in times of EMERGENCY

Manage people by supporting them

Managing people in times of emergency is very different from when your organisation is in a steady state. From an HR perspective it is all about anticipating and facilitating everyone doing their job. This may include organising accommodation, refreshments, staff briefings, block booking rooms and drafting communications. Turn your hand to things you many not normally turn your hand to. Make it your job to constantly be aware of what needs to be done.

Staff health, welfare and stress

You will see people giving 110% and doing as much as they can. You will want to be among them checking in on them. Everyone from the CEO to the staff on the frontline. People in these situations need nudging: to sleep, to eat, to take time out and hand over to others. To talk about how they are feeling. We drafted in teams of counselors to support anyone that wanted to talk to them.

In particular media interviews can cause great stress and often people get caught in the spotlight with little training. Big organisations have experienced media teams to provide support and council – but HR need to be on the ball too, every employer has a duty of care whatever the situation.

Giving bad news

Whilst we didn’t lose anyone during the floods we were constantly checking on the welfare of all our staff and family were getting in touch if they hadn’t heard. It was tempting to give lots of extra information (especially as people would plead with you) but of course we had to check who they were and stick to facts – speculation is not appropriate during a crisis. Data Protection was still important and we were all mindful of that.

We did have a moment when a staff member went missing and we had to notify the next of kin. We involved the police as we are not trained to give such news and worked collaboratively with them. Luckily they were found working with another team. As part of our review of the emergency response, we ensured that all staff understood why following our strict protocols was important. Losing staff members in this situation can cause ripples as far as the House of Commons!

Document what you’re doing

In any large organisation the people at the top, the general public, the media will want regular updates and you will want to keep a record of the decisions you made and the facts you had to hand. If you are in a leadership role, take care to document at least three times a day what is happening – morning, afternoon, evening. The public sector and first responders have these systems in place already – but if your company, charity or organisation has a supporting role in an emergency, it’s worth you doing the same.

Don’t be a hero

Being in a support role may not be exciting but staying calm, consistent and centered to support everyone else is really important. Also not running yourself into the ground and following the advice you have dispensed to others. Lead by example and others will follow. Just as they will if you run around red eyed and a bit ragged.

Plan for the emergency to continue

Flooding emergencies in particular can go on for some weeks – and even your core office-based staff team may be needed to work emergency hours for some time. If the emergency is localized then many of your staff will be directly affected and not able to get to work. Think about which services are essential and which ones can wait. Plan a staff rota to ensure everyone gets a rest but that essential services are delivered. Things like payroll must continue, even in an emergency, staff being paid on time is one of the most important things you must do.

Brief and Debrief everyone

Even if your role is one of co-ordination, ensure that the workforce are regularly briefed about what is going on. If possible do this face to face so staff can ask questions. Many will want answers to questions. You may have a separate emergency budget they can tap into or need to put in an emergency rota or check that people know they can talk to you if they are worried. Take care about shouting out big successes as this can later embarrass you if it causes others to mirror the behavior which then causes problems.

Praise and thank staff

A good timely (so quite soon afterwards) de-briefing which includes naming and praising by senior management is critical. I was never prouder of the Environment Agency and my own HR team than when we were in Rapid Response mode. Highly professional, compassionate, supportive.

My thoughts are with anyone affected by the flooding.

Making sure it’s a Merry Christmas

Christmas holidays – planning & managing absence

Christmas is a time of celebration for many and employers can help the festivities by planning ahead especially for holiday requests and/or managing absences.

Christmas and the workplace

The Christmas season has a big impact on most businesses and employees in the UK. It’s also a time when there is will be extra demand for products, services and sales in some businesses whilst others may experience a quiet period or may shut completely for Christmas.

Many employees will doubtless request time off for family time, holidays or attend religious services. Employees working over the Christmas period may experience different working patterns, a change in the nature of their workload or face difficulties getting to and from work. It’s also a period when some industries might need extra support and will take on seasonal workers.

Christmas bank holidays

This year the 25 December 2015 falls on a Friday which is a Bank Holiday in the UK. Boxing Day (26 December 2015) falls on a Saturday which means Monday 28 December 2015 is a Bank Holiday. There is no right to have either day away from work or taken as paid time off unless terms of the employment contract allow otherwise. Paid public holidays can be counted as part of statutory annual leave.

There is no legal right to paid leave for public holidays. Any right to paid time off for these holidays depends on the terms of a worker’s contract. Paid public holidays can be counted as part of the statutory 5.6 weeks of holiday.=<a

Annual leave over the Christmas period

An organisation’s annual leave policy should give guidance on how to book time off. However, employers may wish to look at being a little more flexible when allowing employees leave during this period.

Employees should remember however that this may not always be possible as it could be one of the busiest times of the year for the organisation. The key is for both parties to try and come to an agreement and to plan as early as possible while being fair and consistent with all staff.

Some employers may need to restrict annual leave over the Christmas period which is completely acceptable however this must be stated in the contract of employment, implied from custom or practice, or incorporated into individual contracts from a collective agreement.

Restricting leave can take many forms, but some of the most common are:

  • shutting down for certain periods while workers have to use their annual leave entitlement
  • nominating particular dates as days of closure when workers are expected to take annual leave
  • determining the maximum amounts of leave that can be taken on any one occasion and also the periods when leave may be taken
  • determining the number of workers who can be off at any one time.

Sickness absence during the Christmas season

An organisation’s usual sickness policy will apply during this time. This policy should be managed and operated fairly and consistently for all staff. Levels of attendance should be monitored during this period in accordance with the associated policy. Any unauthorised absence or patterns in absence (eg high levels of sickness or late attendance) could result in formal proceedings.

Where an employee is sick or absent from work on a day they requested off but were refused or the day after a work Christmas party, normal sickness policies and procedures would apply.

Updating your holiday policy or contract or advice

If you find your contracts or holiday policy need updating or redrafting or you want some specific advice about a situation do call us. Our number is 01453 548070. Our last working day is 18 December 2015 beyond our usual 24/7 emergency service for our retained clients.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Is everyday sexism really a legal issue?

My blog post and outraged response to the Guardian’s Dear Jeremy column back in May, remains one of my most read and shared.

Here’s a reminder if you missed it http://blog.amelore.com/2015/05/02/its-2015-but-my-interviewer-wanted-to-know-how-id-juggle-work-and-motherhood-an-alternative-response/

Many of you have asked me if I ever received a reply. Well yes I did. But it was so disappointing that it just outraged me even more.

Fortunately I had a kick-boxing class to take it out on.

So here it is, the official response from the Guardian.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 11.11.52
From: Readers editor – reader@guardian.co.uk

Date: 13 May 2015 at 15.21

Thank you for your email about the Jeremy Bullmore column, which was forwarded to this department. We received a number of emails about this column and have discussed them with both Bullmore and his section editors. Bullmore says that he does make clear that he is not qualified to deal with matters of employment law, and that much of the advice he offers every week is along the lines that mutual understanding leads to happier outcomes than immediate recourse to the law. 

However, he recognises the points you make in your email, and his section editors will be keeping a closer eye on the column in future.

Best wishes

Barbara Harper

#EverydaySexism

Never has the hashtag #everydaysexism been more appropriate than now.

Does anyone truly need to be an expert or qualified in employment law to know whether something is sexist or not? Absolutely not.

So Dear Jeremy doesn’t think his reply is sexist and I’m afraid Dear Reader neither does his Editor. Whilst the role of a columnist is to give their personal view – and court controversy – I believe that in this case, the Guardian has a responsibility and a vicarious liability to comply with the Equality Act and ensure others do as well. I hate to say it, but this editorial team needs some equalities training.

This response is especially disappointing as it comes after Katherine Viner was appointed as editor-in-chief of the Guardian. The first woman to run the newspaper in its 194-year history. One assumes that the competitive selection process she won, beating 25 other candidates, didn’t ask her gender specific questions or assume she was less capable of committing to and doing a good job because she was female?

Commenting on her appointment, Viner said “I intend to lead a media organisation that is bold, challenging, open and engaging.

This particular reader isn’t seeing much evidence of that yet.

True equality in 2015 still seems to be aspirational rather than achievable or just the norm. We have to do much more about this if we are not to see whole generations of women under achieving because of the unconscious bias that is the foundation of the workplace.

If you’d like to do something about it, contact me.

 

Planning your Christmas party – don’t let it all go wrong

Whilst we appreciate that some will say that it is “only” November and therefore too early for a festive article, our local council has started decorating the town with Christmas trees and fairy lights and so, as far as we are concerned, the festive countdown is on!

A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) case of MBNA Limited v Jones (UK EAT / 0120/15/MC) is a good example of a staff night out gone wrong.

The Background Facts

MBNA Ltd (the “Bank”) hosted a corporate event to celebrate its 20th anniversary. All staff were told that it was a work event and that normal standards of behaviour and conduct would apply and any misbehaviour would be subject to the Bank’s procedures and guidelines.

An employee called Mr Jones (the “Claimant”) together with other employees had started drinking prior to the event. At an early stage of the evening, the Claimant was kneed in the back of his leg by another employee to which the Claimant responded by licking his fellow employee’s face. Onlookers considered the incident to be no more than “fun / banter”.

Later in the evening the Claimant was again kneed in the leg and at this stage the Claimant punched his fellow employee in the face. The corporate event then ended and the night continued with some employees going to a local nightclub. While the Claimant was inside the nightclub, his fellow employee waited outside and sent the Claimant a number of text messages threatening to (inter alia) “rip your ******* head off”.  However no further incident did in fact occur.

The Bank conducted a disciplinary investigation and brought charges against both the Claimant and the other employee. The Claimant was charged with, among other things, punching his colleague and behaviour which could harm the reputation of the Bank.

The Claimant claimed self-defence however he was was dismissed. His colleague, however, was not and received a final written warning in circumstances where it was found that the inappropriate text messages were made as an immediate response to the Claimant hitting him.

The Claimant brought a claim for unfair dismissal, arguing that he had been subject to inconsistent treatment which was unreasonable. The Employment Judge agreed with the Claimant and found the dismissal to be unfair.  The matter was thereafter appealed to the EAT.

The EAT overturned the Employment Tribunal’s decision. In particular, the EAT noted that the Employment Judge had not, when considering any argument on disparity, expressly drawn a distinction between a deliberate punch in the face at what was designated to be a workplace and a threat afterwards that was never carried out.

Lessons Learned

This case is but one further example in a body of case law which has arisen as a result of behaviour and acts committed at social events and/or Christmas parties which are considered to be an extension of the workplace. It is most definitely the season to be jolly and whilst an employer can’t always stop bad behaviour, induced by alcohol or general festive exuberance, it can manage the expectations of staff so that everyone knows the standards of conduct that will be expected from employees at work social events and the consequences if these are not maintained.

While it may be too early to wish readers a Merry Christmas, planning the office Christmas party should act as a timely reminder to employers to ensure that company disciplinary, harassment and discrimination policies are in force and up to date.

And that everyone understands that they are bound by them. No matter how senior.


Have a wonderful party.

Do As You Would Be Done By – Working With Associates

 

For us the most important thing is to give our clients flexibility and the right expertise, no matter what issue crops up. It’s also about running a fluid business that can change and expand when it needs to.

We work with a group of trusted (and vetted) freelance HR professionals but we put simple systems in place to ensure that their work represents the standards we set for ourselves. We insist all documentation is stored on our secure shared drives, that all work or advice is quality checked and we hold regular case conferences. We also offer payroll, HR software and other integrated services that it is harder to replicate as a freelancer. We recognise that flexibility and professionalism are key… on both sides.

We also reward our freelancers for their efforts. If a freelancer comes to work for us and brings existing clients, we charge no mark up on that work, if they want to use our systems and bill through us. Maybe even benefitting from our P.I. insurance cover. It helps us grow our business and develop a rewarding supportive relationship with them.

If an associate takes a client

But what if an associate does go behind your back and work directly for a client? We know this happens and what it
should do is provide an opportunity to look at your own business and find out why. Is there a wider issue? Was your client concerned about cost and are they getting a better service working directly with an individual. Maybe your systems, response times or SLAs need reviewing.

It’s obviously in breach of your associate’s agreement with you to do this but perhaps they’ve taken the view short term work is worth more than developing longer term relationships.

So what would Amelore do? It might surprise you to know that we wouldn’t do anything at all. If either party had asked we’d probably have said yes anyway. At the end of the day personal integrity, personal brand and relationships are critical in business. We are all in business to make a living.

Our working motto is do as you would be done by. It influences all our relationships and approach. With clients, staff, suppliers and our business partners. That’s the Amelore way.

Retaining your flexible / seasonal workforce… things to consider

snoopy-charlie-brown-end-of-summerIt is the end of the season now for ‘Happy Holidays’ and most of us are on our way back home for the winter.  Some of us are already thinking about next year though.  You may remember that one of my first postings was about leaving a role from an employee’s point of view.  To bring things full circle, I was considering some pointers for organisations like ‘Happy Holidays’ who are keen to retain their flexible workforce even though there is a break of a few months before work starts again.

Flexible working is becoming more widespread and can be beneficial for both organisations and individuals; after all not everyone wants to work full time, all of the time.  If you have some talented / skilled staff and want to retain them even when work isn’t available what can you do?  Some suggestions could include the following:

  • Does the person know that you would like them to work for you again in the future?  Be explicit about this and make sure that they know that you value their skills and expertise.  Be clear that you would like to offer them work again when it is available.
  • Have an honest, open conversation about the gap in the work and how it affects for you both.  Are you both ok with the gap?  Does the person want to work for you again when the work resumes? (Be clear about both or your expectations.)
  • Are there any other work options coming up?  They may not be the same but they could have tranferrable skills you could use.
  • Assuming the answer is yes, agree how you will keep in touch during the gap.  Keeping in touch means they still feel part of things and will increase the prospects of them returning to you later.  It could be as simple as email newsletters, other corporate updates or even a Christmas card.
  • Do you want them to do any training / skills updating / CPD (continuous professional development) during the gap?  Is this obligatory or just preferable?  (if it’s obligatory are you going to pay them to do it?)
  • Do you want to offer any retainer payments or welcome back payments as an incentive for their return?  Or are there any other benefits you could offer as an incentive to them to return?
  • If they can’t return to work for you, can they recommend you to other colleagues with similar skills and experience who you might want to offer work to?  (this could be another incentive such as a ‘recommend a friend’ scheme.)

Motivated, talented staff are worth a lot – so even if your initial reaction to some of the points above is ‘no’, you might want to really weigh up the costs and advantages again and decide if you really can afford not to do some of these things after all.

So until next season……..  A bientot.

Sports Direct – not the place for the unfit

ambulance_1817580bIf I was the CEO of Sport’s Direct, I would be arranging a swift overview of HR practices after the undesirable press today following a BBC investigation.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the East Midlands ambulance service were called to the head office more than 76 times in two years, for some workers with what was described as ‘life threatening conditions’.

It is apparent that Sports Direct have relationships with recruitment agencies that operate a 6 strike policy for temporary staff. According to this policy, workers can receive a strike for a range of “offences” including:

  • Periods of reported sickness
  • Excessive chatting
  • Excessive or long toilet breaks
  • Using a mobile phone in the warehouse

A document produced by one of the agencies stated that they can end an assignment “at any time without reason, notice or liability”. The article reports that “Former workers said some staff were “too scared” to take sick leave because they feared losing their jobs.”

Unite commented in the BBC article today that it had been told that last year there were about 3,000 agency workers at the Shirebrook headquarters of Sports Direct on zero-hour contracts.

A further 75% of staff across its UK stores are also on zero-hour contracts, with Sports Direct accounting for a fifth of all such contracts in the retail sector, according to Unite.

Sports Direct has also reported accidents in its warehouse have doubled in the past financial year.

Amelore comment

Whilst managing sickness absence is key for any employer it is important that any incentive practices don’t encourage workers to attend work if feeling unwell. This can result in the serious situations that have required ambulance attention that could perhaps have been avoided – ambulances that could be needed elsewhere threatening the health of others.

One should always take care that any practices comply with the Equality Act and that organisations are certain that the reason for absence is not linked to a disability.

We are aware of a primary school Head teacher who has implemented a policy of non-uniform day once a month for all children that have had 100% attendance. The ones that have had even 1 day off, are publically identified because they have to by wear full school uniform.

Naming and shaming young children who don’t decide for themselves whether they are well enough to attend is an extremely poor practice.

Sports Direct’s HR Director, CEO and H&S lead would do well to listen to their workers and union representatives and make some changes to their working practices to ensure any preventive accidents or health problems are prevented NOW.

 

Sickness absence – what do your team mates think?


It’s almost the end of the season here in France. Talking to colleagues the other evening we all commented how fit and healthy we were feeling, despite having a busy few months. Looking at our team as a whole, it was interesting to see how healthy we really have been over the last 4 ½ months.

Now to put this into perspective, we are a team of 11 people, 45% of whom are aged over 40 years, with the two oldest people being in their mid 50s. Gender wise we split 45% male and 55% female. Typically if we were like the average UK workforce as a team we would have lost somewhere around 15 to 30 days through sickness absence over the season, depending what industry sector you choose to benchmark us against. Would you be surprised to hear that between all 11 of us, we have only lost 2 ½ days due to sickness absence?

Some of you will know doubt point out that there is bound to be some seasonal variation to consider, as after all we are in sunny France. That could be true but then the first two weeks of the season were cold and wet, but none of us took time off with colds / flu / respiratory infections.

So what do we put our low sickness rate down to? Having discussed it with colleagues, their views were:

• We are getting plenty of exercise, vitamin D and fresh air, so are generally keeping healthier than back in the UK.
• If someone is ill the rest of the team have to pick up the work. It makes you think twice before deciding that you are too sick to work that day.
• The work still needs doing, so a day’s sick today means extra work tomorrow – perhaps it’s not worth it?
• We only get statutory sick pay, so it’s not worth being sick – we might as well soldier on and do a bit of work rather than none at all.

Certainly a case in point is how others in the team respond to their colleagues being ill. Early in the season, one of the younger team members, L, took a day off with a terrible hangover. L didn’t tell his manager he was off work due to a hangover but everyone in the team knew the reason why. Without prompting various colleagues let L know how disappointed they were with him and how they weren’t prepared to pick up his work again if he made a habit of this. A rather shame faced L came back to work the next day and has not taken a day off sick since (despite a few other heavy drinking nights).

Perhaps something to think about the next time you identify that your sickness rates are higher than you would like them to be. Maybe your team can help, rather than it being a management issue?