This month our H&S Advisor, Shaun Allan, talks about the effects Brexit may have on health and safety practices. Then Joanne Fearon, our HR Advisor, discusses the pros and cons of flexible working – is it the way forward?
As ever, should you need any support or advice about these or any other health and safety or employment law issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
H&S UPDATE: The effects of Brexit on health and safety
For a large proportion of people, when they think about Brexit, the first thoughts that come to mind are words such as uncertainty, change and upheaval.
One of the many questions asked is “What will this mean for the UK once we leave the EU?”. Workers and businesses seem to have a real concern that leaving the EU will have a major impact on the way health and safety is approached and managed in the UK.
The Health and Safety Executives’ current stance seems to be that very little will change in the management of health and safety. Companies will still be expected to operate within the remits of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and associated legislation, such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. What this means in practical terms is that businesses will still need to adhere to current legislation and manage their operations with proportionate risk and safety management strategies.
The Government will undoubtedly have no appetite to be portrayed as weakening or dumbing down health and safety legislation and will continue to advocate companies doing all that is “reasonably practicable” to adequately safeguard those in their employment and others who may be affected by their acts or omissions.
There is of course a chance that things will eventually change in terms of the role of the courts, for example. Some laws currently in place and their interpretation are derived from EU law and will naturally differ slightly to the interpretation of UK judges.
What do I need to do?
The key thing to remember is that regardless of whatever Brexit the UK ends up with, a Soft Brexit or a Hard Brexit, in the short term at least, very little will change. You will still need to:
- Have a written health and safety policy and management system if you employ five or more people.
- Have suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place for your business.
- Ensure you, as an employer, do all that is reasonably practicable to manage hazards, reduce risks and have appropriate control measures to safeguard your workforce.
- Comply with current legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order 2005) and other legislation.
What does it all mean for employers?
The truth is that none of us can tell definitively what the future will hold after Brexit. Our recommendations for the short term are to carry on as you have been doing, continuing to ensure you follow your policies, procedures and risk assessments, communicate with your employees and ensure continuous reviews and improvements to your health and safety management systems.
HR UPDATE: Flexible Working
This month’s HR Topic is about highlighting to both employers and employees the benefits to flexible working, especially as a new generation enters the workforce and more and more employees struggle with work life balance.
This review is not about the process of how employers should deal with a flexible working request, but more about the benefits employers should consider when reviewing flexible working within their organisation.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working is increasingly in demand, but the number of quality flexible jobs falls well short of that demand. This is an opportunity for employers to do more to provide flexibility for the benefit of all employees and organisations. It is a vital tool which allows companies to improve productivity and performance by offering and promoting flexible working within their organisation.
The types of flexible requests employees can make vary and can include:
- Job sharing: This is where two people do one job and split the hours.
- Working from home: It might be possible to do some or all of their work from home or anywhere else other than the normal place of work.
- Working part time: Working less than full-time hours (usually by working fewer days).
- Flexitime: The employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain ‘core hours’, for example 10am to 4pm every day.
- Staggered hours: The employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers.
The above options have led to the rise of flexible working, from an ever-growing number of employees who want to work remotely or have greater flexibility in terms of work hours. A study in 2018 found that 75% of UK employees wanted the option of working flexibly with the trend significantly increasing in 2019. Technology has made it easier than ever to enable remote working. Staff can now access all documents and systems through the cloud, so are no longer reliant on office-based devices, and many organisations are also turning to hot desking, so employees just come into the office when they really need to, and then use any available working area.
Studies have found that companies that embrace the demand for flexible working will also reap rewards, as remote working, flexible working hours etc improves work life balance and leads to healthier, happier and more productive employees. For HR and employers, the main challenge will be to convince leaders with long held beliefs that flexible working will lead to employees exploiting their new-found freedom, resulting in a drop in productivity.
Benefits of flexible working for employers
- Employee retention: This is probably the most important benefit of flexible working. A CIPD survey estimated that about 76% of over 2,500 managers surveyed cited retention as one of the more popular employer benefits of flexible working. Offering the option strengthens employee loyalty to a company as well as encouraging long-term commitment, which enhances the company culture and reduces the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.
- Productivity: Stressed and over-worked employees are more likely to take more sick days or quit their job than ones who aren’t. Flexible working can tackle stress by promoting a happier, loyal and more balanced workforce.
- Recruiting: Offering flexible working contributes to attracting potential recruits as much as attractive pay packages does. Research shows that it’s among the top considerations for employees looking for their new role. Workers are now more likely to prioritise companies that offer flexible working hours, as opposed to ones that don’t.
- Extended opening hours: There is the opportunity to extend your company’s current business hours – allowing employees to work outside of your normal hours make for a more satisfied clientele.
Other benefits of flexible working hours include increased employee engagement, better quality of new recruits, and increased innovation and creativity within the business.
Benefits of flexible working for employees
- Less stress: Commuting is generally thought of as one of the most stressful daily events of people’s lives. From relentless traffic to jam-packed trains it’s no wonder employees embrace the opportunity to eliminate this from their life. Apart from being an inconvenience, if left unaddressed stress can fester into other mental health issues. So, offering flexible working hours gives staff members the option to manage their time effectively which reduces stress.
- Money saving: Working from home eliminates the costs of everyday commutes. It can also influence more cost-effective purchasing decisions, such as planning ahead for lunch breaks rather than making a last minute dash to a supermarket.
- Job satisfaction: Giving your employees the freedom to manage their time and tasks increases their confidence and sense of ownership over projects.
- Work/life balance: The Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that over 70% of individuals with children are currently in the workforce. With another one in seven employees being responsible for caring for a family member. Offering your employees flexible working options allows them to balance commitments in their personal lives with the demands of their work life.
Disadvantages of flexible working for employers
- Supervision: Some employees working from home may require extra supervision to make sure they’re working productively.
- Fairness: You should be consistent when addressing requests for flexible working. If employees feel that you’re not, they can make discrimination claims at an employment tribunal.
Disadvantages of flexible working for employees
- Work-life balance: Boundaries between an employee’s home and work life may become blurred. It becomes harder to draw a line between when they’re meant to be working and when they’re not. It also means they could be putting in more hours than they’re meant to without noticing.
- Communication: Staff members working from home can use tools like slack and Google hangouts to stay in contact with their colleagues. However, they may struggle with feeling like part of the team, especially if they’re working outside of the normal working hours.
The law and flexible working
Employees may apply for flexible working once they’ve completed 26 weeks of continuous employment with the same employer.
Companies must deal with requests for flexible working in a “reasonable manner”. This includes holding a meeting with the employee to discuss the request and considering whether you should allow it.
If you believe it negatively impacts the business, you can refuse the request. Specific reasons for refusing requests for flexible working include:
- planned structural changes
- the burden of additional costs
- a detrimental impact on quality/performance/ability to meet customer demands
- the inability to recruit additional staff
- the inability to reorganise work among existing staff
- lack of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
In this situation, you must offer an appeal process where employees may try to overturn your decision.
A recent HR survey published in September 2019 found that employees say flexible working is not available and one in three requests to work flexibly are being turned down, which has led to campaigners urging to end ‘outdated’ practices. This has led to renewing calls for changes in legislation, to make flexible working the default position among employers. A proposed bill was submitted to Parliament July 2019, which would see employers offering a choice of specific arrangements rather than employees requesting flexible work. Employers could be forced to make all job roles flexible by default, rather than putting the onus on employees to request flexibility.
Under the flexible working bill, employers would have to make all roles flexible, with employees allowed to choose from a predefined list of flexible arrangements, unless there was a sound business case for why the role could not be done flexibly. Should the bill go forward, the government would consult on the best practices for flexible working patterns and how to help employers who might be nervous to implement such working arrangements with their staff. CIPD have also been campaigning to encourage all employers to advertise all job roles as being flexible
Having said the above, it is understood that there are obstacles in some organisations that mean that flexible working is not available for some, and we also know it is more likely to be managers and white collar professionals who benefit from flexible working policies and practices,
To sum up
There is a strong case for flexibility as a strategic tool to support improved individual and business performance through developing greater diversity, brand competitiveness and increasing levels of job satisfaction and commitment from workers. By restricting the opportunities to work flexibly at the point of hire, employers are cutting themselves off from a valuable proportion of the candidate market.
Suggested advice is that companies should examine the attitudinal and behavioural barriers to effective flexible working that exist in their own workplaces, to be creative and open-minded about flexibility and promote mutual trust in the flexible working arrangements adopted, supported with appropriate people management systems and processes.