This week the Times has reported a new study which shows that absence at work due to depression, anxiety and stress now accounts for a third of all sick leave, apparently up 25% since 10 years ago.
Absences like these cost employers millions every year and can be poorly managed, particularly where the illness is work-related.
The good news is that there are simple steps that employers can take to spot warning signs to help safeguard against this.
Monitoring workloads and making sure employees have the right training and support to carry out their roles is crucial. Bullying & harassment policies setting out expectations for behaviour are key, and using stress risk assessments to identify trigger points are equally important.
A sober consideration for employers if your handbooks are contractual…..
An interesting recent High Court case has confirmed that an employer cannot unilaterally change the terms of a staff handbook in relation to its procedures for managing absence.
The Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for a number of different agencies, each of which has a departmental handbook, broadly similar to that of the others. In this case the issue was to do with trigger points for attendance management. The handbooks allowed employees to have between 8 and 21 days off sick (depending on the agency) before a formal attendance process was triggered, and the policy was stated to be contractual.
The DfT wanted to bring in changes to its attendance policy and following unsuccessful negotiations with its trade unions it decided to unilaterally impose a change such that the trigger point would now be 5 days or 3 occasions of absence within a rolling 12 month period.
In a group legal action 7 claimants working across different agencies took the matter to court. They sought a declaration that the changes were not binding and that their original contracts of employment subsisted.
The High Court agreed and granted the declaration. They decided that the change was detrimental to the claimants and that the DfT was not entitled to make these changes unilaterally. The original position remained. Whilst this case was “fact specific” and is more complex than a brief blog allows, there is a moral to this story:
– employers may be better off stating their policies to be non-contractual if they want to make unilateral changes.
I recently took a case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) with Game Retail Ltd where an employee had been dismissed for posting offensive comments on his private Twitter account.
Whilst none of the offensive tweets were directed at Game or any of its employees, this individual did use his Twitter account to follow a number of Game stores, some of whom followed him in return.
At the employment tribunal hearing the tribunal found that the claimant was using Twitter predominantly for his own personal use and in his own time, and that whilst the Tweets were offensive if viewed, there was no evidence to suggest that they had been viewed and that offence had been taken. Therefore it was not reasonable for Game to dismiss the employee.
The EAT disagreed and found, amongst other things, that there was a sufficient link between the claimant’s Twitter account and his work, given that he was using that account to follow stores and that one of Game’s employees had reported the offensive nature of the Tweets to Game in the first place. The claimant had made no attempt to restrict his Tweets from being seen by anyone other than his personal acquaintances and had not set up a separate account for his work.
This case is the first reported case of its kind. It serves as a very useful reminder that employers should put in place and communicate to all employees a clearly worded social media policy that sets out exactly what conduct is considered acceptable or unacceptable, and makes it clear as to whether that extends to a person’s private social media account.
I have recently recorded a podcast discussing this case and giving some guidance to employers dealing with these issues.
Employers are required to ensure that anyone employed to drive on company business has the right valid driving licence and qualifications, and repeat checks should be carried out at least annually.
From 8 June 2015 paper counterpart driving licences will not be valid and will no longer be issued by the DVLA.
Currently it is the paper counterpart that records endorsements and penalty points but the DVLA is developing a new digital enquiry service that will enable employers to view the information that the counterpart currently shows.
Until that is launched, which will be later this year (date to be confirmed) there is an existing DVLA service that will confirm the validity of a licence, the categories of vehicle that the driver can drive, whether there are any current endorsements and whether the driver is disqualified. There is a £5 fee for this service and it does require the consent of the driver.
The Government is now rolling out the new Fit to Work scheme, which is a funded occupational health service whose purpose is to help employers manage sickness absence in the workplace.
There are two elements to the scheme.
Firstly, there is information available both on the website (www.fitforwork.org) and via an advice line (0800 032 6235), and this is available to employers, employees and GPs.
Secondly, there will be a phased roll out of an occupational health referral service in which employers can refer employees who have been off sick for four weeks or more. Specialist occupational health professionals will identify barriers that are preventing an employee from returning to work and produce a return to work plan to help facilitate a return.