Summer of Sport
With the hectic summer season fast approaching – and not just any summer, a summer packed with sport – what advice regarding potential employee problems can you offer?
The main employee relations issues for retail employers at this time of year tend to be managing high levels of staff absences – whether it be dealing with competing holiday requests, arranging sufficient cover or staff simply not turning up to work. Staff also often display low attention/concentration levels and are easily distracted when they do make it into work in the summer months.
This summer, in addition to these usual problems, retailers will have to deal with staff wanting to attend or watch sporting events. With Wimbledon, the Olympic Games, the Ryder Cup following the European Football Championships, it is set to be a season of sport. You may face additional problems with lateness, absence and productivity due to this, or unauthorised absence if employees end up stuck in France as a result of the strikes.
The law: All employees have a right to a minimum of 5.6 weeks paid holiday, including your casual and part-time time staff. If an employee requests holiday during a time which is inconvenient to your business because of, for example, an increase in trade during that particular period and/or insufficient staff cover, then you can refuse. You can also make it a term of their contract that no holidays may be taken during certain times of year, such as August if that is your busy season.
• You should ensure that your managers (or whoever prepares the rotas) arrange cover for pre-arranged holidays in advance, or have back-up cover in mind in the event of last-minute staff shortages;
• Encourage your employees to work additional overtime hours to cover for colleagues who are on annual leave. You could do this by, for example, offering it as a way of them earning more money for their summer holidays. You can agree temporary variations of contract to increase their hours or offer overtime hours on an ad hoc basis. You may even be able to offer overtime hours at a higher rate of pay to incentivise employees who work more hours.
The law: You can formally address sickness absence with employees and can generally issue warnings if they fail to attend work frequently in relation to sickness absence. You are permitted to enforce an absence reporting procedure which states when employees must telephone to report their sickness absence and who they must speak to in person when they are not able to come in. You can generally dismiss employees with less than two years’ service if they take too much time off work – subject to some exceptions, such as if time off was related to an illness or childcare problems.
• Make sure your managers monitor staff sickness absence and that they conduct return to work meetings;
• If an employee has high absence levels, invite them to a formal meeting to issue a warning;
• Take advice before dismissing an employee for absence reasons , even where they have less than 2 years’ service;
• Ensure that your managers are creating a high expectation culture regarding attendance and deal with any sickness absence quickly, consistently and fairly.
The law: You can implement workplace rules which remind employees to switch off their mobile devices, focus on work, specific rules relating to what is and what is not permitted on the shop floor and to arrive at work on time. You can implement these, for example, in the handbook and/or by displaying notices in the staff room. You can seek agreement with employees to enable them to watch particular sporting events and vary their working hours by agreement but be aware of potential discrimination pitfalls. If you allow all British employees time off to watch Andy Murray in the Wimbledon finals but do not allow German employee time off to watch France v Germany in the football, you could face discrimination claims.
• Much can be gained by agreement and a light touch approach, but if it begins to affect your business, you have every right to challenge employees who are not working effectively during their paid working hours;
• Seek advice if you face any complaints about discrimination.
Whether you decide to manage your current workforce or increase it; or need to issue absence management warnings or new workplace rules it is a good idea to seek advice first.
Sonia Tse, Employment Law Advisor, Ellis Whittam