Supporting working families in the property sector

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that will work for all new families

A good business must evolve with its employees. This might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often the most basic processes are overlooked. There may be a promising employee who began as a young graduate and is now looking to start a family but wants to see that their career can continue to develop. Or a new starter bursting with fresh ideas and experience who needs to leave at 4pm on some days to make the school run.

When it comes to parental leave government policy has already progressed. Shared Parental Leave (SPL) legislation allows parents to divide childcare, and while widespread take-up from fathers is yet to take off it is a promising step forwards and enables mothers to return to work earlier should they wish.

For either parent returning to work after an extended period of time – whether this is six months, the full 12 months or a longer career break to start a family – it’s vital they are supported in slotting back into the work environment. Different projects, different clients, different teams and, in some cases, even a vastly different economic background will be an additional challenge alongside reacclimatising to the work routine. Recognise this is not about making allowances; it’s simply offering enough support and looking at the most effective way to help them back. This will pay dividends when it comes to their overall performance, and retention in the long run.

For a lot of new parents a key concern is how they will juggle commuting with the nursery pick-up, or doctor’s appointments with meetings. A lot of it is about trust – both for the employer and the clients involved. If there is transparency, and upfront negotiation as to when someone will be contactable and when they won’t, it will be a far more productive relationship. If we judge people on their outputs rather than hours spent in the office it will enable us to retain our talent and attract those seeking a good work/life balance.

These issues are part of the reason we recently launched CBRE’s inaugural Diversity Week, which addressed everything from mental wellbeing in the workplace to balancing employment with duties in the Armed Forces. We started the week with a panel debate involving both men and women on ‘The Modern Working Family’, hosted by the Women’s Network and the Family Friendly Group.

During the panel some important points were raised – one of which is the fact that agile working doesn’t necessarily come down to men or women, but individual children and families and their routines. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to when new parents should leave the office every day or how many days a week they should work. Communication is key: regular appraisals allow concerns to be raised as well as for line managers to establish the best route forwards if there are any issues. While it will help to have a framework for line managers to refer back to when addressing these points this has to be equally flexible and evolve over time.

We have upgraded our maternity benefits and revised our flexible working practices to ensure that we retain as many women as possible at every stage of their careers. Today more than a third of CBRE’s UK professional ‘fee-earning’ staff are women, which is two-and-a-half times the property industry average. There have been great strides forward, but there is always more to be done when it comes to ensuring all employees – both men and women – are able to thrive at work regardless of changes in their personal lives.

This article is published coutesy of HR magazine and was written by Sue Clayton (pictured), executive director and chair of the UK Women’s Network at commercial property services provider CBRE

Anti-discrimination laws and the European Court of Human Rights

If the UK leaves the EU, will the ECJ and the ECHR have the final say on employment and discrimination legislation?

When the UK joined the European Union in 1973 it gave up the right to have the final say on employment and discrimination law. UK courts must accommodate European treaties, laws and decisions of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) when bringing in legislation and making decisions. All discrimination law (except for equal pay) is contained within three EU Directives and the UK government is expected to bring in and enforce laws that reflect these.

While we remain in the EU UK court decisions can be challenged in the ECJ because they do not comply with EU law. They can also be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) because we have a Human Rights Act and have signed up to the 47 nation Council of Europe (not the EU) but this will be unaffected by the UK leaving the EU.

In Eweida v British Airways Eweida went to the ECHR saying that the UK courts had been wrong to conclude that BA could justify its corporate dress code that banned jewellery on the grounds of maintaining a corporate image. This policy meant Eweida was unable to wear her Christian crucifix and this had breached Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which says that employees have the right to visibly display signs of their faith, and Article 14, which says they should be free from discrimination in the exercise of this freedom.

The ECHR agreed with Eweida; saying that the ban was not proportionate and the UK courts had given too much weight to the need for BA to maintain its corporate image, especially given the lack of evidence to support that a discreet cross had any effect on corporate image.

It is not just the UK whose decisions are challenged at the ECHR and ECJ. In Achbita v G4S Achbita was a Muslim receptionist in Belgium who wanted to wear an Islamic headscarf but G4S had rules banning employees wearing any religious, political or philosophical symbols while on duty. Achbita lost her claims of direct/indirect discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs in the Belgian courts.

Achbita went to the Belgian Court of Appeal, which asked the ECJ to rule on whether a ban on female Muslim employees wearing a headscarf at work constituted direct discrimination contrary to EU law. The opinion of the ECJ’s advocate general was that it was not direct discrimination and even if it had been, the ban could be justified given G4S’s policy of neutrality and under the ‘genuine and determining occupational requirement’ exemption. However, it is for the courts in Belgium to consider whether the clothing neutrality policy causes undue prejudice to employees. The ECJ can either agree with or ignore this opinion.

Any HR division implementing a dress code that might adversely affect employees, especially on the grounds of religion, needs to ask itself what the purpose of the policy is. Because this will be carefully examined by the courts. Is there a better way of doing it that does not negatively affect those who want to exercise their right to visibly display signs of their faith?

Currently any UK decision is open to challenge at the ECJ on the basis that it is contrary to EU law. If the UK left the EU then the practical effect would be that the UK’s Supreme will have the final word in cases. It is however highly unlikely that current employment and discrimination legislation, which has worked well for years, will be abolished or replaced. However, leaving the EU is unlikely to have any effect on challenges through the ECHR.

This article is published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Beverley Sunderland (pictured), managing director of Crossland Employment Solicitors

One in five wellness schemes will never include financial advice

Almost half (49%) of firms offer financial advice and education, but 18% have no plans to ever offer this

One in five (18%) firms with wellness schemes have no plans to include financial education and advice in their programmes, according to research from the Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA).

Almost half (49%) of firms do offer financial advice and education, according to the Employee Wellness Research 2016 report, and 17% hope to add it to their current wellness strategy in 2016. A further 15% plan to add it at some point further in the future.

Ant Donaldson, global product expert, benefits at E.On, said offering these services could help reduce unnecessary stresses on workers. “Financial issues can be a significant cause of distraction and stress for employees,” he said. “Providing education around financial matters can help support them to make sound financial decisions and hopefully prevent money worries.

“These days staff are faced with far-reaching choices around pensions and other financial products and we feel we should help equip them to deal with those decisions effectively,” he added.

The report also found that 20% of firms with a wellness programme plan to include an alcohol or tobacco use plan in the future, while 69% currently do. Meanwhile 24% hope to introduce a healthy eating scheme (currently already offered by 73%), and 19% are aiming to broaden their strategy to include mental health, something already implemented by 79%.

While more than two-thirds (70%) of those polled have no wellness strategy in place yet, most (98%) were open to the idea. A third (31%) of the group with no strategy plan to implement one within the next year, and a further 35% are looking to expand their programmes in the near but not immediate future. A third (32%) see it as an item on their ‘wish list’, and only 2% had no interest in implementing one.

Beate O’Neil, head of wellness consulting for Punter Southall Health and Protection Consulting, said that wellness is good for both staff and business: “The way employers support and educate employees with health and wellness will, we believe, have a direct impact on productivity and their ability to attract and retain high-quality staff in the future.”

The robots are coming: legalities in the workplace

The use of robotics in the workplace raises new legal questions on leadership, safety and discrimination

Robots will begin displacing many workers in the near future. This raises multiple questions, starting with whether jobs will be lost in the process and what skills employees will need to keep their jobs in that environment. Employers also face legal questions. Robotics introduce many risks and unknowns into labour law, and create working conditions that were unthinkable when much labour legislation was enacted.

The robots are coming. Which robots?

So far humanoid robots have not achieved technological and economic significance in global workplaces. The roughly 300,000 industrial robots placed into operation each year, however, have.

Robots play a big part in the logistics and transport industries. In the service sector robots can now be found in hotels, restaurants and retail. Personal care robots help, entertain, supervise and cater to elderly people. Robot exoskeletons are becoming more popular, allowing people to lift heavy objects, move in a more sustained way, or even walk despite spinal injuries. Exoskeletons in industry can prevent work-related musculoskeletal ailments and absences due to illness and disability.

When a robot is the boss

Hitachi has developed a robot that assigns work tasks to human employees and issues instructions. However, instructions have to stay within the scope of what a human boss is allowed to give, and a human senior manager must take responsibility for the robot’s commands. It is also conceivable that the time will come when an algorithm decides whether to fire employees. A manager robot can make the decision for a dismissal and suggest it, but is not allowed to give somebody notice. Only a human being can legally give notice under most national employment laws.

The occupational safety challenge

Robotics create new prevention challenges regarding occupational safety. Personal care robots challenge the concept of occupational safety because they are used for a variety of tasks in environments that are not precisely defined, because they come into contact with non-specialised users, and because they share the workspace with humans. Therefore safety standards must be defined formally on an international level, as the 2014 ISO standard on personal care robots does.

Collaborative robots – cobots – are a new generation of industrial robots that overcome safety barriers and emerge from behind protective bars. The combined use of cobots and human employees will revolutionise production in factories around the globe. ISO technical specification 15066 spells out safety requirements for collaborative robots, including specific rules for analysing and controlling risks.

Assessing legal risk regarding industrial safety is difficult in a workplace that includes a personal care robot or a cobot. New approaches will be necessary and both humans and robots must be trained to ensure safe contact.

Protection against discrimination

Robotic systems must be programmed so they do not discriminate directly or indirectly. ‘Hiring-by-algorithm’ programs must meet requirements for admissible interview questions and comply with laws against discrimination and disparate impact. Robots that are programmed to ask questions of applicants, answer questions, and measure an applicant’s physiological reactions must adhere to all requirements of privacy protection in employment relationships and the relevant data protection laws.

Exoskeletons can also raise equality and discrimination issues. First, there is the question of whether they should legally be treated as body parts. Second, exoskeletons could become reasonable accommodations. For example, in certain cases an employee may be entitled to such an accommodation from their employer.

Do we need new laws?

Lawmakers must decide whether legal foundations need to be modified or whether entirely new ones are necessary. I think we have to exercise restraint until the necessity for new laws becomes clear. The consequences of robotics in the workplace must be considered in relation to other phenomena such as migration, superannuation and globalisation. It is not primarily robotics that will define what our future will look like.

This article is published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Isabelle Wildhaber (pictured), a professor of private and commercial law at the University of St. Gallen, and director of the Institute for Work and Employment Research

Employers opposed to apprenticeship levy

A lack of available information was a concern among employers, according to a CIPD report

Two-thirds (65%) of employers are either opposed to or undecided about the apprenticeship levy, according to a report from the CIPD.

The research found that while 35% of employers support the principle of the levy, more than a quarter oppose it and 38% say they don’t know where they stand. Opposition to the levy increases among employers that expect to pay it and have calculated the approximate cost, with 47% of such employers opposed to the principle behind the levy and 39% in support.

A lack of available information was also a concern, with more than a quarter (26%) of employers stating that they do not know whether they are expected to pay the levy when it comes in. Only a third of those who expect to pay it (31%) have calculated how much it will cost them each year.

Nearly two-fifths of employers (36%) who have calculated the cost say it will force them to reduce investment in other areas of workforce development, and almost a third (29%) will look to offset the extra costs by adapting training programmes for existing staff so they can be accredited as apprenticeships.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, expressed concerns over the implementation of the levy. “We share the government’s ambition to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships in the UK,” he explained. “However, our research suggests while the levy will boost apprenticeship numbers among some employers, the majority of organisations – particularly SMEs – are unlikely to use levy funding to improve apprenticeship provision.

“Our research also finds that the levy could have damaging unintended consequences. For example, taking investment away from other equally valuable forms of training and development and causing organisations to re-badge existing training schemes as apprenticeships simply to reclaim levy funding. Many large employers, particularly in low margin sectors and the public sector, will have to make significant cuts to their training budgets as a result of the levy, or will simply write it off as a tax.

Employers should do more to end trans discrimination

There’s still more to be done to achieve transgender equality in the workplace

Organisations should be doing more to end discrimination against their trans employees, according to Debbie Hayton, a teacher and a member of the TUC LGBT committee.

Speaking at the Westminster Social Policy forum on policy priorities for transgender equality, Hayton shared some of the stories shared with her by transgender employees.

“One school said they would call the police on a trans member of staff if she presented as a woman,” she said. “One person was told that ‘a person like them’ shouldn’t be allowed to work with children. In the public sector, a woman got fired because she didn’t disclose her trans history before she was employed.

“This is despite the fact that 92% of trans people said they could perform just as well, if not better, after their transition.”

Hayton shared statistics from a Totaljobs report into HR provisions available for trans employees (What’s it like to be a trans employee?) , which found that 60% of trans employees had experienced transphobic discrimination, and 36% had left a job because they felt it was unwelcoming.

“We see that things are getting better, but there is still so much to be done,” Hayton added.

Steve Mulcahy, head teacher of Richard Lander School in Cornwall, expressed concern for the lack of guidance for authorities who want to help their transgender stakeholders.

“When transgender student Charlie joined the school, we put him under the pastoral care of an assistant head teacher. However, they felt out of their depth, as when they looked for guidance, there was precious little available,” he said.

As such, the school worked towards creating their own document advising schools on how to help their trans students.

“I think there’s a belief that areas of the periphery of the country are out of the loop when it comes to inclusion, but I can affirm there is a lot of good will and a fighting spirit out there. I believe people are good, and society can change,” Mulcahy added.

Managing a teen workforce

Managing a workforce of teenagers has unique challenges, not least reputational issues

I’m founder and director of a successful, fast growing business providing services to the retail and leisure industries. Our challenges are the same as those facing any SME, but there is one aspect that sets us apart: our unusual workforce.

Serve Legal is an auditor of age-restrictive sales. We conduct 100,000 tests a year and clients range from major blue-chip multiples, to national pub chains and betting franchises to single-site independent retailers. Our army of young-looking 18- and 19-year-old staff visit supermarkets, discount retailers, betting shops, convenience stores, bars, pubs and clubs across the UK and Ireland, buying age-restricted goods such as alcohol, tobacco and knives. They check that retail staff comply with the law by asking for proof of age ID. In December we recruited our 10,000th ‘visitor’.

Managing a large workforce of teenagers brings some unique challenges, not least that our professional reputation relies heavily on the rigour and consistency of their work. Many join us with little or no work experience, but move quickly into a world of compliance and law. This needs a level of induction, supervision, auditing and report writing that goes beyond that required in other jobs typically taken at this age. Our senior management team finds it hugely rewarding to see – and play and active part in – the transformation of many of our employees from inexperienced teenagers into work-ready, diligent, confident professionals.

Our visitors are digital natives so we’ve created short induction and training videos and use instant messaging, social media and text messages for daily task allocation, communication and engagement.

Risks with remote workforces can be a sense of isolation, distance from brand values, and a lack of camaraderie. We’ve developed an employee engagement programme that ensures our visitors feel motivated and part of a team. This includes: #ImpressEd (a Twitter-based initiative to demonstrate evidence of excellent work); financial incentives for accurate reporting, consistent good quality, high visit volumes and going the extra mile; and ‘Visitor of the Month’ awards.

With our workforce operating in sometimes challenging environments (late night drinking and gambling venues for instance), we take our duty of care seriously. We’ve established a network of regional area managers who provide regular support, mentoring and admin help for visitors locally, and recruit new visitors. Many Serve Legal managers are ex-visitors themselves,

Some of our visitors stay for two years and others just a brief time, but at the age of 20 most ‘retire’. At ‘retirement’ some progress to management positions and some are employed to accompany new visitors on training visits.

Those that leave keep in touch and regularly seek to re-join. Serve Legal has recently moved into retail services such as sell-by date checking, which means we can now extend opportunities to talented older visitors.

Our relationship with our young workforce is mutually beneficial. They do an interesting job that fits around their other commitments, and through which they develop transferable skills. Older members of the workforce benefit from the energy, honesty and fresh thinking our young visitors bring, not to mention being forced to adopt new technologies.

During our 10-year history the work of 10,000-plus visitors has contributed to a rise in compliance. Without the programmes we deliver, harmful products would be widely available to children, without barriers.

This article is published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Ed Heaver (pictured) director of Serve Legal

Big Brother is watching you: employees and TV appearances

What should employers do to prevent potentially damaging television appearances by their staff?

As ‘reality’ TV continues to be popular and broadcasters increasingly use vox pops to seek out public opinion, employers may be fearful of a PR disaster unfolding if their employees get involved. So what can employers do to limit potential damage?

Do you have to accommodate an employee’s request to appear on TV?

Employees have the right to a private life, and their choice to appear on television may fall within this. If you don’t want staff appearing on TV and you have good business reasons for this it could be reasonable to say no.

Set out your concerns in writing, being specific about why you believe the show conflicts with the ethos or image of the company. You could refuse permission, or grant it subject to conditions including on the strict understanding that the individual does not talk about their employer. Explain the consequences of a breach of these instructions fully and you could have grounds on which to discipline if they go ahead regardless.

If it happens anyway

It may not occur to your employee to ask permission, or perhaps they are questioned as an audience member of a programme or stopped on the street for a vox pop. What happens in these situations if they make comments that are inappropriate, embarrassing or offensive?

Prevention is better than cure. You’ll be in a much stronger position if you have warned workers in advance of the standards expected of them. A media policy to make distinctions between what is and isn’t acceptable covers situations where specific permission hasn’t been sought (it could even state that permission must be obtained). Such policies should set out whether the employee is permitted to mention their employer, and if so, to what extent.

When it all goes wrong

Check what the conditions were – if any – of the individual appearing on TV. If you gave clear parameters of their expected behaviour and these has been breached then you could potentially pursue disciplinary action. If you weren’t aware in advance of the appearance but their behaviour has been so bad as to cause harm to your business or reputation then you could still potentially pursue disciplinary action. This applies whether their appearance was on a reality programme or they gave a soundbite.

If you had no conditions in place in advance, or a client has recognised your employee and no longer wishes to work with them, then it should be dealt with in the same way as any other complaint or misconduct. A full investigation is key. It’s important to remember that if there’s no evidence that reputational damage has been, or is likely to be, caused then dismissal may be unfair.

Is this all going too far?

Should employers be interfering in their employees’ personal choice to appear on TV? A careful balance should be struck. A blanket ban on staff appearing on their favourite programmes may create resentment, alienation and encroach on their right to a private life. A case by case approach supported by key guidelines is the best way forward, otherwise before long the employer becomes Big Brother.

This article was published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Chloe Harrold (pictured) an associate at employment law firm Doyle Clayton

The HRD’s pocket guide to IPOs

Our new series explains areas outside day-to-day HR that business-savvy HRDs need to have a handle on

Why do I need to know about it?

According to Danny Harmer, chief people officer at recently publicly listed Metro Bank, the reason the HRD needs to take a keen interest in any potential listing is pretty simple: “As an HRD you are part of the leadership team and this is a massive step [for the business].”

Tom Attenborough, head of UK large caps, primary markets at the London Stock Exchange Group, believes there are a “number of interesting angles for HRDs” when it comes to listing. “You need to understand it because it will fundamentally change the way the business is run,” he explains. “You will have more responsibility to the market and employees will feel differently about the organisation.”

Then there’s the “huge amount” of due diligence HR will need to be involved in, says Nicola Pattimore, HR director at outsourcer Equiniti, which floated at the end of last year. “The amount HR needs to do is second only to finance,” she adds.

What do I need to know?

Attenborough explains there are three stages to an IPO. Stage one, a year before floatation, is your “pre-IPO readiness check”. “You need to be serious about getting your house in order,” he says. “Can you deal with that amount of rigour in your reporting? Start talking to investors and refine your equity story.”

Stage two (six months out) involves working with banks, auditors and lawyers to complete due diligence, creating your prospectus, and briefing research analysts. With a month to go you enter stage three: putting out your intention to float and visiting investor roadshows.

“The Corporate Governance Code is hugely interested in remuneration. There’s a lot of reporting stuff that will catch you out if you don’t start early,” warns Harmer. “Plus you need to think about things like separating the remuneration and nomination committees.”

If you offered share options before going public “this is where it gets real”, Harmer adds. “We had to design a simple way for everyone to understand what they could do with them [their shares].” And be wary of employees cashing out and leaving to start their own businesses, as happened when Facebook floated.

Where can HR add value?

Communication is critical, but when preparing for an IPO you may be constrained in how much you can say; this is a fine line HR will need to walk.

At Equiniti senior leaders were briefed regularly so they could cascade information down, and the executive team “were very clear on what they could and couldn’t say,” says Pattimore.

“There’s a huge role for the HRD in the preparation work,” says Attenborough. “How will you resource it? You’ll be bringing in quite a few heads.”

If culture is a differentiator for your company you might want to consider getting involved in analyst presentations, as Harmer did: “That was terrifying. I was presenting on our culture thinking: ‘This will affect our share price’.”

Attenborough adds that people “underestimate the pressure preparing for an IPO puts on managers”, and that the HRD should be on hand to support the IPO team and play a confidant and coaching role.

Anything else?

Don’t take your eye off the ball. “You’re going to be busy but you still have to do your day job,” says Harmer. And be aware that the day you ring the bell is only the beginning. “Becoming a Plc is the start not the end,” says Pattimore. “There’s a lot of other things you need to do once you are a Plc. You need to be mentally prepared for that.”

Sports Direct founder defends its practices

Sports Direct was accused of “Victorian” working practices in a select committee meeting

Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct, has defended the company’s working practices at a House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills select committee. The retailer is facing allegations of paying below the minimum wage and docking pay when workers arrived slightly late.

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, told the committee that workers at Sports Direct experienced “Victorian” working practices, with conditions similar to labour camps. It was alleged that staff were in constant fear of losing their jobs, and faced disciplinary action for talking too much or spending too long in the toilet.

Ashley insisted he has nothing to hide. “Will you find [Sports Direct’s sites] to be 100% perfect? Of course you won’t,” he said. “You will find things that I obviously don’t know are happening. For as long as I’m at Sports Direct that process [of improvement] goes on.”

Gemma Reucroft, UK&I HR director for Tunstall, described the allegations as “truly shocking”. “Ultimately the responsibility for organisational culture and working conditions lies with the leadership. Blaming the agencies that engage workers on their behalf is a complete avoidance of responsibility,” she told HR magazine.

“We should not lull ourselves into a false sense of security; while the conditions at Sports Direct have attracted widespread publicity and condemnation this is not an isolated case. We know that there are other rogue employers, other dreadful working conditions right here in the UK, despite the employment legislation that exists purportedly to protect employees. Rights without the ability to enforce them are meaningless. The introduction of employment tribunal fees has weakened the ability of workers to challenge exactly these sorts of employers.”

Reucroft said that HR professionals, as well as leadership teams, have responsibility here. “It is our role to look hard at our own organisations and the working practices within them, and make sure that they stand up to scrutiny and that fundamentally you are treating people decently, ethically, legally and humanely.”