We all know that having a fit and motivated workforce can have a huge impact on the productivity and effectiveness of a business. Employers should review their workplace policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the law and safeguard the welfare of all staff, which will ultimately protect the employer’s position in respect of potential claims that an employee may bring.
A general duty
Every employer has a legal responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for their staff.
It’s crucial that employers adhere to this duty at all times, but what does this actually entail?
Protection from bullying and harassment
Bullying and harassment in the workplace can give rise to a number of legal issues and also have a detrimental effect on worker wellbeing.
It is best practice for employers to have a clear and effective anti-harassment and bullying policy in place to safeguard workers. The policy should be comprehensive and apply to various scenarios, i.e. not just to alleged bullying of a subordinate by a superior. It should strive to eliminate all kinds of abuse or intimidation, including harassment of one member of staff by another and, where appropriate, external abuse by customers, suppliers and other site visitors.
It is clear from case law that having a more comprehensive anti-harassment and bullying policy in place can help with any defence to a claim for either discrimination or constructive unfair dismissal against an employer.
Commitment to Equal Opportunities
Most employers are aware that discrimination, harassment and victimisation are unlawful. An equal opportunities policy should also be put in place and circulated to all workers and job applicants, in order to safeguard staff and to protect the employer from potential claims.
Training is the best way to put an equal opportunities policy into practice and certain members of staff (such as line managers) should be specifically trained on how to manage equality and diversity issues in the workplace.
Employers who employee individuals who are disabled should also be mindful that they are under a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid the disabled workers being put at any disadvantage compared to a non-disabled worker. Examples of this duty could be to install ramps for a wheelchair user or to provide a special keyboard for a worker suffering with arthritis. A failure to comply with this duty can amount to a claim for disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The equal opportunities policy should reference the employer’s commitment to making any necessary reasonable adjustments.
Rest Breaks and Working Time
Employers should give workers enough breaks to ensure their wellbeing isn’t put at risk.
If you run a business that requires staff to work long hours then it is important to remember that legally workers do not have to work more than 48 hours a week on average. Workers can opt out of this right, but they should not be sacked or treated unfairly for refusing to do so.
Generally workers have the right to 11 hours’ rest between working days and have the right to either an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week or an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight.
Many employers now adopt flexible working policies to alleviate pressures on their business and increase productivity. The results can also be beneficial for employees and help reduce absenteeism and stress.
All employees have the right to request flexible working and employers have a duty to give serious consideration to any such request. Coming to a working arrangement that suits the employer and employee can be an important factor in protecting wellbeing and retaining staff. For example, a worker who is exhausted due to childcare commitments or a difficult commute can be significantly less productive and happy than one who is able to come in at a mutually agreeable time.
Health and Safety
Another major threat to workers wellbeing is lack of adequate health and safety provision in the workplace.
Employers are obliged to provide information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable that employees’ health and safety at work is not compromised.
This includes undertaking risk assessments to identify workplace hazards and assess the risk that someone could be harmed and how serious the harm could be. If employing five or more people, the employer must have a written statement setting out a general health and safety policy and the arrangements for carrying out this policy.
In the workplace many people use computers or visual display units (VDUs) as part of their job. Employers should be mindful that this may lead to workers suffering from strains to the eyes, back or neck. To protect affected workers, employers should look at VDU workstations and assess any potential risks that there might be and ensure workers can sit in a comfortable position, maintain a good posture and ensure their eyes are level with the screen. Employers should also provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to enable first aid to be given to workers if they become injured or ill at work. The minimum requirement is to provide a suitably stocked first-aid box and an appointed person to take charge of the first-aid arrangements.
Employers should implement a basic health and safety policy to cover the above matters.
Back to basics
While some employers have introduced a range of schemes to benefit wellbeing, including yoga, work-place massages, free healthy lunches and even quirky slides through the office to get downstairs, as a minimum, all employers should follow the basics by implementing work place policies and training to ensure the wellbeing of their staff whilst in the workplace.
Tracey joined Slater Heelis in November 2009 as Partner and Head of the Employment department. She qualified as a solicitor in 1999 and has specialised in employment law throughout her career. She deals regularly with complex employment law queries about Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE), large scale redundancy exercises, restrictive covenants/injunctive proceedings and executive terminations. Tracey also deals with tribunal work, handling unfair dismissal and discrimination claims. She also regularly provides advice in relation to disciplinary and grievance procedures.