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Annie Hayes

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A week in HR: It’s s’no’w joke as weather keeps workers at home

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HR weekIt was a double whammy for absence on Monday, with the worst snow for 18 years causing commuting havoc – and it just happened to be ‘National Sickie Day’ too. Annie Hayes reports on all this plus news on rising tribunal payouts and the comedians that got the last laugh in the dock.


It’s not just the snow that is keeping workers away from the office, but National Sickie Day. Monday 2 February marked the most common day of the year for employees to call in sick and, according to a report released last March by the National Director for Health and Work Dame Carol Black, the problem is costing over £100 billion per year.

Research suggests that around 330,000 workers will throw a sickie today, at a cost to industry of over £29 million, taking into account factors such as lost business opportunities, reduced levels of service and output, and salary and overtime payments incurred.

Meanwhile, the CIPD has said that a combination of technology and common sense can minimise the impact of the severe weather on businesses today:

“Companies that have put in place the technology and management practices to allow their people to work flexibly in normal times can reap the rewards today, as thousands of people log on from their living rooms and bedrooms to keep the knowledge economy ticking over,” said Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser at the CIPD.

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Honda, the Japanese carmaker, is the latest victim of the credit crunch. It has shut its British factory for four months after a slump in sales until 1 June. According to a report by the BBC the move affects just over 2,500 of its 3,700 employees, who will receive their full basic pay for the first two months, but around 60% thereafter. On Friday, the Japanese car company said global third quarter net profit had dropped 89%. PA Newswire reports that the number of cars rolling off production lines nearly halved to 53,823 last month as the car industry is hit hard by the recession.

Commenting on the news, Pam Loch of employment practice Loch Associates, said reduced hours, pay freezes and extended leave were all ways for businesses to try and manage a downturn in fortunes without being forced to make redundancies.

“Employees know employers cannot unilaterally force these sorts of changes on them. However employees are working with their employers in a flexible and cooperative way recognising that these steps could be enough to avoid colleagues losing their jobs.”

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Redundancy is just one outcome of the credit crunch. According to a report by Atos Healthcare, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provider, there has been a spike in calls on workplace stress.

The number of calls relating to debt issues increased by 44% in 2008, compared to 2007 and almost 129% in the final three months of 2008, versus the same period in 2007.

Cases on workplace issues were the most widespread in 2008 and 34% higher than in 2007. Cases on mental health increased by 107% in 2008 compared to 2007 and calls to the EAP line regarding relationship issues increased 43% in 2008 compared to 2007, showing how home life can be affected by what is happening at work, which in turn impacts on performance at work.

Stress Down Day will take place on Friday 6 February. For more information see: www.stressdownday.org

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Sister site, TrainingZone.co.uk reports that despite the downturn, leaders are being seen as priority for development. More than half of international businesses plan to defend their investments in ‘behavioural development’ programmes in areas such as leadership, management and sales. On the downside, 20% say that they will cut their budgets, according to research by Krauthammer.

A third of the respondents forecasted a poor business climate for 2009. Around 20% believed they had “low resistance” to a difficult business climate and were planning to cut their behavioural development budgets in line with their predictions. However, over twice as many – 55% – felt resistant, and 42% even planned to raise development budgets.

Leadership training was highlighted by 53% of respondents as a priority, followed by sales training (47%) and management training (42%). Cross-functional training such as IT- and language skills were the least defended, the poll suggested. Overall, training appeared less vulnerable to cuts than coaching.

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In HR news, a survey of 280 HR managers by LearnHR reveals that despite nearly half of managers having to take on additional responsibilities, the training in new skills needed to fulfil these roles is not being given. This is resulting in 67% of HR managers saying they are not fully trained for the job whilst just over half say their employers are not looking after their health and well-being. Managers believe handling redundancies legally and efficiently and managing change and performance will be the most pressing HR issues this year. Almost one quarter (24%) of those questioned feel they need further training and 18% feel that the training that has been provided is not beneficial.

Just last week HRZone.co.uk reported on news from TalentDrain which suggested that the function is facing changing priorities with just over half giving recruitment a lower priority and 72% putting greater emphasis on performance management.

As well as a lack of training, over half of those questioned in the LearnHR survey say that companies do not look after their health and wellbeing sufficiently or offer beneficial packages. Only 36% of HR managers feel secure in their job and 54% say that this constant stress is affecting personal well-being, as well as professional performance.

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In Court news, the government has secured compensation for five West Midlands entertainers ripped off by a rogue agent, Gerald Leslie Hemming. He was forced to pay out £7,500 after failing to pay his employees for their performances.

Hemming was fined £2,000 by Solihull Magistrates Court, as well as being ordered to pay back over £3,500 in unpaid fees to a comedian, three musical acts and a magician, along with £2,000 in costs.

Minister for Employment Relations, Pat McFadden, said: “Cheating comedians and exploiting entertainers is no laughing matter. They have employment rights too and we will stick up for them. I am pleased to see that the individual responsible has been brought to justice for what is a clear breach of the law.”

Employment agencies who break the law could face prosecution and fines of up to £5,000 per offence. Rogue agencies could also be banned from operating for up to 10 years.

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The Bank of England has been accused of being institutionally sexist after it held an event at which image consultants advised female workers on what clothing, shoes and makeup to wear. According to a report by the Scotsman.com the advice given at the ‘Dress for Success’ event included the ‘risk’ of wearing certain accessories which could make women look like prostitutes.

“Look professional, not fashionable, be careful with perfume, always wear a heel of some sort – maximum two inches, always wear some sort of makeup, even if it’s just lipstick,” the leaked memo is reported to have said.

It was distributed by a professional image consultancy firm hired by the Bank. The memo added: “Shoes and skirt must be the same colour. No-nos include ankle chains – professional but not the one you want to be associated with, white high heels, overstuffed handbags, an overload of rings and double pierced ears.”

Leading equal opportunities solicitors said female employees would have a potential case for legal action against the Bank for sexual discrimination.

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In industrial news, airline BMI has hit the headlines this week as pilots vote on a motion of no confidence in their chief executive Nigel Turner.

According to a report by union BALPA (British Airline Pilots’ Association) the move follows a pay scandal allegedly involving the airline removing a promised pay increase from its employees’ bank accounts. Last week, BMI admitted that some salary payments had been delayed as the new terms were imposed.

A further report by The Times shows that BMI had agreed a three-year pay deal with its 5,000 staff in 2006 that increased salaries by inflation plus 0.5%. Yet Turner, then wrote to staff last week telling them that the final year of the pay deal would not be honoured.

Simon Collingridge, solicitor at Rickerbys LLP commented: “The decision by the airline accords very much with what we’re seeing throughout the broader business community. Employers are beginning to explore every means that their fingertips to ensure survival through this difficult period. Changing terms and conditions is usually a far less drastic measure than letting people go, so it can be a very attractive option.”

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Payments and awards afforded to wronged employees rose as of 1 February. The maximum weekly pay that can contribute to a redundancy lump sum will increase from £330 to £350; whilst unfair dismissal awards are now capped at £66,200 – a rise of £3,200 from last year. For further information see www.opsi.gov.uk

Whilst welcoming the news, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that £350 is still far lower in real terms than the original value of statutory redundancy pay when it was introduced in 1965. The TUC would like to see the weekly limit increase to at least £500.

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And finally, in an HR blog the thorny issue of best practice on bonuses is tackled. Michael Carty, deputy editor of IRS Pay and Benefits Bulletin, argues that bonus culture is particularly controversial in light of its alleged contribution to the global economic downturn yet argues that if handled properly, bonus schemes can play a highly positive role in revitalising an organisation’s reward offering and aligning it exactly with company objectives.

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