Political Activity in the Workplace

It feels like we’ve had a run of elections and votes to consider over the last year and with the result from last month’s snap election there is a chance that we (Theresa) may be called upon again in the not so distant future. This all raises the question of what you consider as acceptable when it comes to employees engaging in political activities in the workplace.

It’s important to realise that political opinions can be one of the most divisive topics, along with religion, and can lead to emotions and tempers running high. Younger and older generations often have differences in the way they vote which can cause conflict in the workplace. It is also likely that you may see differences, depending on how far up the ‘company ladder’ employees are, as to which party will receive their vote or what expectations they have from their government and local leaders. 

Some companies are now putting policies in place which outlines what they expect from their employees when it comes to politics. Examples include:

  • Prohibiting employees from campaigning, attempting to coerce others into holding particular political opinions and wearing political symbols.
  • Reminding employees of the company bullying and harassment policies.
  • Banning employees from putting up notices or leaving promotional political materials, such as leaflets, on company premises.
  • Using company resources (printers, photocopiers etc) to assist with political activity.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal’s (EAT) stance on the matter of politics within the workplace is slightly grey. Although political opinions are not a protected characteristic under the equality act, religion and beliefs, including philosophical beliefs such as humanism, pacifism and atheism are protected. Therefore in 2009 the EAT stated that ‘support of a political party will not amount to a philosophical belief, but a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine may qualify’.

Whether or not you need to have a written policy in place, to manage the levels of political activity that your employees can engage in on your premises, is up to you. It is worthwhile to note that if anything was to arise where you needed to go down the disciplinary route, it would be a lot easier for you to implement if you could refer to a specific policy in your handbook.

For more information on implementing these types of policies within your business or for more information on how ProAktive can help with any other HR issues please contact our HR Team on 01302 341 344.

By Kris Kerins Cert CII – Risk Services Adviser

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Rise in Vehicle Thefts

Over the last few months we have seen a dramatic rise in the amount of thefts of motor vehicles, in particular vans (Transit vans in particular) being taken in a number of fashions.

One of the biggest recent issues that private vehicle owners/business owners have to contend with, when it comes to vehicle security, is devices that allow access to vehicles without any forced entry.  Vehicle thefts often show no signs of visible forced entry (broken glass, drilled locks or alarm being triggered).  These thefts are being blamed on alarm immobilisers, jammer devices and a recent addition to the market – the skeleton key. 

The immobiliser/jammer is used similarly to the electronic key you use to close you own vehicle but it blocks the signal used to lock your vehicle; someone can just walk up to your vehicle and open it without forcing their way in.  Thieves are not just targeting vans and small commercial vehicles but also the high end motors, brands such as BMW and Audi.

However, the most concerning is the skeleton key, which I could purchase myself from Amazon right now for £20. Videos online show this device being used on a Transit van to open it without the original key.

Unfortunately, a lot of the vehicles are not recovered and if they are, there are usually parts missing, the engine has been removed or there are only a couple of pieces left to identify it.

3 tips from our Claims Team:

  1. Never leave your vehicle running, especially whilst it is unattended or unlocked
  2. Apply a steering wheel lock – even if entry is gained it is impossible to drive the vehicle away
  3. Do not leave tools in the van overnight – this may be an inconvenience on a daily basis but knowing how easy it is for thieves to gain access, is it worth the inconvenience of losing thousands of pounds worth of tools and equipment?

If you would like any further advice on this subject, please contact your Account Manager today on either 01302 341 344 or 0114 243 9914.

By Tom Spurr – Claims Technician

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Stress, Mental Health & Discrimination

It could be fair to say that most employers are getting comfortable with understanding how to manage and fairly treat physically disabled employees, providing reasonable adjustments and allowing them to continue their work on a level playing field. The caveat to this is that mental health is still a grey area for many employers due to the inability to look at someone and instantly tell whether or not they have a disability.

When it comes to employment, the term disabled or defining someone as disabled isn’t determined by a doctor or medical professional, it is determined by the law.

According to the Equality Act 2010:

‘A person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantially adverse and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. In the workplace such activities are taken to include things like using a telephone or computer, interacting with colleagues, following instructions, driving and carrying everyday objects.’

To put this into context there is an interesting case to consider: Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Council, which was finalised at the end of 2016.

Some facts about the case are as follows:

  • Claimant was off work for three years with sick notes attributing absence to “stress at work”
  • After dismissal claimed that he had suffered direct discrimination on the grounds of disability.
  • When taken to Employment tribunal, the claim failed as they found that under the Equality Act he was not considered disabled under the criteria set out above.
  • At the Appeal this decision was upheld and they commented that the claimant’s stress was “very largely a result of his unhappiness about what he perceives to have been unfair treatment of him”

This sets up the conversation nicely for the differences between stress and mental illness disorders; in particular mood and anxiety disorders.

Stress is different to a disorder that would qualify someone to be considered disabled, in that there are usually definable environmental factors that are the cause. For example, you’re busy at work or you’ve fallen out with your family as two simple examples. When you take away this cause you are able to continue your daily routine without any symptoms.

This is different to mental health disorders where there can be numerous contributors to the illness, i.e. genetics, biochemistry, personality and environmental factors.

REMEMBER: people suffering with a mental illness or disorder, even without the environmental factors, will continue to suffer and be affected over a long period of time, and often indefinitely.

For employers this means that although care should be taken when dealing with employees who are signed off with stress (or refer to workplace stress on their sick notes) it isn’t always the sticking point within a disciplinary procedure that people believe it to be.

Advice:

  • Investigate the cause of this stress and not rely solely on the doctors or medical professionals, as stress, anxiety and depression are terms often used loosely.
  • Find out whether stress is caused by a singular event or scenario, or whether there are numerous factors that could indicate a mental disorder.

KEY POINT: If it is found that an employee faced direct discrimination in the workplace under any of the 9 protected characteristics, disability being one of these, then there is no cap on the settlement that can be awarded.

Disability claims:

  • Historically result in the highest awards with the average for 2015/2016 being £21, 729.
  • Often come with a higher ‘injury to feelings’ cost, as well as the loss of earnings being significantly higher; someone deemed disabled is more disadvantaged when it comes to finding their next employment.

With mental health awareness improving and the stigma attached hopefully continuing to decline, there will almost certainly be more case law to come in this area, so watch this space.

If you have any concerns that your policies and procedures do not reflect current best practice, or for any other employment advice, please contact our HR Consultancy Team on 01302 341 344.

By Kris Kerins Cert CII – Risk Services Adviser

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Hot topic! Fire safety update

Last week a prosecution sparked interest as a custodial sentence was handed out without any actual harm occurring to any persons.

Mr. Sandhu, a former hotelier in Sheffield, was handed an eight month jail sentence after he admitted to breaching fire safety rules in 2014.

Mr. Amandeep Sandhu owned the Cutlers Hotel in Sheffield and was prosecuted by Yorkshire Fire and Rescue following an investigation in 2014 which found that at that present time, the hotel did not have a working fire alarm, ordering its closure while safety improvements were made.

At a second inspection three days later more fire safety law breaches were discovered; Mr. Sandhu had not carried out an adequate fire risk assessment and the hotel didn’t have the requisite fire detectors and alarms. Other breaches consisted of inadequate emergency lighting and hotel staff had not received adequate training.

Steve Helps, Head of Prevention & Protection, said, “We always try to work positively with businesses to comply with fire safety regulation, but this case is a stark reminder of the consequences of failing to comply with those laws. Had a fire broken out in these premises then there can be little doubt that lives would have been lost. The sentence handed down by the judge should serve as a warning to any business of how seriously breaches of fire safety law are taken.”

The current owners received approval from the fire services and all other regulatory authorities in order to operate the hotel once a full renovation took place and re-opened in September 2015.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to all non-domestic premises in England and Wales, therefore a responsible person must carry out a fire risk assessment and implement and maintain a fire management plan.

This ruling is a stark reminder that fire safety is such an important element to manage within all businesses and a failure to manage it properly can not just lead to hefty fines, but could result in custodial sentences for directors and business owners.

To speak to the Health & Safety team about fire safety in your business contact us on either 01302 341 344 or 0114 243 9914 today.

 

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A* for Academies with ProAktive

Education is changing at, what appears to be, an alarming rate. One area that is always at the forefront is health and safety; not that schools are particularly high risk, but you do have a peculiar risk in that your premises is focussed on the needs of young, wilful people. It’s a bit of a scary prospect if we’re honest, isn’t it? Let’s face it, you didn’t get into teaching to become a health and safety professional but because you have a desire to provide a quality teaching environment where your students can thrive.

Well actually it needn’t be scary at all. You might just need some help to manage your responsibilities in such a way that you can get back to doing what you do best. And that’s where ProAktive can really help.

ProAktive work with schools to develop systems, processes and schemes in order to ensure that you become the best at what you do. We don’t just jump in blindly either; we like to fully understand your school, your employees, your governors and your pupils.

We have a desire to make things work for you – not just in a way that we say is good. We base all of our systems on recognised formats, such as HSG65 and OHSAS 18001. You might not have heard of these terms before, but these are recognised, tested, standards for health and safety management. Wouldn’t it be good if you could say that your systems are based on recognised, internationally used, standards?
We are open and honest about the services we provide, and the costs involved. We focus on what we’re good at and don’t try to fudge the bits we’re not. This is important. You’re buying our expertise, which is tested and certified. We’re also straightforward. We will sit down, review and explain everything that we do so that there isn’t any indecision or lack of clarity. For this reason we include audits for governors as standard within our service as we feel it’s important that your stakeholders know how good you are and to be informed of the areas that you might need to focus on.
When it comes to our personnel, all of our consultants that deal with schools are Chartered Members of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and are DBS checked. We back this up with a technology platform that ensures you can manage health and safety in your school quickly and easily.

If this sounds like something that would assist you and your school then we would love to hear from you. Call me today on 01302 341 344.

By Ian Clayton CMIOSH – Health & Safety Manager

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Business Interruption Insurance – what is it?

First and foremost, it could make a huge difference to both your business and your personal health and wellbeing if you have a claim.

The aim of the cover is to return the business to the same trading position as it was in prior to the loss.  Therefore, if not arranged properly it can have some very personal consequences for both your family and your employees – mortgages, holidays and school fees to name but a few.

In our experience, it is not the assets insurance or lack of cover that ruins a business after a major loss, it is the lack or inadequacy of their business interruption cover!

The business interruption insurance will pay out until the business has recovered, or for the period you have chosen to insure for (known as the indemnity period), whichever is the shorter.

Most companies tend to be insured for 12 months, however this is almost never long enough, as even the most straightforward property takes 3-4 months before rebuilding starts, because so much is outside of your control.

When calculating your indemnity period the following three stages should be considered;

Pre-Rebuild                       

Investigations – if the police, fire services or HSE are involved it could be months before you are allowed access to the site

Planning – the planning process can take a considerable amount of time

Location – if the area has changed in use you may be unable to obtain planning to rebuild on the same basis

Neighbours – if a neighbour’s property is also damaged this can cause delays in reinstating your own

Landlord – your landlord may not have adequate cover to rebuild or may have different plans for the site going forward

Site Access/Clearance – pollution, asbestos, chemicals can all cause delays

Rebuild Premises   

Location – difficulty with access can increase rebuild times

Listed Building/Conservation Area – this could make the build more complex due to delays in sourcing materials, specialist contractors/craftsmen

Fitting out approvals – internals may need approval by trade bodies etc

Locating Products/Materials – delays in sourcing materials – for example following the recession there was a brick shortage in 2016 which caused serious backlogs for the building trades

Rebuild Business    

Machinery – machinery may have long lead times for replacement and installation

Suppliers – often stock is purchased with long lead in times

Customers – customers may be lost and not return once the business has reopened.

Contracts – long term contracts may be broken and not available for tender for several years.

Doubling your indemnity period does not double your premium and may save your business. Please have a think about how this could affect you and feel free to contact your Account Manager or a member of the team to review your existing cover.

Doncaster office: 01302 341 344

Sheffield office: 0114 243 9914

By Jo Elliott ACII – Account Executive & Chartered Insurance Broker

 

 

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Changes to EU Speeding Fines

If you have ever been caught speeding whilst on holiday abroad you’ll know how it usually goes; the police pull you over, you get a ticket on the spot and you are expected to pay it there and then. If you don’t have the cash the police will take you to the nearest cash machine and expect you to withdraw the correct amount. This process did have its advantages because if you didn’t have the cash to withdraw the matter would usually end there.

When caught by a speed camera abroad often the vehicle cannot be traced and the driver escapes the fine. At present, it is hard for countries to track down foreign drivers who break the rules as information isn’t shared.

This is all set to change as of Monday 8th May 2017. From Monday the DVLA is allowing access to its records to enforcing authorities throughout Europe. This means that if, after following the above process, the police fine isn’t paid; they can access your records on the DVLA and send the fine to your home address.

Under the new law, the EU will have access to vehicle ownership details held by other countries and can use their powers to prosecute offences carried out by foreign-registered cars. Each EU country will have a designated ‘national contact point’ in which prosecuting authorities will be able to access a database to trace foreign drivers.

A suspected offender will then receive a letter from the authorities in the country where the offence took place, to warn of the legal consequences if the fine isn’t paid. The level of fines applicable is the same as for drivers of cars registered in the country where the offence is committed.

So when you go on your summer holiday this year don’t take it for granted that if you speed you won’t be caught!

By Rachel Hamill CMIOSH – Risk Consultant

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Is your business protected against fraud and cyber crime?

Most companies will insure their assets for the traditional risks, such as fire and flood. One traditional risk, that is usually covered, is theft or attempted theft. So if a company is offered a Crime Insurance quotation, why would they take it up? Theft is covered under a normal material damage policy, so why protect your business twice?

What some companies don’t realise is that it may not be the physical assets that criminals are targeting any more, but the cash sitting safely in company bank accounts; a traditional theft policy won’t respond to this type of loss. You may have already heard reports from the police that while traditional crimes are falling, fraud and cyber crimes are on the rise. The Telegraph published an article earlier this year noting fraud and cyber crime are now the most common offences.

As crime numbers increase, so do the number of victims. You may think that fraudsters only target the largest companies and that criminals wouldn’t waste their time on small businesses. However, SMEs are much more likely to be targeted by criminals, as well as private individuals, due to less investment in controls and preventative measures. Research from Barclaycard in 2016 estimated that 48% of SME businesses have fallen victim to a cyber crime showing cyber fraud is a much more widespread issue than many businesses realise.

No matter how well-protected a business believes its systems and controls are, fraudsters often break through via simple tricks and human error. As brokers, we have seen various scams that usually involve impersonating a Director of a company; a criminal will hack the Director’s emails or carefully reconstruct their signature, mimic their language and send an email asking for an immediate cash transfer to a new bank account. Criminals bank on the recipient sending the money without question – after all, if it has come from the boss, you would act straight away, right? The button is pressed and once the mistake is discovered it is often too late for the bank to stop the transfer or recover the money.

To minimise the risk of a fraudster breaking through, you could perhaps make it protocol to call clients or colleagues to verify their emails are genuine. We realise that there is always the chance that one request might ‘slip the net’. This is where a specialist crime policy will respond and will cover losses from, but not limited to, external cyber fraud. Insurers are continually offering these specialist policies as the threat of fraud continues to grow.

ProAktive is continually recommending that crime cover is considered as an essential part of an insurance programme. A quick indication can be obtained from a few simple facts and figures before any forms need completing. If you would like an indication please don’t hesitate to contact a member of our team.

By Sam Harby Cert CII – Commercial Account Handler

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18001 Standard – update

There has been a lot of talk, and not a lot of action, regarding the changes to the OHSAS 18001 standard, however things now seem to be moving along so we thought you would benefit from a quick update of where we are.

Firstly, 18001 is being revised as it isn’t actually an international standard, although it was used internationally. To overcome this situation the business community have pushed for a formal standard recognised by the International Standards Organisation. ISO have confirmed that this new standard will be designated as 45001.

The new standard was due to be published in 2016, however the draft put before the National Standards Bodies was rejected. A revision has now been issued for comment and, if approved, will be published in November 2017. The revisions are aimed at simplifying the terms and wordings used within the standard, so if all goes to plan this will be easier to use and understand.

For those of you that currently hold the 18001 standard, we anticipate that there will be a three year transition period so there should be no need to radically change your management systems immediately. You should have the opportunity to gradually meet the requirements of 45001 over this period.

We will continue to keep you updated as and when further information is released.

By Ian Clayton CMIOSH – H&S Manager

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Can you repeat that?

Sprichst du Englisch? Parli inglese? Czy mówisz po angielsku? Parlez-vous anglais?

The above are examples of a simple question often used by us Brits when we’re struggling to find our way to the local bar when we’re off chasing some well needed sun! “Can you speak English?” is a simple and innocent question on holiday but back on UK soil and in the workplace this question has other implications.

On December 22nd 2016 the Immigration Act (2016) came into place which introduced the requirement for public sector workers who speak to the public as a regular and intrinsic part of their role to be fluent in English. This does not apply to the private sector.

Employers are generally entitled to draw up their own requirements however; they should make sure that the Equality Act 2010 is not breached. More specifically when requiring employees to speak English, the most obvious risk for potential discrimination is based on the criteria of Race.

A couple of cases to consider:

  • In 2010, an employment tribunal found that an instruction to a Polish worker not to speak Polish at work was direct race discrimination (Dziedziak v Future Electronics Ltd).
  • In 2015, the Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed that an instruction to only speak a particular language in the workplace could be discriminatory.

In practice, as long as an employee’s command of the English language is sufficient to perform their role the requirement for them to have perfect command or ‘better English’ may be seen as discriminatory. This also means that different job roles may require better control of the language. For example, sales representatives or your receptionist would be required to have greater command of the language than you would ask of a cleaner.

If you want to enforce the use of English in the workplace, or to ask for particular command of the English language during your recruitment process, it is important to consider whether the role requires interactions with the public/English speaking clients and if so what level of English is required. Asking for requirements above this may leave you open to the accusation of indirect or even direct discrimination.

For advice on this matter, or any other HR issues that may arise within your business, please contact the HR team on 01302 341 344.

By Kris Kerins Cert CII – Risk Services Adviser

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