The start of the year is a good time for employers to take a look at their documents, practices and people and to consider what steps would enhance the success of the business. A regular refresh of contracts and policies is often essential to keep up with best practice. Anticipating employee issues and planning ahead can also help employers keep one step ahead. We have set out below some key upcoming changes and topical issues to consider and to keep front of mind:
Pay – national minimum wage rates go up in April so now is a good time to check that you are prepared. It is also a good time to ensure that employees have received the right pay over the last year – particularly if they have worked overtime, unusual or seasonal hours.
Pay equality – equal pay and gender pay gaps are in the news and employees are increasingly aware of what their colleagues are being paid. Are you confident that your pay structures and recruiting practices could withstand an equal pay challenge?
Pensions – as the annual and lifetime allowances are lowered, do you have high earners who need to be careful about not making more than the tax free maximum contributions to their pensions?
Termination payments – all notice payments are to be fully taxed from April 2018 whether or not there is a payment of lieu of notice ('PILON') clause in the contract. You might want to consider phasing PILON clauses into all your contracts in the future – there is now little point in not having them.
Harassment issues – sexual and other forms of harassment are front page news at the moment. This may well encourage those who have experienced issues to come forward. Do you have any underlying concerns? Have all staff received appropriate training? Do you have a plan if issues are raised by employees or clients?
Underperformers – the early part of the year is often a time to take stock of employee and business performance. Are there any underperforming employees coming up to two years' service and therefore about to benefit from unfair dismissal protection?
Whistleblowing – are you able to identify complaints that may be protected disclosures (the public interest may be wider than you think)? Do you have a policy and procedure that makes sure that these complaints are handled appropriately and, where necessary, in confidence?
Standard documents – when was the last time you looked at your template contract and handbook to check they are still relevant? Did you have any issues over the last year that could be addressed by updating your template documents or handbooks? Are there any changes that should be made in light of any new case law?
Employment status – with the wealth of claims on employment status over the last year, do you need to check that you have correctly categorised your staff? Has any member of staff altered their arrangements and therefore potentially their status?
Home working – more and more employees are working from home. Are you taking the right steps to protect your business, including home working policies, risk assessments and policies about working hours and transporting confidential information?
Post-termination restrictions – keeping these up to date as employees increase in seniority is essential. Linking new restrictions to annual pay increases or promotions is a good way to update them effectively.
Data protection – data protection law is changing on 25 May this year. Are you up to speed on how you need to change your employment documentation?
Data Security – what risks are there in letting employees use their own devices for and at work? Do you have policies and procedures in place to mitigate these risks?
Email fraud – we are seeing an increasing number of phishing, ransomware and fraudulent payment request emails. Employees are key to protecting your business from such attacks. Have you trained your employees in spotting email scams and dangerous links? Do you have policies and procedures in place to verify payments and payees?
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.