Author Archives: debbie

  1. Parallel HR is 10 Years Old

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    This month marks a significant milestone for me personally, and for Parallel HR.  On 12th June 2022 Parallel HR turns 10 years old!  I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the ups, the downs and downright embarrassing things that have happened to me over the years.

     

    The beginning of Parallel HR

    In June 2012, Parallel HR was born.  I had no clients and I wasn’t really sure if it would work.  My accounts were handwritten into a book from W H Smith. Marketing and social media were completely alien to me.  If you had told me then just how many great businesses I would get to work with in the next 10 years, I wouldn’t have believed you.

    In search of clients, I started networking.  My first networking meeting was horrendous.  I won’t name the group I joined but let’s just say there was an annual fee involved.  At the meeting, I followed the lead of others and mentioned a training course I was running.  I was then told in my one to one that this was not the way they did things there.  I was very confused.

    My training course, HR Hurdles, had 12 attendees.  I was delighted that one of those attendees called me before the course even took place.  For the first time I thought, this might just work.  I’m hugely proud to say that company is still a client today.

    The lows

    Of course, the biggest low over these 10 years has been the pandemic.  The whole point of Parallel HR was that I wanted to work “alongside my clients’ businesses”.  I never wanted to be a faceless person at the end of a phone.  I wanted to be part of the team.  When the lockdowns hit, so were many of my clients’ businesses. Over the last 2 years, I have consoled many people in tears.  These people had never imagined having to make staff redundant.  Some were fighting to save a business while home-schooling.  Let’s be honest, we all had something going on.  I vividly remember one well-established business telling me they had £9 in the bank and no idea how they were going to make the next payroll.  I could have cried with them.

    A personal low for me was supporting 28 companies to make redundancies over a six week period as the first period of furlough wound down.  I never forget that each person is an individual and the impact this has on them.  I took on the work as I wanted to make sure everyone affected was treated in the most professional way possible.  However, I’m not a robot.  It took its toll on me.

    The highs

    In the early days, while still questioning my own ability to make this work, I took on a new client.  Within three days of signing the contract, I was forwarded a three page letter outlining a potential claim from a lady on maternity leave.  This became a huge turning point for me.  The company had taken the advice of a previous HR consultant in how they handled the situation and frankly, that advice had been diabolical.  I thought if that person can make it as an HR consultant, I certainly could too.  I take enormous pride in how we turned the situation.  From an awful position, the company kept a valuable member of staff and avoided a damaging employment tribunal.

    In 2015 I published my own book via the Endless Bookcase. While no longer available, I have to confess, I still flick through the pages sometimes to remind myself of particular points.

    However, by far the thing I am most proud of is that five people have told me they have been inspired by me to take up a career in HR. Wow!

    The bizarre

    There was the time I tripped over a step while walking through a warehouse before delivering training. The thump as I hit the floor reverberated round as everyone looked up as I did the walk of shame.  I then had to deliver the training with blood dripping down my leg.  Of course, embarrassment meant I said everything was OK but really, ouch!

    Then there was the time I had sciatica.  I had to travel to Southend to see a client, stopping four times on the way due to the pain. When I finally got there, I couldn’t sit down.  The person I was meeting was really nervous until I bizarrely had to kneel through the meeting.

    Working with small employers, I sometimes have to hold formal meetings in unusual spaces.  I held a disciplinary hearing in the post room of a high tech company.  For the meeting, I was perched on a bar stool.  Unfortunately, I have a problem with my back which means I can’t sit straight for long.  Crossing my legs for the umpteenth time, I lost my balance and promptly fell off the bar stool.  I recall doing this in slow motion, calling out “I’m going, I’m going” throughout.  Remember it was a high tech company?  The post room was covered by CCTV.  Ever since I have dreaded seeing myself on TV on “You’ve Been Framed”, or similar.

    Who knows what the next 10 years of Parallel HR will hold, but thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey.

  2. COVID – What must employers do now?

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    COVID restrictions have been removed altogether but COVID has not gone away.  We are now in the stage we have to live with it, the same as with cold and flu of the past.

    Yes, COVID is causing fewer hospitalisations and we have to get back to normal sometime.  However, while some people have been asymptomatic, others had a bad illness.  Some of your employees may be concerned as they are vulnerable or live with vulnerable people.

    With that in mind, what are the implications for employers?

     

     

    What issues are you likely to face?

    In the days before COVID, if someone had a cold they would either come into work, sniffling and coughing or take the day off work, with “flu”.  In my opinion, the same thing is going to happen now with COVID.

    Until things really settle down, I can foresee the following being common issues:

    • People coming into work ill, not wanting to lose pay, infecting those around them.
    • Others refusing to work with or around them.
    • Some refusing to come into the workplace as they or someone they live with is vulnerable.
    • Concerns as to whether COVID is being misused as a reason to take a time off (eg if they have been declined annual leave).
    • Questions about pay and isolation.
    • Potential outbreaks of COVID among your team as caution naturally fades.

    As employers, you have a duty of care to your employees and also need to run a business. You should therefore be thinking now what your policy is going to be.

     

    COVID Protection measures

    Employers have conducted risk assessments and put measures in place to protect their teams.  These included regular testing, face masks and social distancing.  Just look around, many people stopped wearing face masks weeks ago.  After 1st April 2021, a charge will be introduced for tests.  From that point on, it is highly unlikely that your employees will be testing.

    Therefore, you should:

    • Revisit your COVID risk assessment. What measures do you need to keep in place?
    • Consider what you want people to do, if they have any symptoms. Can they work from home?
    • Have a supply of lateral flow tests to use if someone thinks they may have COVID or comes to work ill.
    • Consult with anyone who is vulnerable or particularly concerned.  If they want you to, can you do anything to support them such as move them to a less populated work area or close to a window that opens?
    • Keep your employees informed of your changing policies and ongoing expectations.

    We have learnt a lot about controlling workplace infections over the last two years.  By continuing the best of these practices, we may actually reduce absences from other common illnesses.

     

    Isolation

    Throughout COVID, the self-isolation rules have caused a lot of frustration. Not only for employers, but also for employees who are paid Statutory Sick Pay only.

    There is no longer a legal requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID.  That means, unless they are ill enough to be off work, some may well come in, even if they know they are positive.  Medical advisors still recommend self-isolation for anyone who tests positive for COVID.

    I’d strongly recommend getting ahead of this situation and deciding on your policy.  For instance, will you:

    • Require anyone who has a positive test to work from home or self-isolate for a period?
    • Pay them Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) only or full pay for a number of days, provided  they have a positive lateral flow?
    • Find another way to protect others around them?

    Note, staff who believe there is a “serious and imminent danger” to their health and safety can file a claim against their employer.

     

    What do I pay them?

    So far, anyone who has been required to self-isolate has been entitled to SSP from day one.  Some employers have been entitled to reclaim up to 2 weeks Statutory Sick Pay.  This rebate scheme will close on 17th March 2022.  Claims must be submitted by 24th March 2022.

    With effect from 25th March 2022, COVID absences will be treated like any other sickness absences.  In other words, there will be no eligibility for SSP until day 4 of absence.

    If your employee can’t work from home and presents themselves at work, but you choose to send them home, you have to pay their salary in full.  This is because you are denying them work.  A supply of  lateral flow tests may help you decide on the best course of action.

     

    If you have any questions regarding this, please contact me.

  3. How to investigate a disciplinary matter

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    No one outside of Westminster had heard of Sue Gray, until recent weeks.  Now her investigation may lead to high profile disciplinary proceedings. How would I have conducted this investigation?

     

    Is this a disciplinary issue?

    According to news reports, there have been several events at 10 Downing Street, which may have broken lockdown rules.  Among the many allegations, staff were invited to a “bring your own booze” event.

    If I were charged with investigating this, I would look at:

    • What was said in the invite?
    • What were the rules at the time?
    • Did this contravene the rules?
    • Who sent the invite?
    • Who else was aware the invite was being sent?
    • Did anyone suggest the invite was ill-advised?
    • If so, what action was taken?
    • What is the normal policy on drinking at work?
    • Should disciplinary proceedings be considered and if so, for whom?

     

    Interview the key parties

    There may be an explanation why the invite was issued.  For instance, the sender may have been following instructions from above.  I’d also want to understand what they knew about the rules at the time and why they thought it was acceptable.  Did anyone raise concerns and if so, what happened as a result?

    Several people have said they questioned the invite.  Some people attended the event.  Individuals should be interviewed to understand:

    • If they raised concerns, how, when and to whom did they raise their concerns?
    • What was the reaction?
    • Did they go to the event? If so, what happened there?
    • Who else was present?
    • Were any COVID precautions taken at the event?

    If the matter reaches a disciplinary hearing, the employee(s) concerned should get copies of the witness statements. For that reason, I would ask the witness to sign to say it is a true and accurate account and that they understand it may be shared as part of the process.

     

    What evidence can you gather?

    It is also important to check for any factual evidence, such as:

    • CCTV footage
    • Emails, etc
    • Attendance records
    • Company documents

    I would give the employee(s) copies of any evidence I found prior to any hearing. This would include any evidence that may support their defence.

     

    Next steps

    If I found that a disciplinary proceedings were appropriate, I would hand this over to someone else to hear.  This is to ensure the outcome is not prejudged, as per the ACAS Code of Practice.

    To invite someone to a hearing I would need to:

    • Give them reasonable written notice of the hearing date.
    • Advise them they have the right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative.
    • Give them copies of the evidence gathered.

    For more information or to discuss a disciplinary situation, please contact me.

  4. What every employer should know about COVID

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    December saw many businesses affected by COVID.  Staff absences, bookings cancelled and back to home working for those that had fought hard to bring their staff back to the workplace.  Once again, businesses have had to be resilient.  So what are the key things you need to know?

     

    COVID Risk Assessments

    Just one person bringing COVID into the business can have a huge effect.  Several of my clients have had clusters of cases.

    Look again at your risk assessment.  Is there anything you can do to give your business the best chance? For instance:

    • Minimise numbers.
    • Social distancing.
    • Staggering start/finish and break times.
    • Face coverings.
    • Cleaning regimes.
    • Better hand washing facilities.
    • Work bubbles.
    • Lateral flow testing.
    • Stopping people coming to work with symptoms.

    What will help minimise the effect of COVID, if you have an outbreak?

     

    What are the symptoms of COVID?

    The main symptoms of COVID are:

    • a new continuous cough
    • a high temperature
    • a loss or change in sense of taste and/or smell

     

    However, Omicron can also involve:

    • runny nose
    • headache
    • fatigue
    • sore throat

    All symptoms we could mistake for a common cold.  However, rather than a take a chance, employees should take regular lateral flow tests.  If they have symptoms, they should take a test before coming into the workplace.

     

    When must employees self-isolate?

    Anyone who has a positive COVID test must self-isolate for at least 7 full days*.  That’s 7 days* after:

    • the onset of symptoms
    • the date of the test, if they have no symptoms
    • if they then develop symptoms, 7 days* from when symptoms start

     

    *Self-isolation can end after day 7, provided that:

    • Starting from day 6 of self-isolation
    • The individual has taken 2 lateral flow tests
    • At least 24 hours apart
    • The results of which are both negative

    If your employee does not meet these conditions, they must continue to isolate.

     

    Until they reach 10 days since they were first required to isolate, they are advised to continue to:

    • Work from home if possible
    • Avoid crowded or poorly ventilated areas
    • Avoid contact with vulnerable people

     

    Other self-isolation requirements

    Employees may also be required to self-isolate if:

    • Someone they live with or have been in close contact with has COVID
    • They have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace

     

    In these circumstances, they will be required to isolate for 10 days, unless one of the following applies:

    • they were fully vaccinated at least 14 days before
    • are under 18 years and 6 months old
    • have  been taking part in a COVID-19 trial
    • cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons

    If your employee has to self-isolate, they should give you an isolation note.

     

    What should I pay them?

    Your employee will be entitled to any Company sick pay you would normally pay.

    SSP is payable from day one, if they are off ill due to COVID or self isolation.  Normal SSP rules apply for any other sickness absences.  Small businesses can currently reclaim up to 2 weeks’ Statutory Sick Pay for COVID absences.

    Please note, if your employees are fit and able to work but you cannot provide work, you must pay them their normal pay.  Therefore, if you have a COVID outbreak and have to shut the business down for a period, those that are not self-isolating must be paid in full.

     

    If you have any further questions about COVID, please contact me.

  5. Banter is just not cricket

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    Yorkshire Cricket Club (YCC) have recently made headlines for the wrong reasons.  Azeem Rafiq alleged that he had been racially harassed and bullied, as a player.  Azeem said “It was not done in a malicious way.  It was disguised as banter.  It was racist. I didn’t find it funny”.

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines banter as “the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks”.   A lot of banter is harmless.  I have many a conversation on a Monday morning about the weekend’s football results.  However, banter can go too far and can have serious consequences.

    But they joined in with the banter

    Many an employer has told an employment tribunal that the claimant didn’t seem offended, they joined in.  In his interview with Sky News, Azeem describes how he did things he now regrets to try to fit in.  He has also apologised for sending anti-semitic tweets in the past.  However, two wrongs do not make a right.

    Azeem said that, when he stopped trying to fit in, he felt isolated.  He tells how the banter slowly ate away at him until he found himself feeling suicidal.  This short clip of his interview with Sky News will help you understand things from a victim’s perspective.

     

    Why should you take action?

    Every employer wants to have a friendly atmosphere at work. That will inevitably lead to banter.   However, just because someone appears to be joining in, that does not make it acceptable.  If you see or hear something that makes you uncomfortable, act.  Your employees need to feel able to call it out.  That starts from the top.

    Azeem describes that “there were a few people who did it openly, a few that tagged along and a lot of people that let it happen.”  Even though the independent report found that Azeem had been racially harassed and bullied, YCC decided not to take any disciplinary action.

    Other players are coming out now to talk of their experiences at YCC. Many of these would have remained silent had it not been for the publicity around Azeem.  Some walked away rather than stand up and fight.  Sponsors have turned their backs on the club and their reputation has been shattered.

    If you don’t act, you too could face losing valuable employees, damaging publicity and an employment tribunal.

     

    Steps you should take

    • Have clear policies on equality and diversity.
    • Make sure your employees clearly understand your expectations on behaviour.
    • If you hear or see unacceptable behaviour, stop it.  Don’t ignore it.
    • Speak to those involved. Understand what was said, the effect it has had and be clear it must not happen again.
    • Confirm your discussions in writing.
    • Offer support to those affected.
    • Keep written notes of your findings and your actions.
    • If you receive complaints of unacceptable behaviour, investigate them thoroughly.
    • Where you find evidence of unacceptable behaviour, instigate disciplinary proceedings.

     

    If you have been tempted to turn a blind eye to banter, I urge you to watch Azeem’s video and resolve that your employees will never feel like that.

    If you need any support in this important area, please contact me.

  6. You’re responsible for Sexual Harassment at Work

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    I don’t mean that headline as an accusation, it is a warning of what is to come. In the wake of the #MeToo campaign, the Government have been considering ways to prevent sexual harassment.  As someone who has experienced it a number of times during my working career, I say it’s about time.

    The Government have announced their intention to make employers:

    • take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment
    • require employers to take “explicit measures” to protect their staff from third party harassment.

    There is also the possibility that the time limit to bring a tribunal claim may be extended from 3 months to 6 months (for claims under the Equality Act).

    What is sexual harassment?

    Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature.  It has the purpose or effect of “violating someone’s dignity, creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual concerned”. Note, it is about how the recipient feels, not how the act was intended.  “Banter” is no defence.

    At age 15, I worked in a shop where the staff room was wallpapered with porn.  On my first day at a new employer in the City, I walked into wolf whistles on the trading floor.  No one said a word.  Just 3 years ago, someone stopped me on my way to a client and asked about my underwear.   Honestly, at my age I thought that was one thing I no longer needed to deal with.

    Sexual harassment can mean many things. It can include things like comments made, inappropriate touching or staring, social media posts or even stalking.  If you wouldn’t be happy if the act happened to your parent, your partner or your child, it’s probably not appropriate.

     

    What can employers do to stop it?

    One of the things the #MeToo campaign highlighted was just how embarrassed victims of sexual harassment feel.   They tend to wonder if they are going to be believed and may find it easier to leave a job, than make a fuss.  To protect your team and prevent harassment, you need to take the following steps:

    • Make it clear to everyone who works for you or uses your services, that you will not tolerate sexual harassment.
    • Provide appropriate training – management need to know how to recognise, deal with and prevent it.
    • Raise awareness – what is harassment? What should people do if they are concerned?
    • Have regular reviews with your team.  Encourage them to share anything that is making them feel uncomfortable.
    • Deal promptly with any allegations or concerns.
    • Offer support to anyone involved in a complaint.

     

    Why wait until the legislation comes in to take action in this important area? For more information, please contact me.

  7. How to attract good candidates without breaking the bank

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    Recruitment can be a challenge at the best of times but recruitment in a worldwide pandemic with an unpredictable economy?  That is a real challenge many businesses are facing right now. So how do you attract good candidates without breaking the bank? Here are my five top tips…

    What does the company need?

    Firstly, it’s important to evaluate the role. Is it a new or existing role? If so, do you really need someone full-time? Could part-time hours or a job share work? Could the duties be distributed to existing employees? These may seem like obvious questions but it’s easy to replace jobs as a like for like so consider what the company actually needs.

    Once this has been established, look in-house! Could you up-skill an existing employee? Could you put a referral scheme in place if an employee recommends a friend for the job?

     

    Sell your story

    Every company has a story behind it. Attract good candidates by sharing your story and making it relatable. Be completely open about the company’s mission, values and culture. Going to work isn’t about just doing a job. Prospective candidates want to know who they are working for, what they get in return, and they want to ensure the company’s values align with their own. Selling the story of the company is as equally important as the candidate selling themselves. Recruitment is a two-way decision.

     

    Raise your online profile

    Social media is huge now so make sure your company is visible. A vast majority of jobseekers will be active on social media or the internet at the very least, so it’s important to raise the company profile wherever it’s listed but especially on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn and Indeed. There are so many options to list jobs free on social media but the real benefit here is that you reach a much wider audience to attract good candidates than job boards alone.

     

    Flexible and/or remote working

    We have seen a huge rise in flexible and remote working since the start of COVID19. Giving employees the flexibility to balance their home and work life is an incredibly attractive benefit. It increases the pool of candidates by radius and makes long distance commutes much more sustainable. In this day and age, having a good reputation for a healthy work/life balance is a great place to be.

     

    Attract good candidate with great opportunities

    Offer development and career progression opportunities where possible. Not only is it attractive to a prospective employee, but you are also likely to stand in a better position when it comes to employee retention too. Offering training courses or learning materials is a great way to attract good candidates because it shows that you’re invested in employee development.  With grants and levy’s available for many, this could be an attractive benefit with very little cost.

     

    Best of luck in finding the great candidates you need. If you need any further support, please contact me.