Employment Update for Small Businesses
December 2017

Dear Visitor,

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!

I am afraid that this month’s newsletter does not have a very festive theme as it picks up on how in recent years we have seen the exposure and vilification of hateful predators, such as Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris, and more recently the unsavoury antics of people like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. These have highlighted a dramatic cultural shift in perceptions of sexual harassment. The casually sexist comments and inappropriate contact that seemed to “go with the territory” in the 70s and 80s, are very clearly now no longer acceptable.  We consider how employers need to respond to the changing culture to make sure that they support and protect their staff, and promote a safe workplace for all.

Also this month we consider the demise of workplace childcare voucher schemes and the impact this may have on working parents.

Please contact me if you would like to find out a bit more about any of the subjects raised in this update or if you need any help or advice.

Please forward this email to any of your contacts who might find it of benefit.

Peter Etherington
Tel: 01664 668164


Weinstein & Spacey – doing their bit for awareness raising?

Employers need to ensure staff are protected against sexual harassment in the workplace

In recent months the press has reported on a number of high profile Hollywood big shots and UK politicians who face allegations of sexual harassment. This has ranged from allegations of groping and exposing themselves, to demeaning and sexist language. This is clearly very distressing for the men and women who have been the focus of such unwanted behaviour.  However, there has been a positive aspect to the news, largely driven by the #MeToo social media campaign, in that it has had the effect of raising awareness of the prevalence sexual harassment and creating a public outcry against this behaviour.  Women in particular have felt enabled to report their experiences, whereas previously they may have suffered in silence.

Employers have a duty to protect their staff against unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace, under the Equality Act, and this extends further to unwanted behaviour related to all the protected characteristics contained in the Act (race, gender reassignment, religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, and marital status). Whilst individuals are responsible for their own behaviour, employers can also be liable for acts of sexual harassment against their staff and need to take steps to prevent that happening.

I am not one to take a “Bah, humbug” approach to Christmas, but I do have to point out that the occasion that seems to act as a catalyst for many sexual harassment claims is fast approaching – the office Christmas party! The combination of drink, dancing, and generally making merry, does sometimes seem to bring out the worst in people, and can often lead to inappropriate behaviour. Bearing in mind that the office “do” is an extension of the workplace, employers remain liable for their staff’s behaviour at these events.

Sometimes a well judged memo can help remind people of the need to act appropriately at the Christmas party, whilst still ensuring they feel able to enjoy themselves, but that isn’t a silver bullet. I would suggest instead (or as well) that employers make a New Year’s resolution – to aim for a workplace culture of respect and dignity in 2018, with an emphasis on promoting equality and celebrating diversity. If that sounds like a plan, why not get in touch so that we can support you. We can help draw up appropriate policies and procedures to underpin this aim; we can train your managers so that they understand what they need to do and when they need to act; and we can help you uncover and tackle the Weinsteins and Spaceys in your organisation!

RIP to Childcare Voucher Schemes?

HMRC changes the rules

From 6th April 2018, childcare voucher schemes that are run by employers on a “salary sacrifice” basis will be closed to any new applicants. Those who joined any such scheme prior to that date will be able to continue.

Many employees, however, will be eligible for tax-free childcare directly from the Government. If eligible they will receive £2 for every £8 the employee pays their childcare provider, up to £500 in every 3 month period.

If you currently run a childcare voucher scheme, you need to ensure that you get up to speed with these changes, and I would suggest you tell your staff about the new tax-free childcare opportunity.

National Minimum and Living Wage Rates

The current rates for the National Living Wage (for those aged 25 and over) and the National Minimum Wage are as follows:

£7.50 per hour for workers aged 25 and over
£7.05 per hour for workers aged 21 to 24
£5.60 per hour for workers aged 18 to 20
£4.05 per hour for workers aged 16 and 17
£3.50 per hour for apprentices under 19 and those over 19 in their first year*

*N.B. Apprentices over 19 and who have completed at least one year are entitled to the appropriate rate for their age.