With the holiday season drawing to a close, the www.hrlaw.co.uk team have drawn together some of the issues encountered by our clients and contacts over the past couple of months. Whilst it is great for those who are getting away from it all, holidays have throw up some headaches for the person left holding the fort in HR. Here are some top tips for dealing with issues which may have cropped up at this time of year, which should stand you in good stead for the next round of holidays.
1. Temporary changes to working hours
You may find employees requesting temporary changes to their working hours over the summer or other holiday periods, particularly in order to juggle child care arrangements during the school holidays. If you are able and willing to grant such requests, you should make it clear to the individuals that such changes are temporary and that there is no guarantee that similar requests will be granted in future. It is good practice to document the agreed changes in writing, setting out the temporary nature of the arrangement and also any related consequences, such as a pro rata reduction in pay.
2. Time off for dependants
All employees have a right to take a reasonable amount of time off work in order to deal with unexpected emergencies affecting their dependants. The definition of “dependants” actually covers more than children; it also includes spouse/civil partner, parents of the employee, and even someone else living in an employee’s household (but not lodgers or employees).
Employees can take time off where it is necessary to provide assistance if their dependants fall ill, give birth or are injured or assaulted or to arrange for the provision of care of them if they are ill or injured. They can also take time off where it is necessary to deal with unexpected breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant, such as a nanny or childminder calling in sick. Time off for dependants is unpaid and is intended to be for a short time only in order to deal with a particular emergency. It is not intended to take the place of ordinary childcare arrangements and it is entirely separate from the right afforded to employees with children under five to take unpaid parent leave.
If summer or Christmas is a quiet time for your business, then perhaps now is the time to draft a short policy covering time off for dependants.
3. Other emergency time off
Other emergencies that may occur in an employee’s personal life, such as a burglary or flood at home, should be dealt with in accordance with any relevant policy or contractual arrangement you have in place or simply by ad hoc arrangements between you and the employee.
4. Sickness absence, unauthorised absence and the late returners
Sometimes you may find levels of sickness in your organisation rise during the holiday period. Some employers report sickness absences rising sharply at the time of key sporting events, such as Wimbledon, the World Cup and the Olympics. Absences during the holiday period should be dealt with in the same way as other times of the year. Non-genuine sickness absence can be treated as a disciplinary matter and you are under no obligation to pay sick pay for such absence. The same applies to other unauthorised absence, such as where people simply come back a day or two late.
If there is a clear increase in sickness absence rates on Fridays and Mondays or at the beginning and end of pre-booked annual leave, then this can be addressed in part by conducting return to work interviews with those who have been off sick. However, this should be done as means of monitoring absence and discouraging non-genuine sickness absence; it should not be viewed a disciplinary meeting. If it transpires from a return to work interview that the sickness absence is not genuine then you should follow your disciplinary procedure.
5. Home working (not babysitting)
Some employees may ask you if they can work at home for some of the holiday period. It is important for employees to realise that working from home is not an alternative to making appropriate child care arrangements. Any working from home should simply be done on the basis that it cuts down on travelling time and/or makes child care arrangements easier. An employee should not be both working for you and caring for their child at the same time.