February was an eventful second month of the new year, with many more debates and conversations surrounding the workplace. Some that we believe employers and HR professionals should be in the know about are detailed below.
LGBTQ+ History month
February was LGBTQ+ history month, with many topics concerning LGBTQ+ workers and employers discussed. One such discussion surrounded the findings of a report by Proud Ventures, which detailed that 75% of LGBTQ+ founders of tech start-up companies concealed their identity from potential investors. 18% of these founders listed the reason for hiding their LGBTQ+ identity was that they feared it would impact their fundraising efforts. Whilst these figures revolve primarily around those in founder roles in tech businesses, it also highlights a possibility of similar scenarios occurring within the general world of business, with potential candidates and current employees of organisations hiding their sexual or gender orientation in fear of rejection or humiliation.
Businesses can help support employees who may identify under the LGBTQ+ umbrella by implementing equality and diversity policies, and by offering training to staff to promote inclusivity. Training could include courses specifically improving discussing LGBTQ+ awareness in the workplace, or by conducting workshops led by someone with expertise in this area.
It is also important for employers and HR professionals to note that an employee’s sexual or gender identity is a protected characteristic, and as such any unfair or discriminatory treatment toward an employee within the business due to their LGBTQ+ identity is unfair treatment under the equality act 2010. This can often come with consequences for your business, especially in the event of a tribunal. As a result, it is vital that you ensure that LGBTQ+ employees feel included and welcomed within the workplace, and deal with any potential discriminatory behaviours of other staff members seriously and immediately.
New law on the right to request a predictable working pattern
On the 3rd of February, the government announced it was backing a law which gives all workers the legal right to request a predictable working pattern. This law will apply to all workers and employees, including agency workers. If the worker’s existing working pattern does not have consistency in the hours allocated for paid work, the times they work, or if they are tied into a fixed term contract of less than 12 months, they can make a formal application to request a more predictable working pattern. Whilst employers can deny the request if they have specific reasons for doing so (such as financial burden or lack of predictability in the sector), employees can still make up to 2 requests a year for review.
This new law aims to improve the protections over vulnerable workers and to prevent exploitative businesses from having a competitive advantage over companies that provide consistency and security to their workforce.
Illness and Absence
February marked National Sickie Day – a day in which is statistically the day in which most people phone in sick each year, and occurs on the first Monday every February. As a result, it is estimated that each National Sickie Day costs the UK economy approximately £45m in lost productivity. Whilst this does not automatically mean that everyone phoning in sick on this day is ‘pulling a sickie’, it is worth noting that many sickness absences can be attributed to mental health as well as physical health. The timing of National Sickie Day may have a part to play in its infamy; with February being at the latter end of the winter months. With this in mind, many employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be struggling and have finally reached their limits at the end of the winter period.
Whilst the mental and physical health and wellbeing of employees is important, there has been a considerable rise in employees being signed off with long-term health conditions since before the covid pandemic. This has resulted in the government looking to move towards a more comprehensive approach to adjusted working – in which they aid employers to facilitate a safe return to work for those with specific difficulties relating to an illness or disability. This move is therefore an important factor for HR professionals to consider in the future, as there may be more need for return-to-work provisions compared to previously. A proactive approach to these kinds of events is to ensure your company has an effective absence management policy and system to track, record, and manage employee absences, including those due to illness or ill health. Employers and HR staff should also ensure they have a comprehensive return-to-work process, not just to support the employee upon their return from a sickness absence, but also to help the company identify ways to avoid similar absences in the future, such as adjusting the employee’s responsibilities or adapting their working environment.
Bullying at work
Another topic that found itself in the spotlight last month is bullying and harassment in the workplace. More specifically, the term ‘banter’ and its controversial use in defending against potential bullying claims. HR Magazine found that 32% of workers in the UK felt they have been bullied at work with comments disguised as banter. As a result, it is important for employers and HR teams to ensure that employees are well aware of the boundaries between perceived ‘banter’ and bullying. This can be done either by introducing new policies, implementing training (such as ourselves here at myhrtoolkit, with a Banter and Bullying training course), or vetting any staff interaction which often includes banter.
There are associated risks with not dealing with bullying in the workplace – even if an employer or HR team feel that the banter does not cross any lines into harassment, it can still constitute bullying. This can then lead to staff grievances, and even lead to an employee claiming constructive dismissal due to them feeling that the employer’s conduct in handling such a situation was damaging to their contractual relationship with the company.
One such example includes the recent tribunal findings of Mobbs v Weetabix Ltd in February 2023, where a worker won a constructive dismissal case against Weetabix Ltd due to alleged bullying by his former manager, who was said to have used ‘unprofessional and abusive language’. The company failed to fairly and appropriately take Mr Mobbs’ grievances seriously which resulted in the tribunal finding in his favour, causing substantial monetary damages to the company. In order to avoid scenarios such as this, it is important to review organisational policies on bullying and harassment and defining the difference between banter and bullying to all staff.
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Written by Eleanor Holmes
Eleanor is a marketing executive at myhrtoolkit who writes on topics including HR technology and software, workplace culture, and marketing advice for HR consultants.