Tips for HR to survive the summer

Tips for HR to survive the summer

The summer can be a difficult time for HR – demand for leave often spikes, leaving businesses and HR teams with a number of challenges.

We provide a few useful tips on how HR can manage this summer.

Managing leave
Employers are permitted to refuse holiday requests, and to require employees take holiday at a time that suits the business. To avoid any tension, the rules relating to annual leave should be clearly set out in your contracts of employment, supported by a policy.

Many businesses have an informal practice of prioritising leave requests from employees with school age children over the summer. However, parents have no legal right to favourable treatment in this respect and consideration should always be given to individual circumstances, to prevent resentment and mitigate any discrimination risk. For example, does your (child free) employee want to attend a family event or religious festival?

Holiday pay
Two recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decisions have determined that pay should be calculated so as to include commission and overtime earned by the employee prior to the holiday period, but there is still no real clarity on what the ‘look back’ period should be. Litigation is on-going in this area so hopefully the position will be more certain soon. In the meantime many employers are adopting a wait and see approach. 

Working while out of the office
Annual leave should be rest time when the employee is not at the employer’s disposal. Therefore although many employees are willing to keep an eye on emails whilst away, employees cannot be required to carry out work during their holidays and should not be expected to, for example, check emails. Arrangements should be in place to make sure other staff are able to receive absent employees’ emails. 

Conduct while out of the office
Businesses can dictate how their employees behave while out of the office or on holiday, to a certain extent. The question is whether the employee’s behaviour is likely to damage the employer’s reputation, or if it is likely to damage the employee’s relationship with the employer or other members of staff. This is most likely to be an issue if evidence of the employee’s bad behaviour finds its way onto social media. 

Codes of conduct and rules for operating on social media should be set out in clear policies which are communicated to all employees, and backed up with appropriate contractual provisions. If it is necessary to take action against an employee for breach of these policies, the usual rules around conduct of disciplinary hearings will apply including whether a dismissal is reasonable in all the particular circumstances of the case.

Dressing down
As with any dress code, rules regarding summer dress down should be carefully thought out, ideally in consultation with your workforce and set out in a clear policy. When setting a dress code you should consider why you are looking to impose a particular requirement (maybe health and safety or projecting a particular image to clients) and if your approach is proportionate. A consistent approach must be taken when applying dress codes for men and women, and if that is the case you are more likely to be able to justify different dress codes for men and women. You should also be mindful of any religious requirements relating to dress.

First published in HR Grapevine, August 2016

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