For employment law to be effective there needs to be a balance between protecting employees and enabling businesses to operate effectively in order to support economic growth. Advice and guidance on employment law often focuses on the rights of employees and what employers have to do to comply with their responsibilities. This focus can leave some employers feeling they have lots of responsibilities but no rights, which can make employers fearful of taking on staff and effectively managing them.
This is why the BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) has published the Employer’s Charter, which aims to dismiss some of the myths about what employers can and can’t do when managing their workforce.
Some key employer entitlements covered in the Employer’s Charter relate directly to the work done by the Health for Work Adviceline (some of these are listed below). For example:
- An employer is entitled to contact a woman on maternity leave and ask when she plans to return. Employees are obliged to take at least two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave after the birth of a child (or four weeks’ if the woman works in a factory). Employees are not obliged to take the full 52 weeks’ maternity leave they are entitled to so long as they give at least eight weeks’ notice of their intention to return to work early.
Employers are obliged to carry out regular risk assessments during an employee’s pregnancy which would need to be reviewed if the employee returns to work within six months of the birth of the baby, or if she is still breastfeeding when she returns to work. (See our guide on new/expectant mothers in the workplace for more information.)
- Employers can seek an independent medical assessment of an employee’s fitness for work. If an employer or manager has concerns about the effects of work on an employee’s health, a specialist health adviser may be needed to give work-focused advice in the form of an independent medical assessment. This is a way of obtaining a job-related and medically-competent opinion that is objective, sympathetic and practical.
This is particularly important when working in high-risk roles. The medical assessment would be performed by an occupational health professional (a medically-qualified individual with specialist in-depth understanding of the health in the workplace). Assistance could be given to organisations to manage the work environment so that the health of employees is protected and legal requirements are met. (See our guide on independent medical assessments to find out more.)
- An employer is entitled to dismiss an employee after a period of long-term absence or repeated short-term absences. Employers and managers should be trained to deal with attendance issues, which need to be dealt with efficiently and sympathetically in order to avoid them impacting on others in the organisation who may then also be tempted to fail to turn up to work with little consideration for the impact it would have on the organisation.
Under the Equality Act 2010 employers must make reasonable adjustments for those who have disabilities; ‘allowing’ higher absence levels could be considered such an adjustment. However, employees who have no underlying health issues should be made aware that an improvement in their attendance is expected of them. (See our guides on managing intermittent short-term absence and long-term sickness absence to find out more.)
The Health for Work Adviceline advisers help organisations with a wide range of employee health-related issues (including those listed above) on a daily basis. Call 0800 0 77 88 44 to find our more.