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Team resilience: what to do when something goes wrong

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Looking after your employees will help keep your team and business strong. Part of that is knowing what to do if someone is showing signs of stress, how to handle it if they need to go off sick, and how to fill the labour gap. Stephen Simpson, principal employment law editor at XpertHR, explains.

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Employers have a legal duty over health, safety and welfare of employees. An employer can assume an employee is able to withstand normal job pressures, unless there is a vulnerability, such as previous illness. They are not required to eliminate all pressure, but if an employee shows signs of stress, employers should take steps to minimise harm.

 

Be alert to stress in your team. Individuals may become negative, depressive or have increased emotions; loss of motivation, commitment and confidence; mood swings; lack of concentration; changes in eating or sleeping habits; increased smoking, alcohol consumption or drug use; nervous or ‘twitchy’ behaviour; changes in attendance and poor performance.

 

If you notice a pattern, act quickly. Arrange to meet prvately with your employee in an informal manner, and encourage them to see their GP. If bullying or harassment by other employees is the cause, investigate and take disciplinary action if needed, or temporarily move them to other duties.

 

If the cause of stress originates outside work, help them find sources of support and advice, such as counselling. Discuss an agreed action plan with the employee, monitor the situation and schedule a follow-up meeting.

"Adults are entitled to 11 consecutive hours’ rest between working days" - Stephen Simpson
"Adults are entitled to 11 consecutive hours’ rest between working days" - Stephen Simpson

Paying a sick employee

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), currently £94.25/week, must be paid for up to 28 weeks for employees who are unable to work due to physical or mental illness. To be eligible, the employee must earn at least £118/week normally, and be unable to do their work for four or more consecutive days.

 

All sickness absences longer than seven calendar days need medical evidence, usually a doctor’s note or ‘fit note’. The note will state the employee is either ‘not fit for work’, in which case they should stay off work or ‘may be fit for work’, and make recommendations such as a phased return, amended job duties, altered hours or workplace adaptations. There is no legal obligation to follow these recommendations, but employers should consider them seriously.

 

Insurance to cover sick pay

Employers can no longer claim the costs of SSP from the Government. Permanent health insurance (PHI) or income protection may be an option. This pays out an income, a percentage of normal salary, to employees off sick for an extended period. Payments go to the employer to pass on to the employee.

 

Factors to consider when choosing a PHI provider:

  • Percentage of salary employees will receive; normally 50-75%.
  • Length of time before claims are paid (‘deferred’ or ‘waiting’ period), commonly after six months of continuous absence.
  • How long payments will continue until returning to work, retirement, death or dismissal.
  • Lump-sum payments; if an employee is dismissed while receiving PHI payments, a final lump-sum can be built into the contract.

 

Employers should seek professional advice from an insurance expert.

Replacement labour

There are three common ways to cover an employee’s sickness absence:

 

  1. Existing employees: This may be possible if the absence is relatively short. But consider the cost of paying other employees for additional work, and what hours they will work. Legally they are limited to 48 hours a week, averaged over 17 weeks, but they can agree to work longer hours as long as it is voluntary and in writing. Adults are entitled to 11 consecutive hours’ rest between working days or shifts, and at least 24 hours’ uninterrupted rest in every seven-day period, plus at least 20 minutes if working more than six hours a day. Consider the impact; will it cause resentment, increase safety risks or lead to stress and burn-out?
  2. Agency temps: Can offer flexibility and can be hired at short notice. However, an agency worker will have less commitment to your business and may be transferred to a different assignment, meaning a different worker will be sent to cover the absence. Agency workers have the right to be treated no less favourably than other employees in terms of shared facilities. After 12 weeks in the same role, they are entitled to the same basic conditions than if they were recruited directly, including pay.
  3. Fixed-term employee: If the absence is likely to be for a long period, you could employ someone on a fixed-term contract. To avoid issues when advertising the role, ensure it is clear that the position is temporary. Fixed-term contracts can be worded to terminate on a specific date or the return of the absent employee. It is worth enlisting the help of a solicitor to draft this.

Back to work

If someone has been sick for a while, they are more likely to remain at work Adults are entitled to 11 consecutive hours’ rest between working days STEPHEN SIMPSON and not go off sick again if they return on reduced hours and gradually build their hours. Temporarily adjusting their duties may also help.

 

Discuss things with them when they get back. They might have medical advice from their doctor or you may need to do a risk assessment. Make notes of what has been discussed and decide on a timetable and review.

 

If the employee has a disability, the employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments, such as adjusting hours/duties or providing specialist equipment. The law does not stop an employer from dismissing an employee if they are unable to carry out the job that they were recruited for.

 

‘Incapability’ is potentially a fair reason for dismissal, but the employee must be genuinely unable to do their job and a basic fair dismissal procedure must be followed. To avoid legal disputes, you must take steps to see if you can adjust working arrangements to help the employee return.

Shape Your Farming Future Series

Shape Your Farming Future is a series of informative and practical guides looking in-depth at issues pertinent to farmers when planning for the future.

 

The four in this series are supported by The Co-Op and look at Succession, Consumer Trends, Skills and Training and Building Resilience.

 

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