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Ask the expert

Ask the expertSome years ago we teamed up with the UK’s leading provider of workplace advice to provide the Croner helpline to our Practice Xtra members. Louise Barnes, Senior Employment Consultant at Croner, reveals the top five workplace issues

At a glance

Practices mostly call about:

  • Absence and sickness
  • Conduct
  • Terms and conditions
  • Disciplinary
  • Grievances

1. Absence and sickness

The helpline consultants can offer advice on satisfying the various conditions and procedural requirements that need to be fulfilled before the employee can be dismissed.

In 2012 absence and sickness was the main area of concern for members. Calls to the helpline mostly involve employees who have been absent from work for significant periods of time with illnesses so debilitating that they are unlikely to return to work.

Where an employee has been absent for more than six months and they are able to obtain a medical report confirming that they are unlikely to be able to return to work within a reasonable amount of time, the employment relationship could be brought to an end.

In this instance a full and thorough investigation has to be undertaken (which would likely include the suspension of the employee)

The helpline consultants can offer advice on satisfying the various conditions and procedural requirements that need to be fulfilled before the employee can be dismissed from their employment, and support employers to ensure they satisfy the obligations and requirements set out in law to prevent an accusation of disability discrimination by the employee.

2. Conduct

Members frequently seek advice from an employment law perspective for issues relating to misconduct or gross misconduct. For example, serious allegations relating to sexual harassment from members of staff of the opposite sex because the behaviour has caused offence and created an intimidating, hostile and degrading working environment.

In this instance a full and thorough investigation has to be undertaken (which would likely include the suspension of the employee). If the employer is satisfied that the evidence they have gathered demonstrates that there is reasonable belief that the employee has been acting in a manner which would amount to sexual harassment, then they can be taken through a disciplinary procedure and dismissed without giving notice.

3. Terms and conditions

It is common for employers to want to make changes to an employee’s terms and conditions, either for an individual or the whole practice. Whatever the change and the justification behind it, the simplest way to achieve any change to terms and conditions is with the consent of the affected individuals. For this reason, changes that are beneficial are often accepted and are easy to implement, while changes which employees might consider to be detrimental require discussion and negotiation. Quite often an incentive will go some way towards encouraging acceptance.

The simplest way to achieve any change to terms and conditions is with the consent of the affected individuals

Employers need to be mindful of the numbers affected, the business reason and nature of the change, as these factors will affect the best way to approach and manage the process in a way that is fair and will achieve the desired result.

4. Disciplinary

Matters relating to the poor performance and misconduct of employees require disciplinary procedures to be followed and these can be both time-consuming and difficult to manage. However, it is essential employees are treated consistently, fairly and, most importantly, reasonably. Where an employee is underperforming or commits an act of misconduct it is often appropriate to issue a warning in the hope that this will act as a deterrent and prevent any repeat of the issue at hand.

All practices are expected to have an internal disciplinary procedure, which should outline the process they will follow when managing an employee’s poor performance or misconduct. In the absence of such a procedure the law expects employers to act in a specific way and follow a statutory code of practice.

It is essential employees are treated consistently, fairly and, most importantly, reasonably

The employment experts on the Croner helpline can guide you through those legal requirements and ensure that any disciplinary procedures comply with the law and ensure you are in the best possible position to achieve the desired result.

5. Grievances

Internal conflicts between members of staff are increasingly common. If these are not managed and resolved informally in the early stages, ill-feeling can fester, and what starts as a relatively minor disagreement can be blown out of all proportion. All practices should have an internal grievance procedure and in most instances they would encourage conflict resolution informally at the earliest opportunity. Where this hasn’t happened, or the situation becomes more serious, one or more employees might wish to raise a formal grievance.

Upon receipt of a grievance the practice is expected to write and invite the employee to attend a grievance meeting, which gives the employee the opportunity to discuss their concerns in order that the chairperson of the meeting can investigate and respond to the individual’s points. Following a full and thorough investigation a timely response should be provided that will either uphold the grievance, in full or in part, or not uphold the grievance.

All practices should have an internal grievance procedure and in most instances they would encourage conflict resolution informally at the earliest opportunity

Irrespective of the outcome the response should be given in writing and the employee offered the opportunity to appeal. There may also be practical recommendations arising out of the process – for example, offering mediation or further training to help to encourage a positive working environment.

Ask the expert

If you have a pressing issue you would like to ask one of our experts about please email sara.williams@mps.org.uk

Practice Xtra

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