employers guide

What’s your stance on romance?

Despite living in a world of online dating, the old-fashioned office romance is alive and well in the UK. In fact, research reveals that as many as 4 in 10 workers end up in long term relationships with one of their colleagues.

It seems that long hours spent together at the office, common interests and a shared work ethic are key drivers for workplace romance. But what happens when people find their relationship becoming more than just professional? Should romance and work ever mix?

A survey reported that three quarters of respondents have considered embarking on a romance in the office and more than half had had a relationship with at least one colleague. Perhaps it’s even more surprising then that 84 per cent of the same people believed office romances have a negative impact on productivity.

There are certainly risks. If relationships turn sour this can lead to potentially serious situations, including sexual harassment or even unfair dismissal claims. But contractual clauses forbidding office relationships are unlikely to work and they could also create the awkward possibility that highly valued employees have to be disciplined for falling in love.

Very interestingly, rules are also evolving because of the #MeToo movement. For example, at Facebook and Google, you can only ask a co-worker out once and if the person says no (or even if it’s not a clear yes), you’re not allowed to ask again.

What’s important is encouraging employees to keep work and personal life separate, and to stay professional both when things are going well and if they break up.

As well as sharing your company policy on the issue with all of your employees, it is also vital for employers to have robust bullying and harassment procedures in place should things go wrong – and to act upon any complaints swiftly and appropriately.

THE SME EMPLOYER’S GUIDE TO MANAGING AN OFFICE ROMANCE
As obvious as it might seem, the more people that you employ, the more likely the chance of workplace romances happening. But can your business handle the unpredictable impact that personal relationships can have on working relationships?

If your employees do develop romantic relationships with each other, it’s important that you invest time and effort in creating a consistent stance on the matter.

Is it a clear-cut ‘no’, a middle of the road ‘declare it to your manager’ or ‘don’t ask don’t tell’? Here are some guidelines that will help you to create a company policy on workplace relationships that makes your position to employees clear and help you to navigate clear of any romantic turbulence.

Do your employees know the risks?
There’s always the chance that any relationship won’t work out, but there is also the potential for a conflict of interest.

Of course, many people form close friendships with colleagues but this can complicate decision making. This can become more significant if your employees start dating. Will this mean they put the company’s or individual’s best interests first? Additionally, how can anyone be sure that employees aren’t exploiting their position or the vulnerability of a co-worker? There are also reputational risks. For example, colleagues may think a manager in a relationship with a junior is giving them preferential treatment and this can impact on how the rest of the team sees the manager’s decision making capabilities and professionalism. It can also affect the junior employee, whose success may be constantly overshadowed by doubt from others.

Do they know your stance on office relationships?
If your employees are aware of these risks but still want to pursue a relationship at work, it’s important that they know your company stance on the issue. Many companies not only frown upon but categorically prohibit employees from dating co-workers, customers or suppliers. Some require disclosure from the outset, whilst some turn a blind eye to it.

As an employer, you should make sure that you explore how you feel about your team members dating and think through how all of the scenarios may affect your business.

Once you are sure about your stance, put together an official company policy and make sure that every employee is aware of the terms. Build an open and transparent communications channel so if any of your employees have already violated a policy, they feel comfortable confessing to it and moving on, rather than covering it up and sneaking around.

Nowadays, more companies are removing regulations to dating colleagues because these rules are hard to enforce and seem excessively controlling, especially if businesses expect employees to work 40 hour weeks.

Boss/employee relationships to be avoided

It is universally accepted that it’s a bad idea to get involved with anybody who is in your chain of command, either up or down, on account of the ethical dilemma of either party exploiting the dynamics of power.

This is where conflicts of interest are most obvious, for example, it’s hard to be objective when giving someone you’re dating a performance review. A romance between an employee and a manager can affect team morale and damage confidence. While boss/employee romances do happen, and sometimes those relationships do work out, there is undoubtedly a minefield to negotiate.

Do they feel tempted to hide it?
While your employees’ personal relationships are their business, it’s important to encourage them to be open about any workplace relationship, at least with you. This might be difficult to follow through, especially if it’s early days and the employees in question aren’t sure about where the relationship will go.

Letting people know reduces the awkwardness and increases the chance that they’ll receive the news favourably. This could mitigate a lot of the negatives of the situation, so stress this point with your employees early on.

Give your employees the freedom to come to you, while they certainly should not feel like they have to announce every single romantic involvement or fling. They should feel comfortable in saying something like “We went on a few dates, but I’m sure you can understand that I don’t want to get into more detail about our personal lives,” this could make a huge difference. Also, putting a relationship on record can protect your employees and your team’s morale if the relationship goes sour.

Set boundaries

Whilst being open about your relationship is a positive thing in many cases, stress that your employees don’t have to get into details or be subjected to public displays of affection at work. Research on flirting at work reveals that team members who witness open displays of romance in a work setting may feel uncomfortable and de-motivated.

It is important that your employees have an open conversation that defines the relationship, outlines boundaries and know how to manage and mitigate risks.

It’s also important to remember that harassment under the Equality Act can occur if someone else is upset by behaviour they witness, even if that behaviour is not directed at them.

In the event of a break-up
Of course, not every romance will work out and if your dating employees decide to break up, it’s best that they’re prepared for it. If they’ve been telling people about the relationship, they may need to tell people when it’s over in the most professional way as possible.

SETTING YOUR COMPANY POLICY
With these guidelines in mind, there are some key do’s and don’ts on office relationships that your employees should know about.

Do:
• Know the many risks of getting involved with someone at work.
• Familiarise yourself with your company’s policy and the reasoning behind it.
• Talk through what you’ll do if the relationship doesn’t work out.

Don’t:
• Pursue a co-worker if you’re not serious about a relationship.
• Date someone who you have a reporting relationship with.
• Try to hide the relationship from your manager or colleagues – after a certain point, it will only erode trust.

These guidelines and do’s and don’ts provide some of the key rationale for setting out your own company policy on workplace relationships. Once confirmed, you should then make sure that this policy is communicated to all of your employees so that everyone is fully aware of your company’s stance.

As with all workplace policy, Borders Employment Law can help you to develop your own company policy on managing romantic relationships in your organisation and if problems do arise we can also provide you with the right advice.

An employer’s guide to jury service

Jury service is a public duty, but what are the implications for employers?

Groups of 15 ordinary women and men are selected at random to uphold justice in their local community. Jury service is a public duty that they are obliged to perform and unless someone is disqualified, has the right to be excused or has a valid reason for discretionary excusal, then they must serve. All jurors are selected at random from the electoral register and everyone from the age of 18 to 70 may be selected even if they are not eligible to serve on a Jury.

The chance of being called for jury service in Scotland, as in receiving a citation for jury service, is roughly 95% across the 53 years of typical eligibility. Although many people will receive a letter asking them to serve on a jury, far fewer will actually be selected to sit on the jurors’ benches.

About 30 men and women will be invited to court and 15 will be selected to be part of a jury.
In fact, the chance of actually serving on a Scottish jury is about 30% and the probability of being asked to be part of a jury more than once is about 40%.

Some people never get called whilst others get called more than once. But what are the implications for employers if an employee is called?

Key points
• Employers must allow an employee time off for jury service, although employers can ask for a delay if allowing you time off will harm the business, but can only delay once in a 12 month period.
• Jury service in most cases is an average of ten working days but may be longer or shorter depending on the case.
• There is no legal obligation for an employer to pay an employee while on jury service as the court will pay certain costs.
• Anyone on the electoral register aged between 18-70 may be selected, subject to certain exceptions outlined below.

Employees should tell their employer as soon as possible that they have been summoned, when they will need time off and if possible how much. If they are not needed at court they should return to work unless something different has been agreed beforehand. Courts can pay for loss of earnings, travel costs and a subsistence rate during jury service. This is subject to certain limits so an employee won’t necessarily recover all their losses.

The law gives employees the right to time off and not to be dismissed or treated be subjected to detrimental treatment because they serve on a jury. They also have the right not to be selected for redundancy, where the reason is connected to their jury service. Employees can also bring a claim for unfair dismissal in relation to jury service by making a complaint to an employment tribunal if they are dismissed or suffer detriment for taking time off for jury service.

As an employer, here are some of the key questions you might have.

Who is not eligible for jury service?
Any UK resident aged between 18 and 70 years of age, who is registered on the electoral roll, could be called for jury service. All jurors are selected at random by computer from the electoral register.

Those who are not eligible for jury service include:
• Anyone currently detained, or who is liable to being detained, under the Mental Health Act 1983
• Those who lack the mental capacity to be a juror
• Individuals who are currently on bail, or an active defendant in criminal proceedings
• Anyone who has been in prison, or charged with a crime in the last ten years

There are different rules in Scotland and England regarding exempt occupations. For example a solicitor or judge I Scotland is exempt, whereas in England they are not. Scottish Courts Service produce a very helpful guide on eligibility on their website at www.scotcourts.gov.uk

Due to the random selection criteria, some people may be called to serve as juror multiple times during their life, whilst others will not be called at all.

How long does jury service usually last for?
An average juror will serve on a criminal case for between three to 10 days. However, more serious crimes, such as murder or complex fraud cases, may take much longer.

If a judge has been briefed that a case is likely to last much longer than stated, he or she will raise this with all potential jurors from the offset and allow them the opportunity to apply to be excused from serving, or for their service to be deferred to a later date.

Can someone apply for exemption or ask to be deferred?
Anyone can apply for exemption from their jury service or for it to be deferred. You can commonly only delay jury service once, and you must provide alternative dates for your availability within the next 12 months.

The main grounds for deferral include:
• Having a pre-booked holiday
• Needing to attended hospital for a scheduled operation
• You need to attend an exam, or are a teacher and it is the exam period
• You are seriously unwell
• You are pregnant and due to give birth

Rarely, an individual can be completely excused from jury service (with the option of being called again at some point in the future). This normally only applies to those who have served as a juror, or has attended to serve, within the last two years. It is a criminal offence to refuse your jury service and non-attendance can be followed with a fine of up to £1,000.

When should employers be notified of a jury summons?
An individual normally receives a summons for jury service at least five weeks prior to the date of the trial commencing, which they must legally respond to within seven working days.

As an employer, you should make clear that any employee needing to attend jury service must notify you of their obligations, the date that the trial starts, and the estimated duration as soon as possible.

Do I legally need to give my employee time off?
Completing jury service is a legal requirement, and you must not subject any of your employees to detrimental treatment for having to do so. You must also allow them to be away from your business for the full amount of time stipulated by the court. Employees also retain the right not to be selected for redundancy, if the reason for selection is in any way connected to their jury service.

However, if you really feel that you cannot spare an employee due to the demands of business or a lack of qualified personnel, you could ask them to apply to defer their jury service. If you choose to ask this, you will also be required to write a letter stating how their absence could seriously harm your business. You should note that they can only delay jury service once in any 12 month period, and that you must also supply dates of preferable dates when the employee will be available.

What happens to salary payment?
Legally, you are not required to pay an employee whilst they serve on a jury. However, many companies do so as a gesture of goodwill. As stated previously, the likelihood of being called to jury service during your working life could be as little as 40%, so many company policies reflect this and offer full pay on the assumption that very few employees are likely to be absent for this reason.

If you decide that you really cannot pay employees whilst on jury service, they can instead apply to claim for ‘loss of earnings’ from the court in question. A certificate demonstrating this must be filled out and handed in to the court by the employee.

What expenses can be claimed?
Anyone serving on a jury, regardless of whether they are being paid by their employer or not, can claim for expenses from the court. The areas an individual can usually claim for are travel and parking, food and drink, and a contribution towards ‘loss of earnings’ and/or other expenses.

Rates of pay for loss of earnings, and other expenses aside from travel and food and drink, depend on the length of time and the hours required for the trial itself.

What are the Tax and National Insurance implications?
This will depend entirely on your remuneration policy for employees conducting jury service.

• If you choose not to pay them at all during a period of jury service, nothing will need to be added to their payroll record or P11 form.
• If you pay an employee in full as normal, you also will not need to make any changes. You will continue to pay National Insurance and tax in the normal manner.
• If you contribute to, or top up a ‘loss of earnings allowance,’ you will need to calculate PAYE tax and National Insurance contributions, based on the amount you choose to provide.

If you decide not to pay your employee, and they then apply for a loss of earnings allowance, the court will ask you as their employer to state how much money will miss out on due to undertaking jury service. You will not have to take the allowance itself into account when calculating PAYE and NICs, as it effectively counts as compensation, and not remuneration for a job.

You may then decide to ‘top up’ your employee’s allowance, so as to ensure they take home their full salary for their period serving on a jury. This would then require you to calculate PAYE and NICs on the amount that you decide to contribute.

OUR ADVICE
It is unlikely that you will have to regularly deal with managing staff who are undertaking jury service, but it is still wise to have a clear policy in place when it does arise.

Here is our advice for successfully dealing with staff on jury service.
• Ensure that you fully understand all of the legal rules and requirements surrounding UK jury service.
• You must make sure that you act fairly and appropriately and do not penalise any employee who has been called to serve unfairly.
• Communicate your business policy effectively to staff. Most employee’s will understand that their jury service could have an unwanted negative effect on a business, but you should make clear that employees know they are fully protected against both detrimental treatment and job loss whilst they are away from the business.
• Plan for business absences due to jury service. Whilst it is likely to be an infrequent occurrence, having a rough plan in place to deal with jury service absences makes both good business and financial sense. Stay informed about temp agencies that might be able to help should you need extra staff to cover.
• Implement a clear jury service policy. Make sure that you have considered the key areas that could be affected by an employee on jury service, these could include providing cover arrangements, rates of pay (if any), time periods of informing line managers and so on.
• Recognise that you could be summoned yourself! So set a good positive example to your employees and plan for your own jury service period (even if it never occurs).