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One of my employees has said she’s going on maternity leave in a few weeks – I didn’t even know she was pregnant and don’t know when her baby’s due! What do I need to do?

Firstly, I would suggest you do a risk assessment to identify anything that may be potentially harmful to your employee or her baby, and make any reasonable adjustments to her work if necessary. Your employee is required to notify you of her expected week of childbirth (EWC) and the date on which she wishes to commence her maternity leave by the end of the 15th week before her EWC. If she wishes to change the date she commences maternity leave she must notify you of the revised start date at least 28 days before that date. Within 28 days’ of receiving notice of the EWC and maternity leave start date you must respond in writing and must inform the employee of the date of the end of her additional maternity leave, following which she is expected to return to work. It is useful to include in your response other relevant details, eg. regarding holiday, keeping-in-touch days, and also how she can notify you if she wishes to return earlier than the date you have identified.

One of my employees is due back from maternity leave in a two months’ time and says she will be coming back on reduced hours, which I’ll have to allow. I am worried that if she comes back on reduced hours this will cause me a problem – does she have this right?

Your employee is referring to the right to request flexible working: one of the criteria for such a request is where the employee is responsible for caring for a child under the age of 17 (18 if the child is disabled). An employee can request, in writing, a change to the hours and/or times that she is required to work and/or a request to work from home or a more suitable venue. You will have to consider the request and either write to accept it or hold a meeting to discuss it within 28 days. Within 14 days of the meeting you must write either to confirm acceptance of the changed working conditions or reasons for not allowing the request. Specified grounds for refusing an application have to be objectively justifiable and would be one or more grounds from the list below:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • an inability to reorganise work among existing staff or recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality or performance
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • planned structural changes

If granted the changes would be permanent, unless a trial period was agreed.

I’ve decided to close the office for a week next summer and have written to all my employees to tell them they will be required to use 5 days of their annual leave for the shutdown (pro-rata to one week for part time workers). A couple of the more vociferous staff have been to see me to tell me I can’t do that – I can, can’t I?

Yes, as long as you give notice equal to twice the length of holiday that you wish the employees to take.

Are employees entitled to more than the statutory 5.6 weeks holiday to cover bank holidays?

There is no entitlement to take time off on bank/statutory holidays in addition to the statutory holiday unless the written statement of terms and conditions of employment provide otherwise. The written statement is required to contain terms relating to holiday entitlement, including bank holidays, and holiday pay.

I took over another business and combined it with my own over 5 years’ ago. I am not looking at redundancies and one of the staff who I inherited from the other business is insisting that I will have to include the 12 years he worked at the other company in his service when I calculate his redundancy pay. Is this true?

Yes, this is covered by the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (known as ‘TUPE’). His continuous service date would be from the commencement date of his employment with the company you took over. He will therefore have 17 years’ continuous service, which you will have to use in calculating his redundancy compensation.

I have written to one of my employees to arrange a meeting in accordance with the disciplinary procedure – this relates to conduct that has been on-going and we have previously spoken to him about the issues. She says her husband will be coming to the meeting with her and he’s going to ‘defend her case’. Can we do anything to stop him accompanying her?

You should make it clear that you understand her wish to be accompanied, but that she is only permitted to be accompanied by either a fellow worker, or a full-time trade union official, or a lay trade union official who has been reasonably certified by the union in writing as having experience of, or having received training in, acting as a companion at such hearings. If the husband turns up you can refuse to permit him into the room where the meeting is taken place.

One of my employees says he is bringing his solicitor to represent him at a disciplinary hearing. This is relatively minor misconduct and his job isn’t at risk. What do I do?

The response to this is the same as for the previous situation.

I have employed a number of people on fixed term contracts, renewable annually, for several years. One of them has written to me to say she believes her employment should be permanent. I prefer to carry on as I have previously – can I write back to say there will be no changes?

No. In accordance with the Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002, any employee who has been continuously employed on a series of successive fixed-term contracts for four years or more will automatically achieve permanent status, unless there is an objective reason that justifies a further renewal for a fixed term.

One of my young female employees says that a male colleague, who is her supervisor, is harassing her – he keeps texting her, makes suggestive remarks and comments on what she is wearing. She feels uncomfortable and has asked him to stop but he won’t. I’ve spoken to him and he says it’s just harmless banter. I can’t do any more, can I?

Does your organisation have a bullying and harassment policy? If so you should deal with this issue in accordance with that policy. It is important that the company provides a working environment in which all staff feel comfortable and where everyone is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, transgender status, marital or family status, colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origins, creed, culture, religion or belief, age, disability or any other personal factor or quality. You should investigate the complaint and may wish to use the disciplinary policy to deal with the issues.