Put your employment law knowledge to the test

Everyday decisions

Employment law may be a daunting aspect of managing a practice. But knowing how to apply the laws and regulations can support your everyday decisions and reduce the risk of an employment tribunal. Nicola Mullineux, research co-ordinator from Peninsula Business Services, puts your knowledge to the test.

Q1 - A receptionist who has been with your practice for four months has had a significant amount of sick leave. Your practice hasn't been able to cope with the high level of absence. When you speak to the employee, she tells you that she suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome. How do you respond?

A - You start the dismissal proceedings. You cannot continue to put up with the uncertainty her absences are creating; the receptionist is pivotal to the efficient running of the practice.

B - Tread more carefully than you would when dealing with other types of absences, as she has highlighted an ongoing health problem. You look into how you can help her.

Q2 - One of your staff who has young children tells you that she needs to change her working hours and would prefer to work part-time. She tells you that she has a right to change her hours because she is a parent and would like to start the new arrangement from next month. How do you react?

A - She is not automatically entitled to change her hours but you follow the statutory request procedure and hold a meeting with her, before you decide whether to allow the change.

B - You reluctantly agree to the change. It leaves you in a difficult position because you will have to reorganise her work between the remaining staff.

Q3 - An employee who is on long-term sickness absence contacts you asking to take the next two weeks as annual leave. How do you respond?

A - You automatically say no and question the appropriateness of asking to take time off when she is already on sick leave.

B - You weigh up the pros and cons of agreeing to the annual leave request and allow her to take it as you are uncertain as to your legal position.

Q4 - A disagreement between two employees is now affecting morale among the rest of the staff. The two employees involved refuse to talk directly to each other and resolve the situation. How do you deal with it?

A - You ignore the situation. Your employees are paid to work and you are their manager, not their parent.

B - You ask each party for a meeting, to confront the issue and look for a resolution.

Q5 - You are in an appraisal with a 63-year old member of staff. You don't want to ask them about their future plans because they might think you are enquiring about retirement. How do you approach the situation?

A - You loosely ask the employee about the rest of their career, and hope that you have done so in a tactful way.

B - Avoid asking them anything at all about the future, you would rather avoid the subject to stay on the safe side.

Q6 - An employee discloses that he feels he is being bullied by another member of the team, but refuses to name the perpetrator. Every time you approach him to discuss it further he looks nervous. What will you do about it?

A - You don't progress the situation so he won't feel uncomfortable. He hasn't formally raised a grievance to you in writing, so you won't be able to investigate the options.

B - You speak to the employee again the next day and ask if he wants to take it further. You are concerned about whether this will affect his performance at work.

Q1 – correct answer B

Although the receptionist has only worked for you for four months and doesn't have the length of service to claim unfair dismissal, she has raised a health concern that is legally classified as a disability. The employee is protected by the Equality Act 2010, which states that it is against the law for employers to discriminate against an employee because of a disability.

You must assess her responsibilities and ensure that she can cope with her workload. Read more about the government's Disability Act by visiting their website.

Q2 – correct answer A

You should not be forced into agreeing to her proposal, and you cannot automatically decline. You may refuse the request for flexible hours because of the difficulty in reorganising her work.

The employee must follow a procedure to request flexible working. The government website outlines the following procedure to request flexible working:

  1. The employee writes to the employer.
  2. The employer should request a meeting within 28 days to discuss the application.
  3. The employer must make a decision within 14 days of the meeting and tell the employee about it.
  4. If the employer agrees to flexible working they must give the employee a new contract. If they don't agree the employee can appeal.

Find out more visit the GOV.uk site.

Q3 – correct answer b

The employee is entitled to take annual leave during her sickness absence, so you should consider authorising the request. If her absence continues into the following holiday year, it is likely that the employee would be able to carry the annual leave over and therefore be paid in lieu of it if her employment is terminated. Letting her take the leave now will reduce any potential termination payments.

Q4 – correct answer b

If disputes arise in the workplace, it is in your best interests to help smooth the dispute and find a suitable resolution. Mediation can help to encourage the employees to confront each other in a safe environment and find an adequate solution. The steps involved are as follows.

  • Arrange for a confidential meeting room with the parties involved.
  • Set agreed objectives for the meeting, and the agenda.
  • Talk through any issues, state the facts and discuss how the situation can be improved.
  • Agree on key action points.

Q5 – correct answer a

The tactful way to approach this situation is by asking the employee freely about what they want to achieve from the rest of their career. You have asked this question to all of your staff and have therefore not treated this member of staff any less favourably than the others.

Q6 – correct answer b

Bullying in the workplace can affect an employee's morale and job satisfaction, and could lead to sickness days or ultimately resignation. If an employee is affected by bullying, and it impairs their job satisfaction, you can treat the conversation as a formal grievance, regardless of the fact that they did not raise it in writing. You can remind him that substantiated bullying is not acceptable and that you will take steps to eradicate it.

This article originally appeared in the print version of inpractice December 2013 issue entitled 'Everyday decisions'

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