AXA Business Insurance reports a rise of 162 per cent from 2009-2012 with British businesses ultimately having to foot the bill.
In 2012 alone, AXA saw a year on year rise of 75 per cent in the number of deafness claims and had more claims for deafness than any other type of workplace injury or illness. The company attributes the rise as a primary reason for an overall increase of over 30 per cent in Employer Liability claims.
The insurer is concerned that the rise in claims is being fuelled by compensation lawyers and claims management companies targeting potential claimants. And while there are obviously many genuine claims, the company has also seen evidence of a growing number of fraudulent claims. It believes the trend in these claims has many similarities to the massive rise in personal injury claims among drivers over the last few years.
David Williams, managing director, Underwriting, AXA Insurance, said: “The issue for British industry is that, as we have seen with other areas of insurance in the UK, lots of claims inevitably lead to higher premiums in order to cover the cost of payouts. As British business struggles through a prolonged period of recession, the last thing they need is the added expense that this will bring.
“We are very keen to work with British businesses, the rest of the insurance industry and government to put in place effective measures to stop this becoming the next whiplash.”
According to HSE statistics, around one million people in Great Britain are exposed to levels of noise that could affect their hearing. Current Control of Noise regulations require all employers to provide protection in any working environment where decibel levels exceed 85.
David Williams concluded: “We would urge employers to be really thorough in ensuring employees are provided with proper protection and that using it correctly is robustly enforced. By doing this they can help us nip this growing problem in the bud before it starts impacting on their bottom line.”
New rules aimed at streamlining the Employment Tribunal process have been announced by Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson. These changes will make tribunals easier to understand, more efficient and will help weed out weak claims.
In November 2011 the government commissioned Mr Justice Underhill, former President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal to lead a fundamental review of the rules of procedure for employment tribunals.
In its response, the government sets out plans to streamline the tribunal process and make it easier for parties to navigate.
The proposals the government have accepted include:
- new strike out powers to ensure that weak cases that should not proceed to full hearing are halted at the earliest possible opportunity;
- guidance from the Employment Tribunal Presidents to help ensure that judges deal with hearings in a consistent manner which ensures parties know what to expect;
- making it easier to withdraw and dismiss claims by cutting the amount of paper work required; and
- a new procedure for preliminary hearings that combines separate pre-hearing reviews and case management discussions.This will reduce the overall number of hearings and lead to a quicker disposal of cases saving time and costs for all parties.
Employment Relations Minister, Jo Swinson said: We are committed to finding ways to resolve workplace disputes so they don’t end up with two sides in front of a tribunal.
The proposals set out today will help all parties understand what the process involves and what to expect. Employment Tribunals are costly in terms of time, money and stress for everyone and they should always be the last resort, not the first port of call.
We have always said, and this is backed up by international evidence, that the UK has one of the most flexible labour markets in the world. Our efforts to review of areas of employment law not just tribunals are about making sure business can get on and grow, while employees have the necessary protections in place.
It is expected that the new rules will come into force this summer.
Your staff and colleagues possess information about your business that could harm you if they leave – it makes sense to protect yourself.
It is a fear that haunts every business owner – that one day a trusted colleague will walk out the door and set up in competition taking vital customer information, trade secrets and even key staff with them.
To avoid this horrifying scenario a growing number of employers now insert a “restrictive covenant” in contracts to protect their businesses. Briefly this is a clause that prevents former employees from approaching customers or using knowledge obtained at a prior employment. Such contracts are usually more associated with key personnel at blue chip companies and we’ve all read about
departing directors from, say, Marks & Spencer or managers from Premier League clubs being placed on “gardening leave” to prevent them immediately joining a rival. But such clauses increasingly make sense for smaller concerns as employment lawyer Geoff Tyler points out “A restrictive covenant makes sense in any concern which is in the business of selling and which employs sales people.
“What it seeks to prevent is someone building up a network on your time and on your expense account.” says Tyler a partner at employment law firm Pinsent Masons. “This can apply to even smaller businesses such as a hairdressers or insurance brokers which rely on customer loyalty built up over the years and not want to see that walk out the door.”
Even if an employer has no intention of ever going to court these clauses can be useful. “Restrictive covenants certainly have a deterrent effect.” says Tyler. “If you point out to someone what is in their contract then they may think twice.” Restrictive covenants can take many forms but three of the most common are:
Whereby a former employee is prevented from directly competing or working for a competitor within a specific radius or within a specific period such as six months from departure.
This is subtly different and prevents a former employee from working with clients, customers or sub-contractors for a specific period, again typically six months from termination.
Former employees are prevented from taking key staff again for a specific period of time after termination. There are pitfalls for the unwary employer. If they want their restrictive covenant clauses to be binding business owners should be mindful that they may have to justify every restriction. One obstacle that disgruntled employers may face in court is that a restriction must not be seen to be unduly repressive or prevent someone from making a living.
Clauses have to be as tightly focused and relevant to an employee’s situation
A “one size fits all” clause dished out to all staff will not be looked upon kindly by a court. Timescale should be well defined. Preventing someone from setting up in competition within, say, 12 or six months may be more enforceable than something more open ended. Geographical restrictions too might also be hard to justify if it goes beyond a radius of say, six to 12 miles. The information being protected also needs to be relevant and a court may be more inclined to protect trade secrets than lower value customer information. One of the problems with enforcing restrictive covenants is proving that they have been breached and employers may have to resort to monitoring phone call and email traffic if they are to have enough evidence to persuade a court.
Before rushing into court an employer must sit back, take a deep breath and ask themselves key questions before committing to spending large amounts of time and money. What is the best course of action for the business and does the amount of money to be saved by the action justify the legal expenses incurred? But at the same time they must ensure they get the best advice. Employment lawyer Alex Denny has known of businesses that have suffered because the applicant did not take enough action and advice early on.
”There are no short cuts when your business is at stake,” says Denny who is head of employment law at Faegre Baker Daniels. “You have to take legal advice early and follow that advice. If you do that you will be in control in any litigation that follows.”
Nearly 600,000 (23 per cent) UK SMEs are not completely satisfied with their current mobile strategy, with almost half (47 per cent) of IT managers recognising that providing their employees with a different smartphone could improve their productivity. In spite of this acknowledgement, mobile strategies remain low on their agenda, with 48 per cent of UK SMEs admitting that developing the right mobile solution isn’t high on their current list of priorities, according to a new study.
The study, commissioned by Nokia, examines how satisfied UK SMEs are with their current mobile strategy, how much emphasis is currently being put on deploying the right solution and key consideration areas for IT managers when making a purchasing decision. It reveals that of the 1.9 million (75 per cent) UK SMEs with a mobile strategy in place, only a fifth (21 per cent) are strategically planned. The majority (54 per cent) have evolved organically, and a quarter of UK SMEs don’t have a formal strategy in place at all. It’s therefore unsurprising that IT managers are dissatisfied with their current mobile solution across a number of areas, including limited choice of suitable mobile platforms (18 per cent), complexities with integration, support and/or security (12 per cent), complex user experience (11 per cent) and poor service or support from their current mobile provider (six per cent).
The main concern identified in the study is around employee productivity, with almost half (49 per cent) of IT managers believing that a different smartphone would make performing certain activities quicker. A quarter (25 per cent) are of the opinion that providing a different device would provide easier integration with other business applications and systems used across the organisation, whilst 42 per cent believe it would provide additional functionality. It’s interesting to note that 93 per cent of IT managers felt that their current smartphones provide most, if not all, of the required functionality. This conflicting statistic suggests that whilst IT managers understand the benefits of reviewing their mobile strategy, current, adequate functionality tides them over meaning that this gets deprioritised.
Ewan MacLeod, editor of Mobile Industry Review commented: “The mobile industry is evolving at great speed, with manufacturers and operators regularly bringing out new devices and improved services. The prospect of reviewing and potentially changing a mobile strategy can be off-putting for busy IT managers, who are faced with many other challenges. However, it doesn’t have to be as complex as it may at first appear and having the right mobile solution in place provides tangible and immediate benefits for businesses and employees.”
The rise of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) introduced an additional challenge for IT managers who in some instances have been required to support multiple devices / systems / platforms in the workplace. It’s encouraging to see that mind sets appear to be changing with over half (51 per cent) of IT managers understanding that it’s important to provide a smartphone that blends work and personal use, and 55 per cent recognising that a smartphone acts as an incentive for employees.
Adrian Williams, director of B2B Solutions at Nokia, commented: “We see the challenges faced by IT managers every day, and understand the difficult decisions they have to make to get the best from their mobile strategy, both for their business and employees. The days of the work phone / personal phone are numbered, with devices, such as the Nokia Lumia 920, available that successfully blend personal and work use. By spending some time researching, planning and implementing the right strategy, IT managers can introduce a wealth of benefits and opportunities for their business to not only save money, but also make money as their workforce is able to conduct business whenever and wherever they are, and to do so on a device they love.”
British businesses will be helped to tackle long-term sickness absence in the workplace thanks to a new independent assessment and advisory service aimed at getting people back to work and away from long-term sickness benefits, the Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud has announced.
The scheme will save employers up to £160 million a year in statutory sick pay and increase economic output by up to £900 million a year.
Currently, only 10 per cent of employees of small firms have access to an occupational health service, compared with more than half of staff in larger firms. The new service will enable employers of all sizes to access expert advice to help them manage sickness absence in the workplace.
This new initiative will ensure employers receive bespoke, independent advice for cases of sickness absence lasting more than four weeks. Experts agree this approach will help to stop thousands of people falling out of work and onto long-term sickness benefits.
The Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said:
“Long-term sickness absence is a burden to business, to the taxpayer and to the thousands of people who get trapped on benefits when they could actually work.
“So for the first time, all employers, big or small, will have access to a service that offers the early support they need to keep people in work and fulfil their aspirations.
“It’s further proof that this Government is confronting all the challenges facing Britain and making sure we compete and thrive in the global race.”
The lack of advice or support is one of the main barriers faced by employers tackling sickness absence in the workplace. Under the current system, the vast majority of fit notes declare employees to be unfit for work.
The new service is part of a series of measures announced today by the Government to help employers support their staff and prevent employees needlessly going onto sickness benefits, and it is part of the Government’s response to the recommendations of health and business experts Dame Carol Black and David Frost.
Dame Carol Black said:
“I very much welcome the Government’s decision to press ahead with the new independent assessment and advisory service which David and I recommended in our Review.
“A new independent assessment and advice service will address the sicknote culture and offer people the best possible support to get back to work quickly.
“What David and I found in our Review is that far too many people with potentially manageable conditions – like stress or back pain – are effectively being signed off work for life, sliding from a short spell of sickness absence to a life of long-term benefit dependency.
“The changes being made by the government today will begin to change that. They will ensure that employers and employees get the best possible access to occupational health advice and support. And the new service will also provide much-needed support for GPs too, so they can spend more time helping their patients and less time having to police the benefit system.”
The independent occupational health assessment and advice service is expected to be up and running in 2014.