10 myths that pervade the HR industry

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This article was written by Millie Sarin, Deputy Knowledge Manager at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

If you’ve been in HR for years or are just learning the ropes, there are a number of common workplace misunderstandings that seem to crop up again and again.

The Acas advice helpline receives around a million calls a year, which includes calls from HR workers. A range of these queries contain many common workplace misconceptions. As workplace experts, we are keen to bust the top ten myths that pop up.

1. Employees don’t have a contract unless there is something in writing

One of the biggest myths that cause confusion is around contracts. Many employees believe that they’ve got to have a written contract in place when they start work. Employers often think that if they’ve offered a job verbally to a new employee but have yet to supply a written contract then they can withdraw the offer if they have second thoughts. This is not true. A verbal contract can exist. A contract 'starts' as soon as an offer of employment is accepted. For the employee, starting work proves that you accept the terms and conditions offered by the employer.

Most employees are legally entitled to a Written Statement of the main terms and conditions of employment within two calendar months of starting work. This should include details of things like pay, holidays and working hours. Download our Written Statement of Employment [Word document, 55kb] template.

2. Employees on maternity leave can't be made redundant 

Employers are often unsure about women's rights in these situations but if the redundancy is genuine then an employee who is pregnant or on maternity leave is not exempt from being made redundant. Employers must be careful to ensure that the redundancy is for a genuine reason, is absolutely necessary now and is not caused by the pregnancy or maternity leave itself.

3. Employees can say when they take their holidays

Some employees might think they can book a holiday and let their employer know a few days before but there are rules so employers can manage their workplace effectively. Employers and employees can agree how and when to give notice of when leave is to be taken. But in the absence of any agreement the notice period should be at least twice the period of leave to be taken. So for example if a week's leave is requested then two weeks notice should be given. Employers do need to make sure that their staff are given the right amount of holidays.

4. Employers can’t cancel booked holidays

Most managers and employers will do as much as they can to balance holiday requests but sometimes a change in circumstances eg a last minute big order, could mean all hands on deck. Employers can cancel booked holidays but they should give notice equivalent to the amount of holiday requested. It’s good practice to find a way to provide leave fairly and consistently to staff that’s sustainable for the business and not cancel holidays unless absolutely necessary.

5. Employees must be paid a higher rate of pay if they work on a bank holiday

Many employers do pay extra for working on a bank holiday for example it might be in their contract. However, there’s no automatic right to getting more pay on a bank holiday.

6. Employees must be able to take bank holidays off

Some employees might think that they automatically get a bank holiday off work but there’s actually no legal right to paid leave for public holidays. Any right to paid time off for these holidays depends on the terms of a worker's contract. Paid public holidays can be counted as part of the statutory 5.6 weeks of holiday.

7. Employees with young children have a right to work part-time

Employees can request flexible working but there’s no right to working reduced hours. At the moment an employer has a statutory duty to consider the request seriously, and to refuse it only if there are clear business grounds for doing so. From 2014 the government is proposing to extend flexible working requests to all employees.

8. Employers should not contact an employee when they are on sick leave

Sometimes managers worry about contributing to stress or depression by making contact with their colleague who is off sick. This can be challenging because if you don't get in touch you may risk the person feeling neglected but if you do you need to be careful to not make them feel as if they are being harassed. The best approach is to make sure any contact is made in a caring and considerate way and that your absence policy sets the expectation that contact can be made.

9. If an employee is on maternity leave it’s illegal for an employer to contact her about any work-related issues

This is not true. Employers can and should keep in contact with employees on maternity leave especially if the employee is at risk of being made redundant. It’s good practice to agree beforehand how this contact should take place and to be sensitive to an employee’s circumstances and preferences. You could agree to keeping in touch days (known as KIT days), and/or agree when is best to telephone, write letters or email employees about workplace developments.

10. Employers can only make changes to an employee's contract of employment in a TUPE situation after a specified period of time

There is no time period - changes can be made once the transfer takes place. Under TUPE the ‘new employer’ should not agree changes to a transferring employee's contracts of employment if the reason for the change is:

  • the transfer itself; or
  • a reason connected to the transfer which is not an economic, technical or organisational reason entailing changes in the workforce.

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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