Practice managers seek advice on a wide range of topics - Nicola Mullineux looks at some the most common reasons they pick up the phone to Peninsula.
Peninsula Business Services run the MDU's free employment law helpline for MDU GROUPCARE practices. The 24-hour advice service is there to provide practice managers with help on all manner of employee issues.
No problem is too small or insignificant. Here is a rundown of common calls that Peninsula's advice service receives from MDU GROUPCARE members.
Calls concerning employee misconduct remain consistently high, and have recently highlighted the importance of policies and protocols within the practice.
Policies are in place for a reason and breaches need to be investigated carefully. Some calls to the Advice Service have involved careful reading of infection control policies, where employees are failing to deal with the taking of blood correctly. In one serious case, the prescribing policy was a focal point for an employee who was suspected of forging a GP's signature on prescriptions, giving her access to insomnia medication for her own use.
Good paper trails are fundamental when it comes to practices giving themselves the best defence should it become necessary. By constantly keeping policies under review and up to date, and following that up with taking good notes of all discussions and meetings with employees to talk about their performance, practices will already have all the evidence needed should a dispute arise.
Disciplinary procedures can get complicated with issues such as trade union representation, employee absence during the procedure or grievances made about the procedure, but Peninsula can assist at every stage.
Employees with health problems
A common advice topic in recent months is the procedure to adopt for members of staff who have been absent from work because of their own health condition. Short-term sporadic absence in general appears to be a frequent concern, with reasons ranging from a bad back to coughs and colds.
Where absence reaches a level deemed unacceptable, we generally advise practices to deal with this under their disciplinary procedure. Robust monitoring and recording practices are the best place to start for managing absence.
Longer periods of absence, as is sometimes seen with GPs suffering from stress, requires a different approach. Long-term absence can bring into question the individual's capability, rather than just their behaviour.
In circumstances like this, practices have been advised to gather evidence with an occupational health report, to get an expert opinion on the detailed interplay between the individual's current and longer term abilities and their particular work tasks.
The cornerstone of the employment relationship is the contract of employment, which sets out the terms, conditions, rules and expectations of both employer and employee. Questions have arisen regarding PMS and GMS contracts, ranging from queries about overtime allocation and entitlement to annual leave on bank holidays, to more tricky situations where the contractual working hours need to be altered.
A common difficulty with contracts is that they are not written with sufficient clarity to determine annual leave or sick pay entitlements, for example. Peninsula can give advice on how to get that clarity to remove any existing confusion.
Although not occurring as frequently as disciplinary procedures, grievance procedures can still involve a similar style of investigation. Recently, practices have sought our advice on grievances surrounding alleged unfair treatment regarding annual leave allocation, allegations from practice managers of unfair treatment from partners, and complaints regarding references that have been provided for ex-employees.
A practice's responsibility to an employee does not stop immediately after they have left the practice, particularly when it comes to grievances. Procedures may differ but we can advise on how each case should be handled.
Flexible working requests
Since the extension of the right to request flexible working, increasing numbers of employees are asking for their working hours to be amended, leading to more requests for advice in this area.
Examples of reasons given include members of staff wanting to look after their grandchildren or friends' children - both reasons which are now included within the scope of the law. Practices have been advised that the regulations governing flexible working requests have been loosened, resulting in a less strict procedure, but a procedure should be followed nonetheless. In general, practices have been able to accommodate flexible working requests.
Ask for help
Although Peninsula generally helps MDU GROUPCARE practices with contentious issues, practice managers should remember that help is available for everything that falls within the employment relationship including recruitment, national minimum wage and national living wage, maternity leave and more.
MDU GROUPCARE members can contact Peninsula on 0844 892 2487 for free employment law advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Peninsula Business Services
Nicola is the employment law research consultant at Peninsula Business Services Ltd, the UK’s leading employment law and health & safety consultancy providing business assistance to over 30,000 employers.
See more by Nicola Mullineux