To the good? - The Week in HR

16 September 2016

The Oxford English Dictionary describes the etymology of bonus as being 'an ignorant or jocular application of Latin bonus ("good (man)"'. It goes on to explain that the word was probably originally intended 'to signify a boon, "a good thing" (or bonum in Latin)'.

And bonuses have certainly been 'a good thing' for many in the City. It is no wonder that the word, according to the OED, probably originated as slang in the London Stock Exchange.

So it might be somewhat sacrilegious for me to ask my readers in the Square Mile whether it is time for the end of the bonus system?

Whilst bonus schemes have a great number of positives and can incentivise even the laziest of employees to work hard for that all important end of year bonus, some employers are questioning whether or not they are still fit for purpose.

With many companies having a bonus scheme linked to company performance, some employees feel that they are not being rewarded for their performance if their company doesn't achieve its targets.

Throw in individual targets, personal goals and metrics and you might find that your bonus system has become overly complicated. For some, it becomes a source of anger or irritation - exactly the opposite result than originally intended. As a result, some companies' feel that the time has come to get rid of their bonus schemes altogether.

Can a company simply remove their bonus schemes? The short, if not very revelatory answer, is that it depends on the circumstances but, if it has been in existence for a period of time, it might not be so easy for employers to bin the bonus.

If employers have given their employees an annual bonus for a number of years, this can lead to a contractual entitlement for the employee to be awarded their bonus. If the bonus scheme simply shut up shop, this could result in claims by the employee against the employer.

This is not to say that you can't amend a bonus scheme. As with any changes to an employees express or implied contractual entitlements, this is best achieved by embarking on a period of consultation. Engaging with the workforce might produce exactly the kind of boost to productivity and morale that the system was originally designed to engender.

What is the alternative? Non-cash incentives, ad-hoc or more regular performance-related payments, salary increases and share incentives present some options.

Perhaps it is time to ask your employees 'what would most motivate you'?

Discrimination risks: requirement to speak English at work and dress codes

Does your workplace policy disadvantage certain nationalities and religions?

Hopefully not intentionally.

What about English language requirements?

That's a question that has become more and more of an issue over recent years. Millions of workers in the UK don't speak English as their first language. Does this matter?

The Immigration Act 2016 will introduce a new duty for public authorities to ensure that their employees in customer-facing roles speak fluent English. This will be accompanied by a statutory code of practice, expected to come into force in October 2016.

Employers should, however, think carefully about how this is reflected in workplace policies. For example, rather than banning from speaking 'foreign' languages, employers should perhaps make clear that English is the language of operation for their business. Additionally, employers should make sure that any policy has a genuine business reason to exist as an extra layer of protection.

So, that deals with language. What about dress?

There have been a spate of news reports, articles and even cases on what you can and can't wear at work. In the last few months, we had to think whether or not it is acceptable to force women to wear high heeled shoes at work. What about religious symbols? Do they fit with uniform policies? What about health and safety?

The issue of the workplace dress code and direct discrimination is now coming to the fore. There are two cases currently in front of the European Court of Justice relating to bans on employees wearing religious symbols at work.

When the Court makes its ruling, sometime towards the end of the year, it will certainly be one to keep an eye out for.

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