Keep an eye on the weather forecast

Sir Richard Branson says he is ditching restrictions on staff holidays, so they can take it whenever they want, as long as they stay “on top of their work”. I wonder whether this could be a good idea for my business. We are a small team, so managing absence can be a challenge, but we’ve learned that we get a lot more productivity and enthusiasm from our staff when we bring in initiatives like this that show we trust them and want them to have a good work/life balance. Are there any pitfalls to Branson’s approach I’m not seeing?

The idea of unlimited holiday is attractive, but, as with any new concept, the devil is in the detail.

Branson’s idea to unleash employees from fixed holidays and notice of holiday comes with the proviso that their leave must not harm the business. There does need to be some backstop to the unlimited right to take as much holiday as an employee wants after all. Otherwise, why would they bother to work?

As a matter of law, employees are entitled to 20 days’ holiday plus bank holidays when they need not have any cares towards whether or not their leave “harms” the business. So, you may wish to ensure that any increase in holiday carves out this 20-day period which is legally sacrosanct.

But what does “harm” mean? Different employees may have different ideas. So it will be important to decide how you wish to define it and to give a number of examples in any policy announcement so employees understand what you mean.

Consistency will be important. You may open yourself to claims of discrimination if one manager favours one employee over another by commenting adversely on that employee’s ability to stay on top of their work when they consider that they are doing no less than their colleagues.

You may wish to provide guidelines to managers – misunderstandings may generate frustration which could result in claims for breach of contract and/or for breach of trust and confidence, which may lead to unfair dismissal claims.

As you have a lean team, it is difficult to imagine a time when any employee’s absence may not “harm” the business. But notice of holiday gives you time to plan for absences. No notice of such holiday may lead to confusion, too many employees being away at the same time and an inability to run the business efficiently. You may wish to think hard about retaining some element of notice, which could perhaps be shorter than the normal notice requirements.

Certain times of year will be harder to police than others. School holidays, when staff compete to take time off with their children, will be an important time to monitor carefully to ensure operational readiness.

Some employees will be anxious about their job security and may not take holiday at all. You would do well to watch this too as such staff are likely to be the most stressed and as an employer, you have a duty to safeguard their health and safety.

Finally, a short trial period of say three months may be advisable so you can assess the effectiveness of this new concept.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui is a partner in the Employment & Executive Immigration team at Learmond Criqui Sokel LLP, a law firm

Finding the right non-executive

Our technology business is expanding rapidly and we are now considering appointing a non-executive director. Is there any advice on choosing the right person and how do we then make best use of their time?

Non-executive directors (NEDs) can play many roles in a business and my advice would to be very clear why you wish to introduce someone in this role and what he or she will bring to the business. A rapidly expanding business, even with a good management team, will tend to focus on the day-to-day running of the business and the near horizon.

It may be that an experienced NED can bring some objectivity and a weathered eye to the board, or it may be that there is part of the business that needs to be bolstered by a high-level appointment that might otherwise be out of financial reach. In some sectors it can be useful to have someone on the board who has high-profile experience and who can contribute sectorial expertise and good PR by association. This will determine what sort of NED your business would benefit from.

Use your contacts to help with the appointment. Fellow board directors or other professionals working in your field might be able to recommend, or introduce you to, potential candidates. It is important to consider other appointments they might have; an industry specialist may well already hold similar roles with competitors. It is also important that you agree what is required of your NED and how they are to be remunerated. Is the person just to attend board meetings, or will he or she provide more hands-on support? Will you pay your NED based on the number of hours worked or on a fixed fee? Finally, make sure you appoint someone who you and the rest of your board get on with. You will, after all, be working closely with him or her.

Sue Staunton is a partner and head of the technology practice at accountants James Cowper

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