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Fake stamp AccountingWEB Debunking 10 common myths about employment practices
istock_fakestamp_Olivier Le Moal

Debunking 10 common myths about employment practices

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Owen Dear sets the record straight as he unveils the truth behind 10 common myths employees have within the accounting profession. 

12th Feb 2024
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Mistakes, misunderstandings, and misconceptions can arise in any employment relationship, leading to potential disputes between both parties. From contractual misunderstandings to workplace assumptions, navigating through these myths is essential for both employers and employees.

Below is a list of the most common myths about employment practices that accounting firms should be aware of. 

1. If the contract is not signed, it cannot be binding

Parties can accept the terms of a contract by their conduct, without ever actually signing the document. 

For example, if an employee attends work, accepts their salary and makes use of benefits such as enhanced sick pay or private health cover, they cannot then argue that they did not accept the terms of their contract just because they did not sign.

2. Employees can never be asked to undertake different duties

Whether this applies will depend on the employment contract. Most contracts allow some flexibility to specify that alternative duties may be required and a change in manager or reporting.

3. Employees must be permitted to work from home

As accounting and finance work increasingly relies on PCs or laptops, this myth is often brought up.

While working from home became common and a necessity for some businesses during lockdown, in normal working conditions the employee’s place of work is determined by the original terms of the employment contract. 

If it is agreed that the employee can work from home, because it is possible and appropriate for them to do so, then they may. Otherwise, an employer still has a right to expect their employees to work from the office.

4. Flexible working requests should be granted

While many employers recognise the benefits of allowing flexible working, a flexible working request does not always have to be granted. 

Just because a firm grants a request from one employee, it does not mean they must grant a similar request to another. Instead, the employer must consider the request on its merits and how it might impact the accounting business. 

5. An employee on maternity leave cannot be made redundant

There is nothing that prohibits any employer, including those in the finance world, from considering employees on maternity leave (or other family leave, or sick leave) for redundancy. 

Excluding them may actually be unfair or discriminatory. Employees on family leave do enjoy the right to be placed into a suitable alternative vacancy without a competitive interview, but only if such a vacancy exists.

6. Making a complaint about another employee results in that person’s immediate suspension

Employers owe a duty of care to all employees and are obliged to balance that duty and treat the parties fairly, regardless of the complaint. 

If, for example, an employee alleges sexual harassment against another, the employer cannot automatically take any person’s word. Dismissing the allegation, or hasty and inappropriate use of suspension can result in either employee presenting claims for constructive dismissal, personal injury or discrimination if there is no evidence to support the decision.

 7. What an employee does outside of work, or on social media, does not matter

Even if an event seems to be private, eg drinks between colleagues, it can be deemed to be a “work event” if there is sufficient connection to the employer. So, any misconduct at events can result in disciplinary proceedings. 

Similarly, if an employee, known to be associated with a particular business, posts a comment on social media, it could be argued that any such posts reflect on the organisation. Therefore the employer may discipline employees for potentially tarnishing its reputation.

Any qualified professional (such as a chartered accountant) who carries out regulated activities also has to ensure that they always act in a way that does not harm the public’s perception of that profession, or their fitness to practice.

8. Once you have changed employer, you can contact old clients on LinkedIn

An employer may be entitled to request that an employee delete all contacts made on LinkedIn (and other social platforms) throughout their employment. They may also be able to prohibit former employees from dealing with their old clients. But all of these obligations would be set out in the contract and any terms agreed before starting a role.

9. Stress is a disability

Only if it meets certain criteria. Under the Equality Act 2010, a disability is a long-lasting condition (12 months or more) which has an adverse impact on an individual’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Stress is often perceived to be a reaction to specific circumstances, and so a tribunal may take the view that if those circumstances are addressed, so too is the condition.  

10. An employer is obliged to make adjustments for an employee who is off sick

An employer should support their employees in getting back into work, but the duty to make adjustments only arises if an employee is disabled. 

The duty is a qualified one; the employer need only make “reasonable” adjustments. For example, it would not generally be reasonable for an SME employer to move premises, or to create an entirely new role for a single employee.

Replies (2)

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By FactChecker
12th Feb 2024 17:49

Are they really *the* most common myths ... or merely the ones most commonly trotted out over the last 10 years in articles like this?
That's not to denigrate any of the examples, which are indeed commonly misquoted (hopefully more by MDTP than by readers here - but still worth bearing in mind).

One point - although this article is focussed on the Employment aspects, it's worth pointing out in:

"... the employee’s place of work is determined by the original terms of the employment contract.
If it is agreed that the employee can work from home, because it is possible and appropriate for them to do so, then they may. Otherwise, an employer still has a right to expect their employees to work from the office."

It may be obvious, but this ties in with the need for the Employment Contract to be explicit about all aspects of work conditions (not just location but tools and reviews/training etc).
Some of which may still be regarded as Employment issues, but tend to quickly spiral out into one of the most frequently raised set of tax-related questions under Any Answers (well those from non professionals) ... about WFH 'allowances', commuting yes/no, cycle schemes, and on and on.
Most of these wouldn't be a tax 'issue' if they'd been correctly tackled in the Employment contract.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
13th Feb 2024 12:22

"For example, if an employee attends work, accepts their salary and makes use of benefits such as enhanced sick pay or private health cover, they cannot then argue that they did not accept the terms of their contract just because they did not sign."

Surely such homologation only relates to these terms, not homologation of the entire contract and unrelated terms?

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