Social media topped the list of DDU members' questions to the employment law helpline in 2014

The 2014 top 5 issues

  • Employee conduct, especially inappropriate use of social media
  • Contract terms
  • Grievances
  • Employee absence
  • Maternity/paternity leave

Employee conduct issues consistently take top spot in requests for advice from DDU practice principal members to the Peninsula 24-hour Employment Advice Service, and 2014 was no exception. Problems with employee use of social media made up a high volume of calls in this category and difficulties with employees' Facebook comments featured heavily.

Specific details of misconduct cover a wide spectrum. Other examples included unauthorised internet use while at work and intentional falsification of time sheets. Regardless of how minor a breach of a rule may seem, it's advisable not to let anything go unaddressed.

Queries about terms within an employee's contract are next on the list of frequent call topics. This could include appropriate contractual wording for maternity cover positions; how to change contractual working hours and what then happens to contractual entitlements when working hours are reduced. Contracts are effectively a set of agreed promises between the parties and amending a term without the other party's agreement is generally unlawful. Following established procedure is vital to ensure the employee does not bring a grievance, which could lead to an employment tribunal.

The third most 'popular' topic was grievances, often against members of staff who criticise the actions of another employee. DDU members should take advice at the earliest opportunity with complaints such as these to ensure that any problems are nipped in the bud before they are given the chance to fester and develop.

Absence issues are next on the list, followed by maternity/paternity leave queries. Absence, for any reason, impacts on the operations of the practice and needs to be controlled. Naturally, statutory entitlements must be adhered to - for example, the right to take maternity leave - but other kinds of absence, e.g. sickness or time off for dependants, where there are fewer rules, should also be addressed.

Case study 1: Beware Facebook friends

An employee reported to the practice principal that another employee had posted a photo on Facebook of a patient's extracted tooth. The employee had also posted 'Only 2 more clients left for today - I hope they cancel'. The dentist rang the Employment Advice Service for assistance.

He was advised to carry out an investigation, including an investigatory meeting with the employee to determine whether there was any reference to the practice name on her profile and whether the employee was 'friends' with patients. It transpired that although there was no reference to the practice name, the employee was friends with some patients and access to her profile was not restricted in any way. She confirmed that she had posted the comments.

The third most 'popular' topic was grievances, often against members of staff who criticise the actions of another employee

Because of the potential breach of patient confidentiality, this issue was viewed very seriously by the practice. The dentist was advised that it may not be possible to attach a gross misconduct sanction to the breach, but to invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing, with the highest sanction being a first and final written warning. It was impressed on the dentist that no decisions should be made before the hearing.

During the hearing, the employee offered her resignation. The dentist was advised to accept the resignation but to bear in mind that, should the employee wish to reconsider the resignation, that she should be informed that the disciplinary action would continue. The employee did not reconsider her decision.

Case study 2: Flexible working

An employee made a request for flexible working so that she could have Fridays off in order to look after her young grandchild. The member was advised that anyone with 26 weeks' service is now able to make such a request, regardless of the reason. The member was reminded that he has the right to decline the request provided the refusal is on one of the prescribed grounds. He was advised to hold a meeting with the employee to explore the request.

On looking at the current working structure after the meeting, he found that, because of a flexible working request granted to another employee five weeks before, it was not possible to re-organise the work on a Friday amongst the existing staff. There had to be two staff on reception at all times, which would not be possible if the request were granted. The member was advised that this request could be declined.

The Peninsula 24-hour Employment Advice Service is available to DDU practice principals. Peninsula consultants can help with employment legislation, contractual requirements, telephone coaching in managing employment issues and drafting follow-up letters. Call 0844 892 2810.

This page was correct at publication on 21/04/2015. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.