Spotlight on duty of care

When it comes to employees’ welfare at work, organisations have a seemingly endless list of boxes to tick to ensure they comply with legislation, from health and safety measures, to keeping an eye on stress levels.

Rather than view this as a chore, however, more and more organisations now realise they can package their compliance requirements as genuine benefits for staff.

Eye care is one such example. Under law, employers are obliged to offer eye tests to employees who regularly use computers, yet many view this as a compliance hassle rather than a chance to help employees with their eye care costs.

Beyond compliance

But media company Bloomberg has bucked this trend, offering every employee – not just computer users – eye care vouchers to redeem at an optician of their choice.

The company also invited opticians in to run eyesight awareness events for staff.

Kate Brooks, eye care sales manager at Accor, which organised Bloomberg’s event, says more companies are broadcasting the positive benefits of compliance.

“Before, clients were reluctant to invite us in because it was a compliance issue. It tended to be administered by health and safety, rather than HR,” she explains. “Now they’re keen to show what they’re offering is the same or better than their competitors, so they’re bringing it out from behind the scenes.”

Stress management is another area where employers need to be aware of their legal obligations, but can simultaneously offer a boon to employees.

In a 2002 case before the Court of Appeal, the judge said that a company that had set up a counselling service for employees would be unlikely to be found guilty in a claim for stress.

Staff helplines

Many companies saw this as a good reason to introduce employee advice lines or assistance programmes.

Some companies take this duty of care even further – mobile phone company Carphone Warehouse has just introduced a debt helpline for staff struggling with financial problems.

Avoid scare tactics

However, Paul Roberts, a consultant at healthcare broker IHC, warns companies not to sell benefits through scare tactics. “It may stimulate acceptance by the board, but fear is not the best sell,” he says.

“That said, the vast majority of clients introduce these programmes for the right reasons.”

Charles Cotton, reward adviser at the Chartered In-stitute of Personnel and Development, advises employers to weigh up all the benefits of offering employee support schemes or welfare initiatives.

“If you have a stress case brought against you, having an employee assistance programme in place may help. But it’s not just about that – many of the employers that introduce these benefits are trying to reduce the cost of absence and increase productivity,” he says.

Where a benefit can help you to comply

  • Flexible working legislation – offering employees benefits such as working compressed hours or enabling staff to buy extra holiday
  • Workplace stress – employee assistance programmes, advice lines or a free external counselling service can help reduce stress and may reduce the risk of legal claims
  • Occupational health – offering eye tests is a legal obligation, but offering other aspects of healthcare, such as an on-site doctor at a given time, could help improve productivity

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