What risks arise from employee ‘tipping’ apps?

Software that allows staff to reward their colleagues for good work is increasing in popularity.

Peer-to-peer “tipping” schemes are rising in popularity in the workplace, but these “recognise and reward” programmes should come with a note of caution, writes Marc Long.

Peer-to-peer reward technology, which provides employees with a monthly budget to “tip” their colleagues as a way of acknowledging and rewarding good work, aims to boost employee engagement and create a culture of positive reinforcement without input from management.

However, any programme which enables staff to review and reward each other in this way could be open to misuse. Employers should be wary of the risks before introducing such a scheme.

Providing staff with the opportunity to reward their colleagues in this way could potentially cause division and lead to conflict. While most staff can be trusted to operate a reward scheme sensibly there will always be extremes of behaviour. These schemes could prompt a “popularity contest” culture   where certain members of staff nominate their friends artificially as opposed to other colleagues that have actually performed well. This could create resentment and a build-up of negative feeling among staff.

Individuals may feel pressured into ingratiating themselves with certain groups of staff rather than risk missing out on rewards, contrary to the schemes’ aim of instilling a positive workplace culture. Most worryingly, if reward schemes do not reflect the achievement of those with disabilities, those from different ethnic backgrounds or are simply unrepresentative of gender, then well-meaning employers may even see employment tribunal claims being brought against them. It is imperative that these schemes offer equal access and opportunity to everyone using them, along with appropriate rules as to when a reward should or should not be made.

Organisations offering peer-to-peer reward schemes will need to put measures in place to address these risks, such as a clear and well-publicised policy stating how the reward scheme should be used. It may be that before an award is granted staff are expected to take reasonable steps to be capable of objective assessment, and to justify their reasons for nominating a colleague.

Employee tipping apps have increased in popularity in the UK over the last twelve months. However, the designers of these programmes – no matter how well-meaning – and indeed the software itself, cannot protect against the legal risk that misuse may present to unsuspecting employers.

In short, businesses wishing to offer these schemes should put mechanisms in place to protect themselves against these risks; steps to monitor the use of the software and ensure regular reviews of the schemes’ operation to identify any underlying, negative trends.

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Marc Long

About Marc Long

Marc Long is a partner in the employment and HR team at Clarke Willmott LLP.
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