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Ask The Legal Expert - Common HR Questions

View profile for Clare Bowen
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Head of HR Services Clare Davies answers three common questions often asked by business owners and those working in HR roles.

1. Can an employer recover training costs from an employee after they have left?

Companies will often want to invest in their workforce through training and development. This will not only improve the skills and knowledge in the company but make the employees feel valued. If an employee resigns soon after being trained or recruited, this can be very frustrating as the company has yet to feel the return on investment.

By inserting a clause in the employees contract, or having a separate agreement with the employee to fund or partially fund a course will enable you to recover costs lawfully.

Often, a sliding scale of costs is implemented to ensure a reasonable amount is recovered depending on how soon after the course an employee leaves.

If the employee leaves and the final pay does not cover the outstanding cost, take into account your right to recover the balance as a debt under the terms of the agreement.  If the employee fails to pay, the employer has a right to enforce the agreement as a civil debt. However, consider the amount outstanding and the employees’ means before embarking on civil action.

If you try and recover costs and do not have a clause in the employment contract or a separate agreement allowing this, then the employee can bring a claim of unlawful deduction of wages to an employment tribunal.

2. What happens if an employee has not taken all of their holiday entitlement before the end of the holiday year?

With Christmas just around the corner, for many companies it also means the end of the holiday year. Now is the perfect time to check employees’ holiday entitlement. Do you have a shut down period over Christmas? If so, do they have enough holiday entitlement left? If Christmas is your company’s busiest time of year and no holidays can be taken, do employees need to take time off now to ensure they have had the statutory minimum leave?

Check the employees’ contracts to see if any leave entitlement can be carried over into the next holiday year. Workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks statutory holiday each year (28 days). Under reg.13 of the Working Time Directive, four weeks (20 days) must be taken in a holiday year. This ensures that employees have enough rest throughout the year.  Not doing this can have health and safety implications of not only the employee but also the remaining workforce.

Planning now can prevent a mad rush of holiday requests and queries just before Christmas.

3. Do we have to carry out a “return to work interview” every time an employee is absent?

You might think RTW interviews are pointless and a waste of time if the employee has only been off for a day or two. However, research has indicated that RTW interviews are the most effective measure employers can take to reduce absence levels.

Just think – there will probably be less time spent conducting a RTW interview than the time it takes trying to cover an employee’s shift if they were to be absent again. Not only does it show employees that you are aware of their absences (no matter how small), it may also give an indication into any underlying causes for an employee's absences. If they know they have to sit down in front of their managers and explain why they were absent, it may discourage them from taking a day off without good reason. It also ensures good practises are followed and that the employer is treating all employees fairly.

*The questions posed in this blog are based on hypothetical situations.

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