Helping Staff Manage The Rising Cost Of Living – What’s Your Legal Obligation?

By Gareth Matthews, employment law partner at MLP Law (www.mlplaw.co.uk)

The rising cost of living is never far from the news agenda, and hospitality employers will undoubtedly be conscious of the impact on their teams. As pressure to increase wages and provide other financial support may be set to rise, it’s useful to understand what legal obligations hospitality businesses have – and what else you can do to help struggling employees.

Legally, as long as you are paying your employees in accordance with their contracts (and at least the minimum wage) or above and are paying them for all the hours they’ve worked, you will meet your obligations.

However, in the face of the present well-documented recruitment challenges in the sector, employers will naturally be looking at ways they can support their staff and help them to navigate the coming months. Not only will this help steady the ship by giving team members a more stable employment environment, but it will help to build your business’ reputation as a caring employer.

From the financial to the pastoral, there are various ways managers can help their employees in these times.

Pay increases

Perhaps the most obvious solution – a pay rise. However, not all businesses will be in a position to offer this, nor to keep offering rises as inflation continues to increase.

Advances in payments
Some hospitality businesses are already taking this approach, allowing employees to take an advance on their wages to help them with unexpected bills or cashflow problems. The concept is similar to a payday loan – but much safer and without the sky-high interest rates.

Loosening contract restrictions
Many hospitality businesses are traditionally reluctant to allow their employees to take on second jobs, especially with their competitors, and may include contractual clauses to prevent this (notwithstanding that exclusivity clauses are prohibited for zero hours workers). There can be good reasons for this, including ensuring compliance with the Working Time Regulations (WTR).However, this may be the time to consider easing those restrictions off to allow employees to earn extra income. The only caveat from a legal perspective is to make sure that employees working multiple jobs have enough break time to comply with the WTRand don’t end up working a day shift straight after a night shift elsewhere, for example.

Sharing food
Given the sector’s area of focus, chances are there is often food available, and businesses have the facilities and expertise to provide meals or snacks for employees. Even making unserved food available to staff can help alleviate financial pressure for those who are struggling.

If considering this option, you should check to ensure the provision is not taxable as a “benefit in kind”. In most cases, where the provision is offered to all employees and consists of free or subsidised meals of a reasonable value at a workplace canteen (or vouchers that cover the cost of buying these meals) then the provision will not be taxable.

Delivering financial education
There’s a gap in the education system when it comes to teaching good financial health and this may provide employers with another opportunity to support their teams and demonstrate their commitment to their staff. Partnering with an adviser or IFA to deliver some financial education – introducing ISAs, pensions, saving schemes and so on – can help your team develop a better financial profile.

Focus on benefits
Improving your benefits package can also help make a difference to your team and help them feel supported by their employer. Benefits such as private dental care and health insurance can all make life easier for employees – for example, offering a private GP service can mean that staff don’t need to miss shifts for medical appointments, thus helping to make sure they don’t lose additional income as they keep themselves well. Benefits platforms that offer discounts or loyalty points for purchases can also be beneficial.

When legal obligations kick in
Employers have a legal obligation to protect their employees’ physical and mental health, so if staff are struggling with the cost of living crisis and come to their employer for help, it’s important that this is properly considered and acted upon as a way to protect their health. If you don’t take relatively small steps to help people survive this crisis, then you may find yourself in a legal sticky spot.

As an employer, you are obliged to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities, for example, and this extends to mental health illness too. It is often reported that mental health problems increase in times of recession, so employers would be well minded to take decisive steps to tackle the cost of living crisis to support their teams.

MLP Law advises multiple hospitality businesses in the UK on all elements of employment and corporate law. Get in touch to discuss your business’ requirements.