Should you be paying staff for their travel time?

Should travel time be paid for staff commuting image Photo by Cliff: https://flic.kr/p/6h6Zu8

Note: This is applicable for UK agencies only and is not legal advice

As we’ve discovered with issues like working hours per week and holiday pay, running an agency managing temporary staff can be like wading through a swamp. The information available is thick and murky, and you’re stuck in the middle of it. Not only do agencies have to abide by UK laws, but there are EU regulations to bear in mind as well – as long as, of course, Brexit doesn’t actually happen.

Just last week, an agency sent through an article which was of high concern: MiHomecare was facing a group action lawsuit and is having to possibly cough up hundreds of thousands of pounds for staff who had technically been paid under the minimum wage.

Before we get too into the thick of things let me just say – I love when agencies voice their concerns, send us articles, and discuss the industry with Watu. It’s awesome to hear from you and it helps to keep us in the loop of what needs working on. So, kudos to the agency who sent through this article!

What was the case?

This case currently only applies to care workers who must travel in between their shifts, spending sometimes an hour either driving down small roads, or waiting outside homes until their elderly patients are ready to see them. They were not compensated for this time and as a result, were working long hours without balanced pay.

The court, and now HMRC, have decided that this lack of compensation qualifies the carers as potentially working for less than minimum wage, hence why they can now claim these fees back and why HMRC is in the midst of investigating more than 100 other home care suppliers and their working practices.

This decision could also affect many other industries including IT workers, nurses, engineers and technicians with many of them supporting this case and hoping to better their own circumstances which involve many hours of travel per day.

But that’s just looking at travel in between shifts…

Most promotional agency staff commute to their place of work, fulfil their shift, then commute home again. So does the above apply? Most likely not, if this is how your staff are working.

And most agencies, if the staff are having to travel for the campaign – like in guerilla marketing – continue to pay the staff member continuously during the shift, rather than discounting the time spent hopping from one place to another.

But what about travel to and from work?

Here’s where it starts to get swampy. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled late last year that “those with no fixed place of work spend travelling between home and their first and last places of work each day counts as ‘working time’“.

So, said simply, when your temporary staff are going to and from their shifts/home, this does count as work. What is important to note, however, is that this has effect on the Working Time Directive which only has ruling over working hours and not working pay.

In fact, the ruling of the case from last year specifically stated that the “CJEU expressly stated in its decision that it is for national legislation to determine whether or not this travelling time – or, indeed, any other category of working time – is paid or unpaid”.

So should you be paying staff for their travel time?

Totally separate from the Working Time Directive, minimum wage is governed by the National Minimum Wage Act.

They have stated that time spent travelling to and from a shift is not subject to minimum wage, consequentially meaning that although it’s working time, you do not necessarily have to pay for it.

What’s important to consider

Based on the above, it then seems like what’s important to consider are the hours and not necessarily the pay. So when viewing the issue from this angle, agencies should be bearing in mind the European Union’s Working Time Directive. For example, it would be worth reviewing:

  • If the staff member has not opted out of the 48 hour working week initiative, does this mean they’re then working over the 48 hours?
  • Does this affect how much break time staff can have during the day?
  • Does it affect the number of consecutive hours worked?
  • Must holiday pay reflect this new total of hours worked?
  • Are you staff working night shifts? There are extra rules protecting staff from being overworked throughout the night.
  • Do your terms of engagement comply with the ruling?

It seems like, for now, as long as your agency is complying with the working hours regulations, then you’re following the rules and will make it through that swamp unscathed. But with national and EU laws changing and evolving to ensure staff are treated fairly and compensated correctly for their time, it’s worth keeping an eye out on these topics.

We would always recommend discussing these legal issues over with your HR department or employment lawyer to ensure you’re in line with what’s being required. And an easy way to stay in tune with what’s happening? Set up a Google alert with keywords such as “working time directive”, “national minimum wage”, “travel time compensation”, and so on. It’s not a completely reliable way to catch the latest laws, but it could go a long way in alerting you as to what’s happening, what’s being discussed, and what’s being determined by the courts.

Did you already know this about travelling time? Or will you now be reviewing your staff schedules? I’d love to hear whether you’re already a step ahead or will be tackling this issue now!

Photo by Cliff

 

Creating a weekend reserve list of staff

It’s always an agency’s intention to staff an event with pre-approved or confirmed staff, but sometimes, stuff happens. Cars break down, illnesses hit, or maybe – just maybe – the sun shines in the UK. These and a million and one other reasons can cause drop outs so it makes sense to have a reserve list at the ready.

Not to mention, sometimes clients themselves have last minute changes and before you know it, you’ve promised to have two extra staff members at a beer festival on the outskirts of Aberdeen.. Hmm…now how to find those people…?

So whether you have a weekend coming up that is particularly packed with events, or just want to know your staff’s general availability in case of drop outs or a client’s request for extra staff, we’ve come up with the best way to do this in Watu.

Here’s how to build a weekend reserve list of staff, step-by-step:

  1. Create a new job. Use a title that will be obvious it is for a reserve list only, and not a specific job. Remember that you can search your own jobs using keywords, so name it appropriately. Enter a staffer description clarifying that they are simply noting that they’re available as reserves, and not applying to a job. In the booked description, explain that they will be booked directly on a job if the chance arises, rather than into the reserve list itself. Creating a job in Watu
  2. Build your job. You want the reserve list to reflect nationwide availability, so enter in various locations at ‘hotspots’ around your country. In the UK, this may be “London/Edinburgh/Manchester/Birmingham”, for example. In the US, you may want to focus on where your events will be, or know general availability in the larger cities like LA, NY, Chicago, and so on. Choose any location to ensure the pin drops on the map, as this is how staff will search for the job. As for roles, you can choose to either simply add one role – we would suggest something standard like “brand ambassador” – or you can make it more detailed and add additional roles if you know you have specific requirements for that particular weekend, like “bartender”. The time can cover the whole day, to capture total availability. And we’d suggest leaving the pay as 0, so that you can confirm this on a job-specific basis.  Building a job in Watu
  3. Save the job. Check that it’s looking correct in the booking page Viewing available shifts in watu
  4. Make the job public. Click the toggle to publish all locations to the job market. This will immediately take you to the job advert page.                                                                                    Publishing a job within Watu
  5. Customise your job advert. You can leave the advert content as is, with the pre-filled description, or you can choose to customise the advert per role. Remember you can also choose to only advertise specific roles to people who have already worked in that role previously. Hit publish and you’re done! Creating a job advert in watu
  6. View applications. Should the need come up for booking a reserve staff member, just check into your reserve weekend job. Here, you can see Natalie’s application which means she should be your first port of call if a shift opens up in her location.                                                         Viewing job applicants in Watu

Viewing it from the staff member’s point of view

So how does the reserve list job show for staff members? They can see it as a normal job within their job market, hence why it’s important to label it ‘Reserve List’ very clearly.

Viewing the job market in Watu
Viewing the job in the job market

 

Applying to a job in watu
Applying to the job as a staff member

And finally, it’s worth noting that whilst you could make this a recurring job every weekend, you’re probably better off building one per weekend. The reason being is that the job will show afresh within the job market each week that it’s created which means more applications. Also, you’re more likely to have an accurate reserve list if it’s specific to a weekend rather than being spread across a month or more – availability can change in a snap, so encourage your staff to apply on a weekly basis!

So, here’s to no more frantic Saturday morning phone calls and availability scans. No more mass messages or bulk texts to check who is around and willing to work. Just log into your account, check the reserve list and drop the right person a line.

Spring clean your email inbox

The previous app recommendation I shared with you was for Slack, whose goal is to have you ditching your inboxes. But being honest, that’s a pretty big leap and we’re far from reaching that point if we even want to get there. So to keep with the theme of cleaning up your inboxes and reducing the daily dump (the inbox, that is), today we’re having a look at Unroll Me.

What is Unroll Me?

If you’re a subscription addict, you need this app. Or even if you think you aren’t, you probably need this app. These days it’s impossible to navigate the web, explore a site, or download that freebie report without subscribing to a newsletter. Plus, those catchy pop up’s do their job.

Chances are, you actually have no idea how many newsletters you’re subscribed to and the truth is, you just can’t be bothered to find out nor unsubscribe from them all. Well, that’s my story anyway.

Unroll Me takes this problem and sorts this out for you, with minimal effort required from your end.

How to spring clean your email?

First step, no surprise, sign up via the website: https://unroll.me/a/signup

Desktop and mobile friendly, its platform provides a straightforward, simple way to unsubscribe. One that you’ll be pretty accustomed to if you’re a Tinder fan: swipe left.

Following your clean-up, Unroll Me then bundles the rest of your newsletters into one neat and tidy email that hits your inbox once per day. Take a peak into its contents, select what you want to read and dig in.

And the clincher? The app identifies all your newsletters for you instantly, so there’s no boxes to tick or lists to scroll through to have to submit. Ah, the magic of tech.

Uncluttered Mailbox

That’s pretty much it. Enjoy your once-a-day digest or if you don’t, delete the offenders. Suddenly, between Slack and Unroll me – and who knows who else we’re yet to discover – your inbox is looking a whole lot quieter. Which means you’ll actually be able to get some work done.

 

The difference between American and British staffing agencies

There are some stark differences between the US and the UK – the meaning of the word fanny, tea with or without milk, and the ability to laugh at oneself – and, perhaps not as obviously, in the staffing industry as well. But from a country who broke away from the UK based on some disagreements, perhaps that should be expected.

Photo by David Martyn Hunt: https://flic.kr/p/5A75s3
Milky or builder’s for you then?

Having spent equally 10 years in the suburbs of New York followed by 10 years in the near heart (well, zone 2) of London, and now with Watu clients on both ends, I thought it may be interesting to have a peek into the key differences between the two in their approach to staffing.

The Americans

When an agency’s first question is “Does your software have a limit of staff profiles?”, you know you’re looking big. They’re not asking if we charge for a certain number of staff or are there limited sign ups per day. This question means: I’m going to have a staffing book as big as a small city. Can your software handle that volume?

And this is what happens when nationwide tours mean exactly that. Agencies must cover 3.8 million square miles of potential promotions. That is A LOT of ground. And not just that, but much of it is spread out and not always well interconnected. Travel within the country can be expensive and that means local staff are a necessity.

photo of alabama without event staff
Alabama: Beautiful, empty, and with occasional events.

This has knock-on effects that I believe shape the industry. Of course agencies still want good quality staff, but often, volume is king. Recruitment is less picky, doors swing on hinges allowing most in, and more people are given a chance to work. Interviews are, frankly, quite impossible to carry out in person unless agencies were to have an infinite budget to fly people around or agency representatives stationed in almost every city. Even virtually, when we’re looking at thousands of staff members, the dedication to recruitment would just be too costly.

What’s more, the agency and staff member relationship is a distant one. American clients ask about numbers, performing tasks en-masse, one-click solutions to apply to big groups, and a referral feature because this is the constant battle of US agencies: recruiting more and more staff.

This has led to the emergency of a new type of staffing: white label staffing. Now, software companies like Watu are popping up but with a twist – they come ready-made with staff. Sign up as an agency, change the branding and you have an instant book. White Label Staffing, for example, says it straight up: “WLS software is designed to look as though you have created your own staffing company.” It’s like instant noodles with your own sticker on top. Decide you want it, then be tucking into the steaming bowl mere minutes later.

Rather than agencies carefully guarding and curating their books, White Label Staffing flips this on its head and provides a book of staff to be shared. Agencies can even check staff reviews provided by other agencies.

So if the staff aren’t the distinction, where does the added value come from? I’m yet to have experience with this type of staffing, but I can only suppose it would come from the managers themselves, the way they communicate with clients and staff, the reports they feed back, the efficiency with which they work. And White Label Staffing isn’t the only software company doing so. This trend is on the rise and is buzzing in the staffing-agency-osphere.

The Brits

And now the Brits. Mary Poppins, tea and scones, and stiff upper lips all tucked into 94,000 square miles of drizzly greyness. And within this, a fair number of awesome staffing agencies who value the personal touch and, au contraire to the US, turn away volume to focus on unique quality.

The difference isn’t just noticeable, it’s huge. Feature requests sent through to Watu from British clients focus on the individual; agencies want to track whether someone is brand trained, client approved, great at certain skills. The notes and sign-off sections are full of comments. “Fantastic in the interview”, “Saw Sarah on-site and full of enthusiasm”, or “Lent Johnny a few quid” are, believe it or not, commonly said by UK managers. Almost all agencies require an in-person interview or at least a video submission. The Brits, unlike the American hinge door, have the door to their books locked with a peephole into experience, character, and work history.

The relationship between manager and field staff is crucial. Agencies prefer staff loyalty and for a genuine friendship to develop. This is often brought about by various means though the key is always in demonstrating appreciation for the work done in the field. Sports days, open-invite parties, winners of the month. The staff are the focus of an agency’s efforts because as we all know, happy staff equal happy clients.

And in the UK, this is possible. Those 94k sqm can be covered by one team of staff: one EM and a small group of brand ambassadors, can all be city-hopping via short haul flights and vans. And that translates to that particular team having to be incredible, keeping their energy fresh, and choosing that nationwide tour over other offers of work. Because in such a small space and with so many events, staff often have a choice of which shifts they’d prefer to work. Drastically different to the US, where staff based anywhere other than NY/LA/etc may be lucky if an event comes their way.

I remember writing profiles for brand ambassadors to send across to clients. It would usually read something like “Motivated, brilliantly friendly, and particularly reliable member of staff who is also a part-time actress in Shakespearean plays.” And I meant every word. Chances are, I had personally met, spent time with, and was possibly friends with this staff member.

So whether you’re considering a virtual hop across the pond to open doors on either grounds, or just curious to know what the view is like from those open doors, this is just a glimpse into the other side. With such vast differences between the two types of staffing industries, it appears that being successful in both would take a very different approach – or perhaps, maybe what one provides is what the other is missing? Could boutique staffing take off in the US? Would UK clients accept white label staffing or in fact, would agencies even themselves be comfortable taking on pre-filled books full of strangers’ photos?

Maybe these options are open to all as long as one key point is kept in mind: in the end, no matter what route it takes from client to field staff member, it’s the quality of the staff member and their work in the field that matters. Whether one person of 40,000 on the books, or Joe who is your favourite EM for car brand tours in Scotland, it all boils down to the individual on the ground. And that’s where our focus should stay.

Photo by David Martyn Hunt

Photo by Trish Hartmann