There are many persistent and common myths about HR, which have somehow become so ingrained in HR folklore that they could almost be considered urban myths.

In general, most HR myths tend to involve matters that an employer “can’t” do or, just by their tone, always seem to have negative connotations.

Here’s a rundown (in no particular order) of the top 10 most common myths about HR:

1. You can’t contact employees when they are off sick

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and that duty doesn’t end when they leave the workplace at the end of the day. In fact, this duty extends to employers making sure that they “keep in touch” and maintain regular contact with their employees when they are signed off to see how they are doing.

Regular contact with a sick employee should be compassionate and focus on their wellbeing not just enquiring when they will return to work. A good company sickness policy and procedure will assist employers in ensuring that they are able to effectively maintain contact with and manage those employees off sick.

2. You can’t dismiss an employee who is genuinely off sick

Providing the employer follows a fair process, dismissal for capability due to ill-health is a lawful “fair reason” for dismissing an employee. If the employee is never going to be able to return to work, it is not reasonable to expect an employer to keep their job open forever and therefore under these circumstances an employer could look to dismiss. Persistent short-term periods of absence can equally be dealt with through a robust ‘managing sickness absence’ policy. Providing the employer is able to demonstrate that the business is not able to sustain unacceptable levels of sickness absence, that they have considered any reasonable adjustments required and followed a fair process, then an employer would be entitled to dismiss.

3. You can’t give a “bad” reference

Aside from exceptional limited sectors there is actually no obligation for an employer to provide a reference.  However, if a reference is provided then it should be fair, accurate and not misleading. When providing a reference, employers should stick to evidenced based facts, otherwise they could find themselves open to legal challenge from either the ex- employee or new employer for misleading them. For this reason, many employers choose only to provide what are known as “tomb-stone” references, which literally only sets out the basic confirmation of employment details.

4. You can’t dismiss an employee when they are on maternity leave

It is certainly unlawful discrimination to dismiss an employee just because she is on maternity leave.  However, it is perfectly legitimate to dismiss an employee on maternity leave if her role is redundant (although certain specific rules apply) or she has committed an act of gross misconduct.

5. Employees with under two years’ service have no rights

Employees with under two years’ service can’t bring ordinary unfair dismissal claims.  They can, however, bring claims for breach of contract, for holiday pay, discrimination, maternity rights, whistle-blowing, protective awards, and most other employment claims.  Some of these rights (such as discrimination) begin even before the employment relationship has started.

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6. The contract isn’t signed; therefore, it doesn’t count

The employment contract does not necessarily have to be signed for it to hold up in court – it doesn’t even need to be written down. The validity of a contract that has been agreed verbally or not signed admittedly can be more difficult to verify, but it can still be legally binding.

For example, if an employee starts work and has seen their contract but hasn’t yet signed and returned it, they could still be held to the document’s terms as working can be seen as accepting those terms.

7. Employers have to give time off for bank holidays

Employees have no right to bank holidays off, or to be paid more for working them. This entirely depends on the contract between the employee and employer. Full-time employees are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks holiday a year and bank holidays can be counted as part of those 5.6 weeks, but they don’t have to be.

8. Employees returning from maternity leave can demand to change their hours or days if they want to

Employees returning from maternity leave, providing they meet the criteria of having over 26 weeks’ service and haven’t made a flexible working request in the past 12 months, have a right to ask for their working pattern to change. They will usually need to specify the hours/days they would like to work, how it will benefit them and how they think it would work for the business. The employer must consider the request, but they do not have to accept it.

9. When HR is in the room, someone is about to get fired

There is a stigma that if HR is in the room, it’s not going to be a pleasant conversation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. At many companies, especially smaller businesses, human resources are involved in business operations and are not always in the room for potential terminations. HR is there to be part of the team, foster a positive environment and advocate for the company and the employee.

10. HR makes the decisions 

HR makes recommendations, not decisions. Whilst HR is a key strategic department, operations are determined by the senior leadership/owners of the business. However, that line between recommendations and decision making is often misunderstood by staff. Clearly, if a company or business is struggling economically, it must be able to look at all options available to them, which may include restructuring the business or even, if necessary, making redundancies to survive, all of which require input and recommendations from HR.

Professionals who work in HR know that these false perceptions can make their jobs more difficult, and whether they breed resentment toward HR or simply discourage employees from reaching out, the impact is often detrimental. It is clear that only by working together in dispelling these myths, will we start to see the true value HR brings to a business.

If you would like help banishing these myths from your business, please call us and speak to a member of our team here.