How “legally” healthy are your employees?

Today’s employers place a lot of emphasis, quite rightly, on benefits that address the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of their employees.

But one aspect of everyday life that is often overlooked in the formulation of benefit programmes is the need for people to protect themselves against a number of day-to-day legal risks.

Laws and regulations affect all of us and though sometimes perceived as unnecessary, bureaucratic or even intimidating, most laws are in fact designed to protect us from unscrupulous businesses and individuals.

It is perhaps this perceived inaccessibility of the law which has resulted in a general lack of awareness amongst many people of their personal legal rights (and obligations) and of what constitutes a ‘legal’ matter. Everyday activities such as shopping, driving, holidaying and even eating out are all covered by consumer rights regulations, as are loans and other financial services. Family relationships, too, are affected by legislation, including laws relating to marriage and cohabitation, parental responsibility and the rights of inheritance. There are also regulations designed to protect renters and laws to makes it possible for people to safeguard their future interests through formal documents such as lasting powers of attorney.

In order to help employees get an understanding of the sorts of legal issues that may affect them, we’ve developed a simple legal ‘healthcheck’. Easily accessible online and quick to complete, the healthcheck will highlight areas where employees might be at risk and recommend documents that they can use to address the issues and protect themselves.

To see how it works, try the healthcheck for yourself – simply click here and complete the short questionnaire. (more…)

Help your employees get peace of mind in 2019

Did you know that if someone dies without a Will, the state decides who gets what, regardless of what the deceased might have wanted?

Making a Will is the only way for your employees to ensure that their inheritance is distributed amongst their loved ones exactly as they want it to.

Yet, our research revealed that nearly 60% of employees in the UK don’t have a Will, leaving their partners and children at risk of financial hardship and distress.

Now, through Epoq’s Legal for Life service, you can support your employees by giving them access to an online Will to help them safeguard their families’ futures and get peace of mind – without the need for them to take time away from work!

Would like to learn more?

Check-out our video to see how it works or call us on 020 8731 2424 to find out more about our Wills service and commercial models.

Five legal issues employees aged 50-plus need to think about

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the UK now has more than 10 million workers aged 50 and above, representing 31 per cent of the total workforce. And, as people live longer and the state pension age increases, this figure is set to rise.

As employers will know, the needs and concerns of this age group will be different to those of their younger workers and, as such, require benefits specifically tailored to their circumstances.

Our own research conducted in 2017 revealed that the top five benefits most valued by employees aged 55 and above were a pension (96 per cent), health insurance (91 per cent), flexible working (86 per cent), life insurance (84 per cent) and legal advice (83 per cent).

These figures give a clear overall picture of the sorts of concerns older employees have and can provide the basis for a benefits programme tailored more specifically to their needs.

Although auto-enrolment means that workplace pensions are now available to employees of all ages, and group health and life insurance are established benefits, legal advice is often hidden away in an employee assistance programme (EAP). The low usage levels of this provision suggest that employees either don’t know the benefit exists or don’t understand what constitutes a ‘legal’ issue.

Older employees, however, face a number of legal issues that, though often considered gloomy, need serious consideration if they are to protect their own future welfare and the interests of their family.

Below we list five legal concerns your 50-plus employees may be facing and suggest a way for you to help them.

1. How can I safeguard my family’s financial wellbeing after my death?

Making a will is the only way to ensure that your estate – your property, money and belongings – are passed on to your family members exactly as you would wish. Not having a will in place when you die – known as dying intestate – means that the state effectively decides who gets what based on the rules of intestacy. Furthermore, dying without a will often results in delays in getting all the financial matters sorted and can lead to family disputes and hardship.

2. Who will look after my children should I die before they reach 18?

As people are generally starting families later in life or have children from second marriages, the number of 50-plus employees with dependent children is set to increase. Our own research in 2018 revealed that 28 per cent of employees aged 55-plus had children aged 18 or younger living with them.
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In case you missed them: Epoq’s research findings and articles during 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, we thought you might be interested to read a round-up of Epoq’s research findings, articles and press coverage, which you may have missed during the year.

Just click on the links below to read more. And, if you’d like to discuss our service or any of the topics featured, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2019!

Research findings

 Articles & press coverage

 Video

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Support employees ‘at work’ and ‘in work’ – a new way to be a great 21st century employer

Over the years a lot has been written about how companies can become ‘employers of choice’ and how important it is for a business to be ‘winning the war for talent’. These topics have formed the basis of many academic papers and conference slots have been devoted to them, leading, no doubt to a healthy stream of work for consultants and advisers.

And why wouldn’t an employer strive to create a place where people want to work, as it is a vitally important part of attracting the best people?

Today, there is at least some consensus around what makes an ‘employer of choice’. I don’t intend to tackle that topic in great detail here, except to say that in the 20 or so years since I first entered the world of pay and benefits, there has been a shift in the notion of what makes a good employer. Back in the 90s and 80s – in the private sector at least – the concept of a great place to work was heavily rooted in how much money a company made and how much of that money was shared with its employees, through above market rate salaries, bonuses and commissions. Back then it seems, a ‘good company’ ie one that made a lot of money, equated to a ‘good employer’.

The impact of societal changes

Since then, societal changes have created a landscape where employees, while still valuing financial stability in their employer, have a much broader set of wants and needs when it comes to deciding where to work. Things like wellbeing, mindfulness, equality and social responsibility all have a part to play in the choices people make when choosing an employer.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental differences we see now compared to the 80s, say, is in the notion of a work/life balance. At that time, it meant finding a way to do your job while still having the flexibility to spend meaningful time with family and friends without feeling guilty – nothing more.

Today, technology has resulted in a shift towards an ‘always on’ work culture, meaning that the lines between ‘work’ and ‘not-work’ are much more blurred.  And, while this brings some advantages and perhaps allows more people to participate in the workplace, it also creates a more complex relationship between employer and employee, often requiring a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement between them.

Barriers between work and home have softened

Unlike 30 years ago, when there was a hard break between work and home life, many employees today don’t have such a barrier and can be contacted at any time or see things developing in their workplace even if they’re not physically there. Of course, the flipside is also true, so a quick glance at the mobile phone during the morning tea break will allow an employee to see what’s going on outside their workplace.

As work frequently encroaches on employees’ outside lives today, they find that if they are to achieve a work/life balance, they will need to bring their ‘life’ into their workplace.

So, what are the kinds of life issues that employees might bring into the workplace and what can their employer do to help?
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Flexible working – key facts for employers

The freedom to work flexibly has become increasingly important to employees, particularly for those with caring responsibilities or a desire to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

In fact, our employee benefit survey of 2017 found that 91 per cent of employees value flexible working – the second most highly valued benefit from a list of eleven that included health, legal and financial services. Furthermore, our follow-up survey in 2018 revealed that flexible working is the benefit most widely used amongst employees across all age groups.

But what are the rights of employees and the obligations of employers relating to flexible working today? Below are some key facts for employers to take into consideration when including flexible working in their employee benefits programmes.

Who can request to work flexibly and how do they go about it?

Legally, all employees have the right to apply to work flexibly. However, employers are only obliged to consider applications if the employee has worked for them continuously for at least 26 weeks. Furthermore, employees cannot make more than one application in a 12-month period. To make a request for flexible working, the employee will need to put their request in writing and cover the following points:

• state that the application is being made under the statutory right to make a flexible working request;
• specify the flexible working arrangement applied for;
• state the date when they want the change to start;
• explain what effect, if any, the proposed change will have on their employer’s business and how the they believe any effect can be dealt with; and
• state whether any previous statutory flexible working applications have been made and, if so, when.

How should the employer respond to the request?

Initially, the employer should acknowledge receipt of the employee’s request then follow the procedure as set out in the Acas code of practice, which stipulates that:

• all requests must be considered in a reasonable manner.
• all requests, including any appeals, must be decided within 3 months from the date the application is received by the employer. An extension of time can be mutually agreed between the employer and employee.
• refusal of an application must be on one or more of a small number of permitted business grounds (see below).

The Acas code also recommends that a meeting is held with the employee to discuss the application and that the employee is given the right to appeal the employer’s decision.

What are the grounds for refusal?

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The legal risks of being an unmarried couple – 5 tips for cohabitating employees

Research by the ONS in 2017 revealed that the fastest growing family type over a 20-year period was the cohabiting couple family, which more than doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017. This represents 15 per cent of all families and concurs with the findings of Epoq’s Employee Benefits Survey 2018, where 17 per cent of respondents said they were unmarried couples.

There are, however, a number of legal issues associated with being an unmarried couple and to ensure employees in this situation are informed, we’ve produced 5 legal tips* to help cohabitating couples minimise the risks and protect their interests.

1. Make a will

One of the biggest advantages of being married is that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse automatically inherits the deceased estate, even if he or she hadn’t made a will to name their spouse as a beneficiary.

In the case of unmarried couples, however, if one partner dies without making a will, the surviving partner won’t be entitled to receive anything and could be left in serious financial straits or even homeless. It’s therefore very important that cohabitating couples each make a will and keep it updated to specify exactly what they’d like their partner to inherit when they die.

In addition, parents whether married or not, can use a will to appoint a guardian who would be responsible for looking after any children aged under 18 in the event that both parents die.

2. Own your property as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’

By law, a married person is entitled to matrimonial home rights, which means their spouse cannot force them to leave the matrimonial home if the relationship breaks down.

Cohabitees don’t automatically have this protection, so should consider owning their home as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’ as this gives ownership rights to both partners. As joint tenants, the couple will own the property equally; whereas with tenants in common, it’s possible to own a specific share of the property, so for example, one partner could own 60% and the other 40%.

Joint tenants own the property equally, so if one partner dies before the other the surviving partner automatically gets sole ownership of the property. In the case of tenants in common, the surviving partner will only be entitled to the other partner’s share in the property if a will has been made expressly gifting that share of the property to them.

3. Make a cohabitation agreement

When a couple are married they legally jointly own their assets and financial responsibilities and if they split up, there is legislation to determine how the financial matters are dealt with.

For unmarried couples the situation is not so clear cut. To avoid future disputes it’s important that there is clarity regarding the responsibilities for day-to-day finances like paying the mortgage or rent, utility bills or council tax, as well as the ownership of belongings, such as furniture and other household effects.

Creating a cohabitation agreement is a useful way for unmarried couples to set-out a number of aspects of their relationship, including the ownership of property, arrangements for children and how general household expenditure will be dealt with. Equally importantly, a cohabitation agreement allows couples to specify how they would want their assets to be divided should they separate and, in the event of a dispute between the couple, this agreement will be taken into consideration by the courts.

4. Make a power of attorney

Powers of attorney allow an individual to nominate one or more people to look after their finances or general wellbeing in the event that they become unable to do so themselves, typically through an illness such as dementia or a debilitating accident.

Though presumed to be designed for elderly parents to give authority to one or more of their children to look after their affairs, a power of attorney can be used in a number of other situations. For cohabiting couples who face more hurdles in accessing their partner’s finances in an emergency, these documents are useful in enabling them to protect each other’s interests should the need arise. Through a power of attorney, one of a couple can be given authority to access the other’s bank account and pay bills, for example and also make decisions about the sort of care their partner should receive.

5. Ensure the father of any children has parental responsibility

‘Parental responsibility’ allows an individual to make decisions about all aspects of their child’s life and is automatically given to the child’s birth mother and her husband or civil partner.

However, unmarried fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility for their child. It can be acquired if they register the birth of child with the mother or enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother and register it at a court. Without parental responsibility, the father would not be entitled to have a say in any aspect of their child’s life.
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Research: Employees aged 55 plus are disengaged with their employee benefits

A lot has been written about today’s multi-generational workforce(s) and the pressure on employers to offer benefits that cater for the needs of all employees. In our last article, we reported on the findings of our most recent employee benefit survey which revealed that younger employees are using benefits more widely than their older colleagues. For this article, we have drilled down into the data a bit more to look specifically at the usage trends of employees aged 55 and over and what this is telling us about their needs.

So what benefits do older employees want and why is usage of existing benefits currently so low?

Profile of the 55+ employee

When we look at the demographic make up of employees from this age group, we find that, as to be expected, the majority are homeowners, but a significant minority (21%) are living in rented accommodation. Furthermore, 28% have children aged 18 or over living with them and whilst 69% have lost a parent, 31% have at least one living parent. In addition, 34% have been divorced and 10% are currently living as an unmarried couple.

All of these circumstances have legal and/or financial implications for the employees concerned and many require expert advice and guidance in order to manage them. And, for other events like the death of parent or divorce, emotional support and counselling is just as important as legal advice.

The generation a gap

Given this profile, you might expect employees in this age group to use benefits that help them deal with many of the problems or issues that crop up during their lives. However, our research has revealed that the 55 plus age group use the benefits at a significantly lower rate than their younger colleagues – just 3%, compared to 12% for employees aged between 18 and 34.

As an example, while 11% of employees aged between 18 and 34 had accessed medical appointments through their employer, only 2% of the 55 plus age group had. Similarly, 29% of employees aged between 18 and 34 had taken advantage of flexible working hours, compared to 16% of the 55 plus age group.

There was also very low usage amongst the 55 plus age group of benefits such as confidential advice lines (2%), discount vouchers (3%) and health screening (3%).

Value versus usage paradox

So, is it that these employees simply don’t have the need for these services or is it that they are reluctant to use them? Looking at the results of our 2018 and 2017 surveys in conjunction, it seems that the latter may be the case. In 2017, we asked employees to tell us how valuable they would find a range of products and services if they were provided as a benefit by their employer. When we compare the results of this survey with those of 2018, we find a gap in what employees value and what they actually use.

For example, in 2017 64% of employees aged 55 plus said they would value financial advice as a benefit, yet only 1% of responders to our 2018 survey had used this benefit. Similarly, 82% rated legal advice, but only 2% had engaged with this service. Given the profile of this group, one would expect a much higher take up of services that help them sort out their financial and legal affairs as they near retirement.

Desire for support outside of work

When we asked if employees would like their employer to help them deal with issues outside of work, the results revealed that though lower than other age groups, over half (54%) of the 55 plus group would like help to deal with a number of problems. In particular, they would like help in dealing with the illness or death of a family member (32%), dealing with stress, depression or other mental health issues (27%), planning for retirement (27%) and getting access to medical diagnostics/treatment (17%).
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6 reasons why employees should make a will

I’m sure most of your employees know what a will is, but I expect many of them have put off making one, thinking it’s something they can do later on in life. In fact, our own research conducted by Opinium in 2017 showed that, overall, only 41% of adults in the UK had made a will and, more worryingly, only 16% of those aged between 25 to 34 and 26% of those aged between 35 and 44 had made one. These are the age groups most likely to have young dependent children and, increasingly, many of them will be living together without being married.

By not having a will in place, these employees are putting the future security of their partners and children at risk. Dying without a will means the State effectively decides how the deceased’s assets – their property, money and belongings – are distributed, regardless of what he or she might have wanted. And, if a couple are unmarried, the partner left behind is not automatically entitled to inherit anything. This can make an already distressing situation more stressful and create conflict between family members. It can also result in delays in getting matters resolved. The knock-on effect for employers can be longer employee absences from work and the resulting losses in productivity often leading to fracturing of workplace relationships.

So, what can employers do to help?

Perhaps the first step is to be aware of the reasons why an employee might need to make a will at key points in their lives. To help, we’ve listed six key life events which should prompt every employee to make or update their will.

Secondly, employers should consider providing a will writing service as an integral part of an employee assistance or financial wellbeing programme. Financial advice, counselling services and legal helplines are, of course, important components of an employee assistance programme, but by enabling employees to proactively protect the interests of their loved ones in advance, a will writing service can make an EAP even more robust.

Reasons why your employees should make a will

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Research: Younger employees more likely to use workplace benefits

In our 2017 employee benefits survey, we asked 2,002 UK adults to tell us how valuable they would find certain services if they were provided by their employer as part of a benefits package. The results revealed two clear winners, with pensions (95%) and flexible working (91%) valued the most highly. Third place went to health insurance (89%) and fourth, jointly to legal advice and life insurance (87%). It appears then that employees look to employers to help them protect their health and financial interests, as well as achieve a work-life balance through flexible working hours.

Our follow-up survey conducted in June this year, aimed to find out what benefits are actually being used by employees. Research company, Opinium, conducted an online survey of 1,234 employed adults in the UK, who were shown a list of sixteen benefits and asked which if any were available to them and which of them they had used.

So, what’s on offer?

The results of the survey revealed that the most commonly offered benefits from the list were; time off to deal with personal matters (57%), flexible working hours (54%), cycle to work scheme (36%), counselling services (35%), childcare vouchers (33%), discount vouchers (33%), confidential advice lines (30%) and financial advice and health screening (24%).

The least commonly offered benefits were; legal documents, such as wills (15%), company cars (18%), health cash plans and legal advice (20%) medical advice/GP appointments and gym membership (22%) and free fruit in the workplace (23%).

However, 13% of responders claimed not to know whether some of the benefits on the list were offered by their employer or not, so the overall availability of each benefit could be higher.

And what’s being used?

The findings relating to the actual usage of benefits revealed a surprising low level of usage overall and gaps between some of the most widely available benefits and rates of usage. For example, although cycle to work schemes were the third most widely offered benefit (36%), only 6% of employees had used them. Similarly, childcare vouchers were used by only 5% of responders, despite 33% saying they were offered as a benefit.

The top five most widely used benefits from the list were: flexible working hours (22%), time off work to deal with a personal issue (16%), free fruit in the workplace (10%), discount vouchers (9 %) and health screening and gym membership (7%).

The least widely used benefits were; legal documents, such as wills (3%), financial advice, legal advice and childcare vouchers (5%) and cycle to work schemes, medical advice/GP appointments, counselling services, company car, health cash plan, confidential advice line (6%).

The popularity of flexible working tallies with our previous survey where 91% of employees said they value this kind of benefit. However, the low usage of counselling services (6%) and legal advice (5%), shows gap between what’s valued and what’s actually used. In our last survey, counselling services were valued by 70% of respondents and legal advice by 87%. This, of course, may simply be that employees rarely encounter the need for these services, but value the fact that they are available to them should the need arise.

Demographic differences

When we looked at the difference usage levels between genders, it appears that, perhaps unsurprisingly, more women (22%) than men (16%) are taking advantage of flexible working hours. However, usage of the other benefits listed were pretty equal between genders.

A difference in usage across age groups was more pronounced with, on average, 12% of employees in their 20s using one or more of the benefits listed, compared to just 4% of employees in their 50s. The average usage rates for other age groups were; 30s (9%), 40s (6%) and 60s (3%). The higher usage levels amongst younger employees could be that, as they are likely to earn less than their older colleagues, they get more financial value from the benefits on offer, so use them more.

When looking at these findings in conjunction with our previous research, it appears that while the actual usage of many benefits is occasional, employees genuinely value the availability of them to call on in times of need. I believe, therefore, that employers should look to make a wide range of benefits available, even if on a discounted basis, whilst accepting that usage levels overall are likely to be quite low. Just the existence of benefits gives employees peace of mind and helps to engender their trust and loyalty to their employer.

And, whilst it is encouraging to see younger employees being actively engaged with their benefits, our research suggests that perhaps employers should be doing more to make their benefits more relevant and attractive to their older employees.

Read the complete findings here.

To learn more about Epoq’s legal wellbeing service, email us or call on 020 8731 2424.