Question : How can we reduce the high levels of sick leave in our company?
Jenni Brown, business development and projects manager, Futures (NI) replies:
Two Northern Ireland Audit Office reports on the Management of Sickness Absence highlighted the difficulties in addressing long-term absences.
Many employees on long term sick leave have attributed their absences to life management issues, stress, depression and anxiety.
Employees of organisations without comprehensive occupational health provision, simply visit their GPs for onward referral to NHS specialists.
Depending upon the treatment required, the employee may have to wait a significant period of time during which they usually remain on sick leave.
One proactive approach for organisations without occupational health provision is to resource employee treatment directly from an accredited practitioner offering proven treatment.
Prompt intervention by clinicians can facilitate an early return to work. On occasions, timely treatment may actually assist the employee to remain in work while receiving support, rather than waiting until they commence sick leave.
Line managers could also be more effectively trained to identify motivational problems that could perhaps develop, if unchecked, into sickness absence.
Personal effectiveness training could be employed at this juncture to arrest further decline.
Employees with long absences can be supported by employers to maintain and improve their treatment gains on return to work through the implementation of a holistic package of support — such as workshops on building confidence and self-esteem and improving communication skills — as part of their phased return.
This approach minimises recurring absences from less substantive and ‘quick fix’ interventions.
A small investment in a course of treatment at the outset of ill health can make significant cost efficiencies by reducing months of sick pay, agency backfill or overtime.
It also means you are more likely to retain the trained member of staff, as the longer people are away from work the less likely they are to return, and it will minimise motivational problems within the remaining staff team.
Question: The depot I run has been operating for over 20 years near to residential properties without any problems. Recently, a new family moved into one of the houses and started complaining about the noise from trucks early in the morning and at night. Do I have rights to continue operating at night?
Andrew Ryan, associate, environmental law, Carson McDowell, replies:
Under the so-called laws of “nuisance” a person has a right to complain about something that disturbs their quality of life even if they moved into an area where the potential problem already existed.
That said, if the person complaining is particularly sensitive, they may not have a valid claim.
As they have complained to the council, it will have to investigate and make a judgment whether there is a valid nuisance.
This will need to be a balancing act between the overall noise environment in the area — if there are other noisy operations in the area — and what is reasonable for each party to do or expect in the overall circumstances.
For example, would it make a difference if your drivers switched off their engines at night, or could noisier activities be moved to another part of your premises? Or, could your neighbours close their windows at night?
Ultimately the council could serve you with an abatement notice specifying certain conditions that you must adhere to or risk being fined.
Such notices can be appealed but it would serve everybody better if you could come to a reasonable agreement between yourselves, the council and your new neighbours.
Often, if you are seen to take complaints seriously and respond to them, this can make all the difference.
Question: I own farmland which I used to farm but which is currently let under conacre. Can I bequeath the land tax free to a child?
Alan Curry, director of tax, ASM Horwath, replies:
Until recently it was possible that a landowner, on death, could pass land let under conacre to an individual without any tax burden arising because a number of ‘reliefs’ were available which effectively reduced the value of the farmland to zero for inheritance tax purposes.
However, in a recent court action, HM Revenue and Customs succeeded in having one of these reliefs — Business Property Relief (BPR) removed.
Consequently, a potential Inheritance Tax charge (at 40%) may now arise on a proportion of the value of the land passed.
While individual circumstances will differ, forward tax planning of your estate can help to mitigate this risk. For instance you could ‘gift’ the land during your lifetime rather than on death.
Alternatively, the land could be let in conacre for a period then could be actively farmed by you, thereby securing BPR.