How ‘professional’ is the modern office?
Unless you work at home as an iPhone developer, the workplace is a tricky thing as there is much legislation that employers have to abide by for the equality and safety of staff.
All positions, including IT jobs, have a law that employers have the duty to protect the welfare, safety and health of employees and other people affected by the business, such as customers and partners. This legislation includes minimising risk of accidents, such as keeping walkways clear and dry, not placing objects in such a way that they can fall and injure someone, and maintaining cleanliness in the kitchen, toilets and communal areas. Employers must also assess risks in the workplace, and these risk assessments should take place at regular intervals and address anything that can cause harm in the particular workplace.
Employers are duty bound to also give employees information about the risks present in the workplace and explain how you are protected, as well as offer training on how to deal with the risks. It is also an employer’s duty to consult employees on health and safety issues, either through a safety representative or directly to the employee. Employers must also, by law, display an approved poster in a prominent position or provide each employee with a copy of the approved leaflet entitled Health and safety law: what you need to know, which outlines the health and safety law in Britain.
Another main piece of legislation is the right to take breaks. The Working Time Regulations stipulates a minimum amount of rest breaks, which is 20 minutes in a six hour stretch, but an employer can provide more if they want to, which may or may not be in the written contract. A break has to be in one block, so an employee cannot take two 10 minutes breaks, and it cannot be taken at the beginning or end of the day so the employee can start later or leave earlier. Employers also have to take your personal health into consideration; if for some reason you need an extra break and not taking it will mean your health or safety is at risk, they are obligated to provide you the extra rest time. If your employer forbids you from taking breaks or your job is such that you are unable to take breaks then you should raise the issue with your manager for resolution.
While it is true to say that within the workplace most of the legislation falls onto the boss, it isn’t just about the employers; employees are not allowed to be discriminatory and must treat others fairly, which means a fair and equal working environment. Just as employers cannot deny someone a job or fire them because of their race, gender or disability, employees equally cannot treat a person differently than others because of their mental or physical attributes. It is well known that racism and sexism are not allowed and are offences that can lead to an employee being fired, and the same is true for discriminating against someone because of a disability.
One of the main problems with workplace legislation is that the laws are relatively easy to break, and rely on an employee reporting the offence. For example, it is easy for an employer to tell a member of staff they are not allowed a break that day, and even easier to not hire someone because of their gender or race but give a different, legal reason. It is not uncommon for employees to keep grievances to themselves, on the assumption that reporting a violation of legislation could cost them their job. If, however, you feel that you or someone within your place of work is being treated unfairly and against the employer’s legislature, you should report it to a senior member of staff for discussion.