Silence Can Be Golden… If You Have The Right Policies In Place

Towards the end of 2017, Sainsbury’s found themselves on the wrong side of a tribunal after dismissing an employee for wearing headphones to listen to music while working.

The employee worked in a delivery yard, which saw the frequent movement of lorries, forklifts, and other traffic. As an employer, Sainsbury’s decided there had been a health and safety breach on the basis that using headphones while working. The company said this impaired the ability to hear traffic properly and, therefore, put the employee at risk.

Despite agreeing that the employee had made an 80% contribution to his dismissal, Sainsbury’s failure to detail what was and wasn’t acceptable surrounding headphones at work meant that the dismissal had been wrongful. Sainsbury’s needed more specific policies, or a clause within a policy.

Avoiding Distractions

Music is often used to aid concentration. The increasing use of co-working spaces, open-plan offices, and otherwise noisy workplaces means it is increasingly common for people to use headphones to avoid becoming distracted.

Keeping The Peace

Allowing staff to use headphones while working (as opposed to a radio) means there are no arguments about the type of music, volume or any other issues. However, irritations, including the tinny sounds that can ‘leak’ from some headphones can still cause a distraction for those who don’t feel the need for music to concentrate.

You could also argue that headphones aren’t conducive to building a positive and collaborative workforce. How can you achieve a cohesive and united team if they barely exchange more than morning greetings and evening farewells!

Then you have the matter of health and safety – and it’s not just restricted to workplaces such as the Sainsbury’s example. How do you alert any employee to an emergency if they can’t hear you?

Find The Middle Ground

You may feel that a blanket ban on headphones or music in the workplace is the best way to avoid any confusion. However, there is a middle ground.

You could agree that employees only use a single earphone. This would ensure individuals can still interact with their colleagues and be easily alerted in the event of an emergency. You could stipulate no ‘singing along’ to favourite tunes – a habit that can be both disruptive and unprofessional. Not to mention unpleasant if the singers don’t boast a talent for music!

Review your general working arrangements to offer flexibility. If someone needs peace for a particular task, offer them the chance to work in a breakout area, small pod or even from home. Wi-fi and cloud-based software make it easier than ever before for people to work flexibly and remotely if necessary.

However, if staff regularly complain that their usual desk has too many distractions, you may need to undertake a full review of your office layout.

Introduce Policies To Define What’s Acceptable

The easiest way to avoid finding yourself up in front of a tribunal is to define acceptable standards for your business and develop an accompanying policyPolicies ensure that all staff know exactly what’s expected of them and what they can expect to happen if they fail to comply. If breaches occur, your disciplinary policy will set out the next steps.

Inevitably, the way workforces operate change and evolve as a result of the technological landscape, so be sure to review your policies periodically. Reviews keep policies relevant to current trends and accounts for changes.

Need A Little Policy Advice?

Don’t get caught out as Sainsbury’s did. Having an expert on hand to advise you about these types of situations can prevent you from getting into a sticky situation in the first place.

Regularly reviewing existing policies and identifying when you need new ones is a vital part of your HR function. They also give you confidence that your statutory obligations are satisfied. To identify potential gaps in your company policies, or for help in developing new ones, book a call today.

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