How green is my employment contract?

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One of the big focuses in the world of work over the next decade will be the environment and how employers and employees respond to the pressure of becoming greener and more environmentally-conscious. Along with this social pressure, there will undoubtedly be more employment laws and rules introduced by Governments as they look to force the world of work to become more careful of the environment.

Here we look at ways in which employers can make their employment contracts greener before Governments step in and force them to change. Making the change to greener employment contracts can also be a great news story for an employer to publicise their environmental credentials. It can also, in some cases, generate cost savings and tax breaks.

  1. Digital employment contracts

Technically by law, whilst an employee must be provided with an employment contract on the first day of their employment, there is nothing to say that the employment contract provided must be printed out on paper. As such, paperless employment contracts with digital signatures are perfectly legal. What’s more, we often find that employers and employees struggle to find copies of paper employment contracts where copies have been printed and filed away many years ago. Having a digital record saved somewhere can therefore prove really useful further down the line. Another dilemma we often see is that whilst employers and employees can find copies of the employment contract, they often can’t find the signed version. However, having a digital signature is completely traceable and will leave a digital record of the signed document.

If an employer wants to go a step further they can also go digital with their staff handbook and policies, thus saving considerable expense and saving more trees!

  1. Throw in some environmental duties

Many employment contracts, particularly those for senior staff, will include a list of duties that the employee should comply with – e.g. things like “a duty to promote the best interests of the employer’s business at all times”, or “a duty to ensure the highest standard of behaviour” etc. In light of pressure to become more environmentally conscious, it would be possible for employers to include a duty on employees to act in the best interests of the employer’s environmental or sustainability targets. In many ways, what better way of pushing senior staff to take their environmental responsibilities seriously than to include a positive duty to do so in their employment contracts. Any breach of those contractual duties or failure to meet the standards set by those contractual duties could potentially result in disciplinary action against the employee in question.

  1. Green benefits

By law, employment contracts must now list the benefits that employees are entitled to during their time with their employer. Some possible greener employee benefits to be considered are as follows:

  • Cycle to work schemes;
  • Walk to work schemes;
  • E-vehicle hire schemes;
  • Vehicle charging points at the workplace.

Some of the above also have the added benefits of being tax efficient and encouraging good health and fitness amongst employees, in addition to reducing carbon footprint.

Another green benefits could include offering staff some additional leave days for them to volunteer on environmental projects or schemes.

  1. How green is your pension?

We are also seeing many employers encourage their pension scheme providers to make greener choices when considering the investments that they make to workplace pension schemes.

  1. Green bonuses

More recently, some employers have introduced some unique bonus schemes into their employment contracts that provide that an employer will match bonuses paid to staff with an equivalent contribution towards an environmental cause or charity.

  1. Making garden leave greener

Garden leave is when an employer will ask an employee not to attend work or to stay at home, usually during a notice period. Historically the phrase came from the expectation that an employee would spend this period tending to their garden. In modern times, that probably doesn’t happen anymore! That said, technically there’s nothing stopping an employer from putting a duty in the employment contract requiring an employee on garden leave to participate in environmental or sustainability projects or schemes.

  1. Hybrid working

One way of reducing a workforce’s carbon footprint is to make hybrid (or even home) working a contractual requirement. On the one hand, this can reduce travel and emissions, but on the flip side, depending on the time of year and the circumstances, the energy burden of heating an employee’s home whilst they work there could also negate any of the perceived environmental benefits.

  1. Travel options

Many employment contracts will have clauses which require an employee to travel for work purposes, e.g. to meet with customers, clients or colleagues in different parts of the country. It is technically possible for an employer to change this travel clause in an employee’s employment contract to say that any travel choices should involve picking the most environmentally friendly or sustainable option (e.g. train travel over car, or sharing lifts where possible).

  1. Return of company property

Most, if not all, employment contracts will contain clauses which require an employer to return their company property once they leave. Whilst these take the form of pretty standard clauses at the moment, it would be open to an employer to make these clauses greener by, for example, allowing employees to keep certain items (providing the confidential information on them is wiped) for re-use, or even agreeing to donate certain surplus items to charity for further use.

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