This article was first featured in Your Best Kept Business Secret Magazine which you can download here: https://marcford.uk/ybkbs-magazine/
“It’s a minefield”, they say referring to Employment Law, “all these rules and regulations, employee rights, you can’t do this that or the other” they say. One client memorably told me the “law was an ass” when I said he couldn’t sack someone because she had told him she was pregnant. He was an idiot though.
But my view is different. I believe Employment Law is straightforward and I can almost guarantee* that you can employ people without fear of employment tribunal claims.
It is all about processes and following those processes.
So if it is about processes then it means you need to have them in place. With employees, this means getting employment contracts in place from day 1 and having your processes (or policies as they tend to be called) written down in a Staff Handbook.
What I can definitely guarantee is that if you’re an arse of a boss, a racist sexist bigot and you make decisions on the back of your prejudices, you will face employment tribunal claims and you will lose. Serves yourself right.
However, if you are a decent employer who approaches issues reasonably, and follows a process, then you should be fine.
Some Staff Handbooks contain a core set of 5-6 policies, some are expanded to 20+ and some with 40+ policies. Size isn’t everything, and so it really depends on what your business does and how many employees it has as to what likely issues might be encountered. I did act for an organisation once which had more policies than it did employees. That was overkill for sure.
A good staff handbook is one which is the go to guide for both employees and employers/managers. Have a question about holiday? Look at the handbook. Wondering about working flexibly? Look at the handbook. The handbook will be the starting point.
It will assist you as an employer with all types of issues. If you have an employee who is pregnant, then just following the Handbook will ensure that you do things properly and that the employees know what to expect, what to do etc.
Claims at an Employment Tribunal largely stem from not following a fair procedure.
So for instance, if you have a misconduct issue then you have two choices:
- You decide “they’ve got to go” and you sack them, or;
- You follow the process set out in the handbook, investigate, meet to get their side of the story and then decide to sack them.
Following option 1 will result is likely to result in an unfair dismissal claim and award against you at an Employment Tribunal. Option 2 will only result in an award against you if the decision to dismiss was so unreasonable that no other employer would make that decision.
The same generally applies to every area of employment law. Provided you follow a fair process, and make a reasonable decision at the end of it, then you should be fine.
One area which I envisage a significant number of requests over the next year is flexible working. Employees being forced to work from home will realise that they can actually work from home. Until now, businesses dealt with flexible working requests usually by rejecting them saying that the “business needs” meant that staff needed to be in the office or working 5 days a week or full time etc. I believe the Coronavirus lockdown will see lots of employees realise that they don’t need to work 5 days from the office and will therefore submit a formal request for flexible home working once the dust settles.
So how are you going to respond to that?
You follow the process – the flexible working policy – you have policies don’t you?
* Disclaimer: I cannot guarantee anything, obviously. The content of this article should not be relied upon as legal advice and no solicitor-client relationship is created or intended to be created. You should seek bespoke legal advice if you are unsure on any aspect of employment law. From me. Or someone else. But preferably me!