05 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Discrimination, employee rights, Employees, employent law, Employment, gender, HR, Maternity, Part-time Workers Act, Policies and Procedures, Race Discrimination, Recruitment, RIsk, Sexual Orientation, Video, Vlog   |  No Comments


Well written policies and procedures which are communicated and applied consistently are the key to ensuring that the risk  of discrimination is reduced as much as possible.

Employees (as well as workers and job applicants) could bring claims for discrimination on the basis of Age, Gender, Race, Beliefs, Marital Status, Disability and Sexual Orientation.

Care must be taken not to over generalise i.e. “everyone must wear trousers” or “everyone must work on a specific day of the week” as this could have a disproportionate negative impact on a sub sect of your workforce. Therefore you end up discriminating against some, as a result of trying to treat everyone the same.

UK Employment Law is no longer fit for purpose!!!

25 Feb
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Brexit, employee rights, Employment Legislation, HR, Human Resources   |  No Comments
Donna Obstfeld (FCIPD), HR Specialist / Managing Director

Donna Obstfeld (FCIPD), HR Specialist / Managing Director

I’ve been in Human Resources (HR) for over 20 years. When I was first introduced to the discipline, it was known as Personnel and today when I am speaking with clients, I refer to it as ‘managing employees’ or ‘staff management’. Why give a fancy name to what business owners just need to be able to do to run their business effectively?

10 years ago I set up my own business. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do with it or what it could become, but it was mine. I knew I didn’t want to be an interim HR Manager for large businesses, I wanted to help small businesses to grow and through their staff, achieve greater success. Over time my own business grew and like so many of my clients I had to take the decision whether to take on staff. This was an absolutely terrifying decision. Could I generate enough income for two of us? Would my clients trust someone else with their ‘HR’? How do I transfer my approach to managing employees (which is very different) to my team?

Fortunately, being in the profession, I knew how to do the people things ‘right’. How to hire, how to induct, contract of employment, how to monitor performance etc. But I was still scared. However, I had a safety net – the ‘zero hour contract’. I could guess how much time I would need the staff for and if there wasn’t enough work, they didn’t work. For one member of staff, if the work in a day dried up or she was waiting for 5 different people to come back to her and couldn’t’ move on, she would take a break for 3-4 hours and come back on later in the day. It suited my staff and it suited me and my business. It meant I could hire a number of people with different skills and deploy them as the business needed. They were employees, so bound by our policies and procedures, invested in – in terms of training and coaching, and supported with their personal development, but able to collect kids from school, take holidays or meet friends for lunch as they wanted. As a small business owner this was the flexibility I needed.

As time has gone on, my business model has changed, we have expanded and the inflow of work is more sustained, being able to pay staff at the end of each month is less scary and I know I have staff to deliver client work as needed, but I still have concerns and I believe that all small business owners feel the same:
• What happens if someone decides to take a hit at the business?
• What happens if someone thinks they have been treated unfairly?
• What happens if someone resigns and fails to work their notice period?
• What happens if someone leaves and takes your clients with them?
• What happens if someone leaves and takes your staff with them?

These are realities for almost all of my clients and some have had to shut up shop as a result!!!

Contracts of employment are great because, if written properly, they set out certain rules, policies and procedures which employers and employees commit to when signing the contract. However, as I warn many of my clients, they are not worth the paper they are written on unless you are prepared to enforce them.

Let me describe a scenario at this point –based on a real client: A firm of gardeners. Employees were provided with tools and a van. Employer came in one Monday morning to find the van unlocked in the yard with a note from the employee saying “I quit”. No notice provided. The employer then has to cancel and reschedule work at very short notice.

If the employee had been fired, the employer would have had to pay 1 months notice or the employee could take him to the employment tribunal for failing to do so. However, in this instance it is the employee who has breached his contract and not given the required notice, but what options has the employer got – in reality, none!

The situation gets worse – Over the next few weeks the business owner starts to receive cancellations from clients no longer wishing to have their gardens maintained by the company. No one would say why, but a pattern emerged. They were all clients who had been serviced by the former employee. Not only had he left with no notice, he was now poaching clients as well.

What options has the employer got? Well he could try to take out an injunction, but if the IMG_0275clients choose to leave, that is their right. They can purchase their gardening services from whomever they wish! Same gardener, same services but cheaper… why wouldn’t you?

So the business owner is left feeling ‘had’. The contract of employment, although legally binding, costs too much in time and effort to enforce. So is there another way?

I believe there is, but it requires a change in the law. Theresa May’s 10 point plan for the post-Brexit UK economy ‘supporting businesses to start and grow’ is one of her main objectives for Government intervention. This points towards the entrepreneurs, the micro and small business owners, those which account for 99.3% of private businesses in the UK and employ over 15.7million people.

With Brexit around the corner and a once in a generation opportunity to create our own laws as we come out of Europe, this is the time to really look at our employment legislation and to balance the needs of employers and their businesses with the protections required for employees.

Frances O’Grady of the TUC together with other Trade Unions and their officials claim that the fees that an employee has to pay in order to take their employer to an employment tribunal are unfair and prohibitive and should be scrapped. There is a consultation taking place at the moment on this very subject and while the whole subject of employment tribunal fees is under review, I ask the question “is the system of employment tribunals even fit for purpose?”

Another scenario for you: A customer service call centre with a sales team of 2. Both employees are new and being trained. Both have contracts and are on a 6 month probation period. One of the employees is really struggling. Extra help is bought in to support her, extra supervisions are provided and weekly meetings are being held. It emerges that the employee is spending about 3 hours a day surfing the internet. At 3 months she is given a performance review and told she is not at the required standard, reminded that she is on a probation period and that she needs to start making some profitable sales. At 5 months she announces she is pregnant. A week short of her 6 month end of probation, there is a review meeting in which she is told that as she has failed to improve, failed to take on board the training she has been provided with, is still spending too much time on her phone surfing the internet, her employment is being terminated by reason of failing her probation.

It is stressed, that she is not being fired for being pregnant (there are plenty of other workers who have been pregnant, had babies and returned to this workplace), but because she is just not capable of doing the job for which she has been employed.

IMG_0277A week later ACAS contacts the employer to advise them that the employee is taking a case against them. It eventually emerges that the employee wants £28k and is threatening a sex discrimination case on the grounds that she is pregnant.

The employer does not want to settle as they have done nothing wrong, but they now have two choices, settle and pay something or fight it and incur a lot of time money and stress with no guarantee of the outcome. ACAS makes no attempt to resolve the issue, they purely act as a go between for what should be 4 weeks, could be 6 weeks or could be less if the other side play stupid games. At the end of this period the ACAS system automatically issues a certificate saying that conciliation has failed and the employee can now take the employer to the employment tribunal. Until this point, the employee has not had to pay any money, but if the employer refuses to pay a settlement they are now likely to end up in the employment tribunal.

The TUC claims that Employment Tribunal claims have dropped since the introduction of the fees and yes they have, but not for the reasons that the TUC and others would have us believe. The figures have dropped because employers want to get on with running and managing their businesses. Business owners do not have the time, money or energy to fight with the risk of losing, with the costs of solicitors to defend the case or with the time wasted in preparing for an employment tribunal just because an ex-employee has decided to take a chance.

They are after a settlement. Their solicitors often don’t want a settlement as they earn more from defending a claim in the Employment Tribunal, but the employee wants a quick pay-out and I frequently come across people who have already taken one employer to the tribunal (or threatened to). Employers end up paying at the ACAS stage to make the employee’s claim go away, to know what the financial impact is as a fixed amount and to enable them to move on and focus on their business.

There are lots of different systems across the world and while I recognise that some are better than others, if this government is serious about enabling small businesses to grow and succeed, the noose has to be removed from around their neck and the laws need to be equalised between employer and employee.

Special Needs

05 Dec
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Disability Discrimination, Discrimination, HR, Interviewing, Recruitment, Video   |  No Comments

People don’t need to be employees to take an employment tribunal claim against you (although they usually are, or have been). Job applicants who feel they have missed out on a job due to discrimination can also lodge an employment tribunal claim and therefore taking any special needs into consideration at the recruitment and interview stage is really important.



If you need any support with recruitment or interviewing, give us a ring or take a look at our Interviewer’s Toolkit.



We Do HR – Making the Workplace a Better Place to be

08 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Health and Safety, HR, HR Policy, HR Support, Human Resources, Recruitment   |  No Comments

I am on a mission…..

Our strapline is “Making the workplace a better place to be” – but what does that mean?

Over the years, the management of people within a business has had many different names; the most familiar used today are “personnel” and “Human Resources (HR)”.  Whatever you choose to call it, staff have always been managed to a greater or lesser extent and whoever you talk to will always have stories about good and bad managers.

So, why our strapline?

Whether you are the employer or the employee, working in a ‘good’ place makes life far more bearable. We all spend too much of our time at work not to be happy. Doing a job which satisfies and challenges us, working alongside people who’s company we enjoy are both essential elements of a good workplace, but so is the working environment, including business culture and management ethos.

When we work with business owners, we ensure that we fully understand not only the business issues within the company, but the working environment as well:

  • If a company wants to remain informal, then we help them to develop and/or reinforce an approach which is a ‘soft-touch’, but compliant with employment legislation. This is often the request of small or family owned businesses.
  • If a company wants to build a base for rapid expansion, then we will ensure all of the HR policies and procedures form a foundation which is solid and easily scalable.
  • If a company doesn’t know what they want, but has an increasing number of employee relations issues, then we will review what is currently happening, understand the cause of the issues and work with the business owners and / or managers to put into place robust, transparent and well-communicated HR policies, procedures, processes and practices.

This approach to HR Management provides line managers with a mandate to manage, making the workplace better for them. At the same time, employees understand what is expected of them for example: hours of work, dress code, health and safety and sickness notification; and what commitments the company has made with respect to terms and conditions of employment and HR policies such as disciplinaries, grievances, sick pay and leave, annual leave, health and safety, discrimination etc.

‘Making the workplace a better place to be’ may take on many different guises and change over time. At DOHR we ensure we know what the workplace looks like now and how it needs to look in the future. Implementing good HR practices, we work very closely with business owners and managers to realise the vision, to reduce risk to the business and make their workplace a better place to be.

Are you guilty of bribery and corruption? Are you sure?

21 Jul
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Bribery, Corruption, HR, News of the World   |  No Comments

It’s everywhere …… every newspaper, every news bulletin, every conversation down the pub. How could they not have known? Who knew what? Are they telling the truth? Will Cameron go next?

Have you taken a step back and looked at your own business? When you ask someone experienced, someone you have known for 5+ years, someone who always delivers on time and within budget to do a job for you, do you ask them how they are going to do it? Do you look over their shoulder and make sure they are doing it legally? Do you ‘know’ that they are within the law?

What if the law changes? What if everything you have done previously is now illegal? What if taking a potential customer out for a drink or a meal is seen as bribery? Who is responsible? Who will hold the employee to account? Who would go to jail for breaking the law?

Although the News of the World scandal has thrown bribery and corruption into the spotlight, July 1st saw the long awaited introduction of the Bribery Act. The timing ……. merely a co-incidence, but the impact is huge and bought into startling reality by the claims of hacking, failure to carry out proper checks, failure to properly investigate claims and the acceptance of bribes.

As a business owner or manager, there is now a legal duty for you to ensure that your employees know the law, are trained and understand what is acceptable and what is not, are monitored to ensure compliance and undertake risk assessments to identify potential opportunities for breaches. ALL companies need a documented and communicated policy on bribery and corruption. Don’t expose yourself or your business to the risk. Make sure you protect your business, yourself and your family.

Are you LinkedIn to your next job?

09 Jun
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Facebook, HR, Human Resources, LinkedIn, Recruitment   |  No Comments

Although not confirmed by LinkedIn a new service is to be offered which would make it even easier to apply for jobs. Employers will be able to include a plug-in on their website which will prompt a redirection to LinkedIn, a selection of details to be sent and possible questions to be answered.Employers will be able to ask their own questions such as eligibility to work in the USA, willingness to relocate and the addition of a cover letter.People Management claim that 43% of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from its “Hiring Solutions”, and this would look to grow that element.A smart move considering 40% of Fortune 100 companies were already using LinkedIn to source and hire candidates as early as 2009.

Possible results of this include the cutting out of job boards and possibly even CVs as LinkedIn have their own resume builder and a reported 100 million users according to People Management with 5 million of those in the UK.Yet opinion is rightly split on the issue of whether the plug-in will have a meaningful effect on recruitment or not.The real area to look at for its impact will be with young people, with around a quarter of the 2.48 million people unemployed being aged 16-24.This age group has never known life without the internet, and social media may help them connect to employers.

However LinkedIn faces competition from Facebook on this front. Despite Facebook being more personal than its counterpart, it is in fact the largest form of social media boasting 500 million users.It also has a search tool that finds pages, groups and even jobs.Applications such as Easy-CV can be added to a profile giving a summary of that person to an employer or recruiter.

Mediation – like ‘the cloud’ it’s an unstoppable new way of doing things

25 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in HR, Mediation   |  No Comments

It’s being ‘pushed’ hard by the government and seems to be growing in popularity anyway. So, why is this? Take a moment to think how your business or organisation could benefit from mediation in the workplace, from boardroom to shop floor.

What’s the problem with disciplinary, grievance and tribunal procedures etc?
It’s the time they take – ages to conclude and soaking up inordinate amounts of management time. They also create a high degree of anxiety or angst, cost a fair bit to defend, if needed, and degrade or destroy relationships along the way. Not exactly ideal, hence the attraction of mediation.

What are the attractions of mediation?

Procedural attraction.
As a flexible, confidential and consensual process, the parties are freed up to really have their say in a safe environment, devise and consider a range of settlement options, decide the outcome and even its enforceability. It’s also adaptable (without even breaking the rules!) and has an approx 90% success rate.

Cost attraction. The sheer speed of mediation (setup and delivery) enables the costs in resolving an issue to be “significantly lower” – March 2011 CIPD survey report.

People management attraction. Key people benefits include reducing the anxiety and stress from using formal procedures and maintaining or improving relationships. As part of a proactive people management culture, it can not only help to boost morale, creativity and productivity, but also reduce sickness absence, staff turnover, loss of key staff and lost management time dealing with ‘issues’.

Is mediation a panacea?
Sound HR and legal input will always be needed. Furthermore, in some circumstances, a ‘blended’ service is more powerful, dealing with conflict issues in a more holistic manner. This would involve, as appropriate, a mix of mediation, executive coaching and facilitation, together with psychological and organisational stress management techniques. This is especially useful for teams and boards, when culture-shifting, or when support is needed to bring about mind-set and behavioural changes to enable sustainable mediation settlement agreements.

Will the Olympics sink your business?

21 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Annual Leave, Employees, HR, Olympics   |  No Comments

With only 494 days until the start of the Olympics, have you started planning to protect your business?
Having the Olympics in London in 2012 has given many businesses an opportunity for growth they would not otherwise have had. However, if your business is based in or around any of the Olympic sites, will you thrive or suffocate as a result of the increase in the number of people in the area?
For restaurants, shops, pubs, hotels and other service sector businesses, the Olympics will be a huge financial boost, but if your business requires your staff to be at work on time, to move around the community as part of their role or to travel into and out of London on a regular basis, contingency and business continuity planning is essential.

Have you started to prepare your business so that you can take full advantage of the Olympics? Here are some questions you may want to consider…..

  • How many staff will you allow to take leave on a specific day
  • Will leave be taken from annual entitlements or as an additional allowance
  • If you need to shut down your business during the Olympics, will staff have to use their annual leave entitlement? If not, will you continue to pay them?

You need to plan and your business needs to plan. Employers need to develop a policy and communicate it now. People are reserving their tickets and will need to know what their entitlements are.

Employees, if your business isn’t raising the issue, I encourage you to do so.

Please take some time to share your “Olympics at work” stories with us.

Employers should give employees access to Social Media while at work – shouldn’t they?

11 Feb
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Ecademy, HR, LinkedIn, Penny Power, Social Media, Twitter   |  No Comments

I am a technological immigrant and proud to consider myself almost fluent in the language. My children on the other hand are technological natives and for them a world without mobile phones and laptops is as alien as a world without cars is to me.

I listened with interest yesterday to digital social media guru Penny Power of Ecademy as she mentioned in passing that she is working with various bodies to make social media more acceptable in the workplace.

That got me thinking …… When writing employment contracts and employee handbooks, policies and procedures, time and time again employers have asked me to provide a policy preventing employees from surfing the net, blogging, tweeting and accessing Facebook while at work. They want consent to monitor computer / Internet usage and the right to intercept and read mail. In short, they do not want employees wasting time when they should be working and the do not want to pay people for sitting around playing.

So, where does that leave Gen Z? Those for whom online networking is so totally natural they don’t even have to learn it.

Well, many graduates do not want to work for organisations who restrict access to the Internet, do not allow employees to blog and spend time on their facebook page. If this trend grows, then employers are going to be forced to rethink their policies to enable them to successfully compete for top talent.

As a business owner I blog, tweet and use LinkedIn and Ecademy to raise awareness of HR issues and what I do to help employers.

Should large companies develop a social / online media strategy, support it with policy and come kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Is this a way for big business to survive?

Does your sick pay policy have a purpose?

31 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Absence, HR, HR Consultancy, HR Policy, Human Resources, Policies and Procedures, sickness, SSP   |  No Comments

Do employers pay sick pay because:

a) They have to
b) They feel it is the right thing to do
c) They want staff to feel supported and valued
d) They want employees back to work quickly

The answer is that each employer will make sick pay payments for different reasons depending on the culture of the business, affordability, negotiated agreements and sector trends.

When writing a sick pay policy, there are many aspects to consider:

• The needs of the individual vs the needs of the business – do you want presenteeism? People who are at their desk because they can not afford not to be, even though they should be off sick. They are not effective while they are there, they may make mistakes and they are spreading their germs which could lead to larger numbers of staff taking time off.
• What can the business afford to pay – From experience, most small companies and increasing numbers of large companies pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This means the employee is unpaid for the first three days and then receives payment for each work day absence. This is currently calculated at a rate of £79.15 per week (reviewed each April).
• What the company needs to offer to be competitive within their sector / locality – when companies have to compete for staff, benefits are often viewed as an indicator of the culture of the business. To recruit the best staff, employers must be able to offer a package in line with or exceeding competitors for local talent.

These are just a few of the issues which need to be addressed when developing a sick pay policy. Employers must be legally compliant and from there, it is a case of what fits your company and what are you trying to achieve.

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