Human Resources

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.

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.

Business Continuity – Plan for the Unplanned

02 Feb
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Business Continuity, Employees, HR Consultancy, HR Policy, Human Resources   |  4 Comments

Business continuity, disaster recovery, whatever you call it, it has to happen. 2011 saw many disruptions to businesses both here in the UK and abroad. How prepared were the businesses, how did they recover and could you do the same?

Do you take the view that it will never happen to us and then bury your head in the sand, or keep your fingers crossed that it never does? Or do you sit around the table with your manager(s) and plan for all eventualities. There is no point always being an optimist if it puts your business at risk. You need to develop a list of possible scenarios, precautions and solutions to ensure no matter what the weather, terrorists or the Olympics throw at you, you know your responses, have the policies and procedures you need and the contact numbers of your key staff, IT support company and other key emergency response people.

Several years ago, I had first had experience of disaster recovery and the need for preparation. I worked for a company based in Hemel Hempstead when there was a massive explosion at Buncefield. Fortunately the explosion was in the early hours of the morning and there were minimal numbers of people on site. The building was absolutely out of action. The glass atrium collapsed and windows all over the building were shattered. Many other businesses were affected with sprinkler systems causing more damage than the actual explosion in several cases.

The priority was business as usual. With another local facility, staff who could worked from home or the London office on laptops, call centre staff from Hemel Hempstead were moved to St Albans and IT had back up systems running in less than 24 hours.

It is the people, information and customers which are valuable, not buildings and furniture. Ensure that your people have the ability to work from anywhere as the needs of your business dictate. You can’t avoid snow, floods or incidents, but you can plan for the worse and give yourself a competitive advantage if you can get back up quicker and better than others.

Your people are the key to your business continuity planning.

Do you have a plan for the unplanned?

Have you had an incident where Business Continuity Planning saved the day?

Share your thoughts and experiences.

Recruiting Blind

18 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Discrimination, HR Policy, HR Support, Human Resources, Policies and Procedures, Race Discrimination, Recruitment, war for talent   |  3 Comments

Would you? Could you?
Over 100 UK businesses have pledged to recruit blind as a way of increasing social mobility and reducing the risk of discrimination candidates with submit their applications on standard company from without a name or school.

As an HR professional, I’m not sure how I feel about this.

15 years ago I developed application forms with tear off flaps for equal opportunity monitoring. The forms were all numbered sequentially and the applicant tracked through the system by number so we monitored age, gender and ethnicity. It actually made no difference to our employee demographics. It did however take time and resources to manage and continually monitor the applicants through recruitment, selection and promotion within the company. Even at the time, removing date of birth from the application form seemed odd – you just needed to look at when someone was at school or entered the workplace to be able to estimate their age.

So now we are removing name and school as well. Will it really make a difference? Will this prevent ‘the old boys network’ from blocking social mobility?

Companies signing up to the Compact have also agreed to use schools and other public forums to advertise work experience / intern opportunities rather than offering the places to informal contacts.

Thinking about your business, would you prefer to advertise for a junior in your local schools or take the son / daughter of an existing employee or a friend?

Is this the end of the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”?

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.

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.

Large Employers vs Small Employers

12 Nov
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Discrimination, employee rights, Employment Legislation, HR, HR Consultancy, HR Policy, Human Resources, public sector   |  No Comments

So often when I am advising my clients on HR issues, they ask me how the big boys do it. How do they operate in the way they do? How do they get round the employment legislation advice I am giving my clients? My answer has usually been something along the lines of – they have enough people to manage, they get good HR advice, they are very familiar with the contents of employment legislation etc.

Listening to Moneybox Live on Radio 4 this week, I was horrified at what I was hearing! The topic of discussion was equality, rights and pay at work. Many of the callers worked for large, unionised public bodies, yet the degree of discrimination was alarming. As an HR Consultant, I could not believe that the behaviours and attitudes reported were stilling going on in large public organisations today.

So next time my clients ask me how the big boys do it, I will tell them that they do it badly and do and will continue to pay for their mistakes until they start complying with employment legislation.

Small companies can not afford the cost of defending employment tribunal cases, they need to ensure they are fully compliant as soon as possible and stay that way by updating their HR policies and procedures as employment legislation changes.

Long Service Awards

10 Jun
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in HR, Human Resources, Long Service Awards, Reward   |  No Comments

Rewarding long service is tricky. You need to consider what you are rewarding, attendance or contribution? In the era of age discrimination, is rewarding long service, rewarding older members of staff and discriminating against younger members who are less likely to be receiving the awards.

What is the purpose of the award? Is it because you have always done it? Is it the right kind of motivation / thank you / incentive for a modern workplace?

I would suggest that gifts are not appreciated. The vase may be lovely, but the company logo and employee’s names and dates of service would probably put off the receiver from displaying it with a bunch of flowers in.

My recommendation is ditch the long service awards. Look at initiatives which recognise all staff for the positive contribution they make to the business: a big contract won; a major project completed on time and within budget; employee of the month as voted by colleagues or customers; outstanding customer satisfaction scores etc.

Align rewards and awards to your business goals and use them to improve employee contribution to the business.

For advice and support with your reward packages, call us on 01923 504100 or visit our website.

World Cup

26 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Business, employee rights, HR, Human Resources, policy, world cup   |  No Comments

Love it or hate it, the world cup is coming and as employers, you need to ensure you know what you can and can’t do to protect your business from absent employees.

Get it right now and managing employees during the tournament becomes easy.

You need a clear policy. Decide how you are going to encourage staff to be at work during games, communicate it and stick to it consistently, for all employees, no exceptions.

Don’t just make allowances for England games – not everyone supports England!!

Can your business support flexi-time? If employees take a break to watch a match, can they make up the time at the start or end of the day? This may not work if your employees are customer facing i.e. working in shops or call centres.

If employees book holiday time to watch a match, is this on a first come first served basis? How do you ensure you treat everyone equally.

If you have a TV onsite to enable people to watch the game, what will you do for employees who have no interest in football whatsoever?

The keys to getting this right are:
– Have a plan which protects your business
– Communicate it in advance
– Deal with any issues in advance
– Do not treat people differently
– Ensure consistent decision making
– Deal with any complaints through your company grievance procedures

For further help and advice specific to your business needs, contact us on 01923 504100 or via our website.

Are all your employees legal? ….. are you sure?

23 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Compliance, Employer Sponsorship, HR, HR Audit, Human Resources, Immigration, Work Permits   |  No Comments

In 2008, the UK Boarders & Imigration Agency (UKBIA) introduced fixed penalty fines of £10,000 per employee for illegal immigrants.

In 2007, there were 38 prosecutions. However, following the introduction of the fixed penalty, there were 1164 penalties imposed costing employers £11.2 million in fines. In 2009 these figures rose to 2210 penalties costing £22.1 million.

Every employer must check and keep evidence to demonstrate that they have done everything they can to ensure all their employees are legally entitled to work in the UK.

If applying for work permits for employees, UKBIA will want to see operational / legal compliance, documented HR & recruitment procedures and evidence that the employer has tried to recruit a suitable employee from the UK and the EU before looking for non EU citezens.

At DOHR we work with employers before their applications are submitted to ensure that they have the necessary policies and processes in place to enable them to successfully apply to be a sponsor.

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