The biggest risk to all employers is often the desire to
'DO THE RIGHT THING'
Now, that may sound like a very strange statement because it is generally taken that all employers want to do the right thing. However, as an HR practice we are often left picking up the pieces when having done ‘the right thing’ is used against the employer by a disgruntled employee.
One case ended up in an employment tribunal when the business owner said “I really do think you would be more comfortable in a more traditional estate agency”. This was turned into an age discrimination case which the employee won. The company was introducing new computerised systems which the employee was refusing to use, instead insisting on her original paper-based system. This was all about internal processes and nothing to do with age and yet, the one-off comment was seen to be adequate to be age discrimination.
What happens when an employer wants to do a nice thing?
Another example is where an employer wants to give a departing employee some additional money, but doesn’t want the ‘hassle’ of tying it up in a settlement agreement. In more than one instance, we have seen ex-employees bring claims for unpaid notice, holiday or commissions, despite having received an ex-gratia payment often in excess of what is owed. Our advice is to never pay a penny more than you are legally required to UNLESS it is wrapped up in a settlement agreement.
Even doing a ‘nice’ thing can lead to problems. Pizza on Friday? Make sure you have vegan or gluten free options. Cakes in the office? Make sure you have healthy options for those with diabetes or who are on diet. Team outings in evenings or at weekends? Take into consideration the views of all your employees. Are there religious reasons why people can’t or won’t join in? Are there family reasons which impact on an employee’s ability to fully participate ‘after hours’?
The worst thing you can do is have a goodwill gesture turn bad and leave a bitter taste in the mouth. You won’t be remembered for what you did or didn’t do, but you will be remembered for how you made someone feel. If someone feels left out, bullied or even harassed as a result of you trying to do the right thing, you could end up with demotivated employees or even a claim against you.
So, what’s the answer?
For many the answer may be to do nothing, as “it’s ‘safer’ that way”. However, you are then missing out on an opportunity. Think about what you say, before you say it. Give people choices. Involve your employees in decisions which affect them. Document decisions and be consistent. If in doubt, seek advice before saying or doing something…. rather than trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted!