Protecting your business – What your managers need to know
Through this series of articles, ‘Protecting your business’, our Employment partner, Linda Wilson, takes a look at different topics providing tips and advice to help businesses. This article focuses on what managers in your business need to know from an Employment law and HR perspective.
Although the tips below do not attempt to set out everything managers should know, it pulls together some of the more salient points and common problems that arise from an employment law perspective.
Managers are sometimes forced unexpectedly into the role of manager, and with such power and privilege comes responsibility. The role inevitably means having to manage people and emotions, not just technical and operational matters.
- Employment law and good HR practice revolves around there being clear rules, boundaries and expectations in a workplace to protect both parties, but acknowledging it is often the employee in the weaker bargaining position.
The importance of clear expectations cannot be understated as not only does it assist with the efficient running of a business, but also helps to reduce stress in the workplace. Clear rules, however, sometimes need to be enforced with flexibility and discretion in order to allow a business to act fairly, especially where the law may demand it in areas such as ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act 2010.
- As well as clear rules and procedures, the other cornerstone of employment law is reasoning. It is always wise to reflect upon the reasons behind any decision or action to ensure it is not motivated by malice nor any of those areas protected by law. For example, under the Equality Act 2010 there are nine characteristics which are protected to ensure that people are not treated less favourably because of these characteristics. These are as follows:
- gender reassignment;
- marriage and civil partnership;
- pregnancy and maternity;
- religion or belief;
- sex; and
- sexual orientation.
Further, before a manager acts it is wise for them to reflect whether they are motivated because the employee has been critical or raised concerns about the workplace, such as health and safety issues. There are laws that protect employees from being treated detrimentally for raising concerns or being involved in trade union activities.
The reason why a manager is about to carry out a process or make a decision may trigger a certain procedure such as consultation, having to follow a disciplinary procedure or a Performance Improvement Plan. This is why getting the reasoning right at the outset is so important.
- A key tip with managing performance is to not shy away from those difficult conversations. It comes back to having clear expectations in the workplace and such conversations can be had in a supportive manner. Probation periods are an ideal time to identify areas of concern with new staff but, even with longstanding colleagues, supportive conversations can be had to identify particular issues to try and resolve them.
- Again, a good procedure goes hand in hand with treating someone fairly, proportionally and reasonably. Usually employees will need time to improve, together with support where appropriate with clear, reasonable and achievable targets.
- When considering the wellbeing of their staff, a manager should be aware that physical and mental health are of equal importance and when discharging their duty of care and when undertaking risk assessments, both should be considered.
- Managers should not make hasty assumptions as to the wellbeing and health of their staff as they are not medically trained. Open, supportive communication should assist with this.
- A clear process and clear expectations again are key – what is the process when someone is absent through illness, is it applied consistently?
Grievances are something that neither employee nor employer wants to have to deal with, but they are inevitable as part of a manager’s remit. They may be informal or formal but tips to bear in mind are as follows:
- Follow any internal grievance process where appropriate and note the minimum required by the ACAS code.
- Mediate and conciliate where you can in an attempt to resolve matters informally where appropriate.
- Be sure you have all the facts to hand before making recommendations or setting forth any proposals.
- Deal with matters promptly.
- Keep an open mind.
- It may be more obvious in this area of management that processes and procedures are important, but they must also be used proportionally, consistently and reasonably in the circumstances. Again, note the minimum required by the ACAS code but be mindful of any internal procedure the business may be bound by.
- One key area that gets forgotten in the haste to deal with matters is the need for a thorough investigation into the facts.
- Dismissals can have consequences for employees and employers alike and these can be costly for businesses – its advisable to seek legal advice to ensure that, as far as possible, there are no unforeseen repercussions.
There is no denying that a manager with good HR knowledge and skills will go a long way to protect your business. Although training does involve investment, it will reap rewards with the management time and cost it saves in avoiding legal disputes but also in maintaining good staff morale.
If you would like to discuss bespoke training packages for your staff, please contact Linda and she will be happy to discuss how we can help.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.