In the changing world of the 21st Century, the shape of the workplace is changing to reflect the changing society and its norms and behaviours.
British society has increasingly begun to reflect its counterpart US society where blame and automatic questions of compensation and responsibility are banded around. Walk down any UK large High Street and you are likely to meet someone who is trying to get your business in respect of a claim, maybe even going back many years. People are even solicited by the use of SMS on their mobile phones or cold calls to their home phones. The reality is that the UK is become more and more blame conscious and this is reflected in work environments.
In the not too distant past employees were grateful for a job and all that meant for them: financial security, challenge and career fulfilment. Today we see increasing numbers of employees who feel they are owed the opportunity to earn money and crucially feel they have the upper hand in the employer employee relationship. Clearly this is not the case but perceptually it is very much the case to them. Right from the point of recruitment there (quite rightly) an expectation that things will be done correctly, with fairness and equality being paramount as well as finding the correct candidate for the role. Commonly Employment Tribunals will receive complaints from individuals whose perception is that they were not treated with fairness and will have a reason or a number of reasons as to why they were not chosen as the right candidate on the day. Thus having robust tried and tested recruitment procedures in place is a must for any employer of people.
The Welfare of Workers
Managing the working environment is an area frequently neglected, particularly in lower risk sectors. Managing risk is a non negotiable when people are involved. As their knowledge increases surrounding their rights and the organisation’s responsibilities, so the trends in claims against companies unsurprisingly also does the same.
Conducting workplace risk assessments and taking action to reduce the risks identified may feel like a bureaucratic waste of precious time but your responsibility to your workforce is actually one of any organisation’s biggest responsibilities. Larger companies frequently offer medical assessments and support for employees who have a highlighted area of concern. As much as a business has a responsibility to its staff so the staff have a responsibility to their employer. To protect your own business you need to know of any problems with employees that could impact health and safety for themselves, their colleagues or the wider business. Support for employees displaying issues for concern can be provided support by a number of external bodies, for example the Coalition Against Drug Abuse might help an employee sober up and return to work. Bear in mind that any periods of sickness due to accidents or longer term medical ailments will impact on the business’s productivity as business work leaner and meaner and cuts workforces to minimum requirements, absences become harder to manage.
Grievances against colleagues
Having a grievance procedure is a very important use of time and resource. While an employer can control the company’s decisions around how to treat employees and manage the People Agenda to minimise risk, it is far harder to legislate for the behaviour of individual members of staff, yet their behaviour remains the business’s responsibility. Any workforce will be made up of a number of types of people, with different lifestyles, backgrounds and opinions. It is crucial therefore that a business legislates for colleagues who may conduct themselves inappropriately and set out information around how this behaviour will be dealt with. If an employee has a complaint to make against a colleague, it must be clear as to how this is carried out and there can be no repercussions for any individual raising a complaint. An investigation process must be clearly laid out and appropriate action as required should be taken against any parties found to be guilty of misconduct.
Tribunals and Complaints
Violating employment legislation can be a costly error to make. Where unions are involved to represent the worker it can also spell industrial action and loss of productivity for prolonged periods of time.
Tribunal costs can run into thousands of pounds in compensation per case depending on the severity of the case. Most types of claim have an associated maximum award and bands of award reflecting the severity of the breach. It is noteworthy that the highest levels of compensation are often awarded for harassment and discrimination cases and these are uncapped. In January 2012 a reported £4.5 million award was made for one such case. The number of claims submitted to UK Employment Tribunals is ever increasing (between March 2010 – March 2011 by around a fifth according to HM Courts and Tribunals Service).
A major defence to liability in any type of claim is showing that your company was not negligent. Training and educating the workforce to take preventative steps is crucial and for any business employing people and wishing to remain viable, training and educating is non negotiable.