A more commercial outlook on Employment Law

August 5, 2019

Employers are repeatedly bombarded with messages that employment law is “a minefield” and “constantly changing”. But is this really an accurate description? And what do employers really need to do to steer clear of difficulties? Our answer is simple: “It doesn’t need to be; any changes are easily manageable, you just need a more commercial approach”.

Most employers realise that having written employment contracts in place is essential in order to avoid misunderstandings. Similarly, having up-to-date policies and procedures leaves both sides of the employment relationship with good knowledge of where they stand. All reputable employment law service providers, including Outset, will provide compliant contracts and policy documents so it should be easy for employers to have these bases covered.

It is surprising how many employers still trust Google to supply them with employment contracts and policies, thereby taking unnecessary risks with their business interests. We’ve noticed that this is a particular tendency for employers who want to include wording in the contract preventing competition or solicitation of clients after the employee leaves. Our recommendation is that you should not be tempted to do that – if you do, the “minefield” description probably becomes accurate.

Of course, there are areas of employment law which are complicated and do change, but it’s not this legal complexity and variation which leaves employers most frustrated. Instead, frustration is often the product of an overly conservative or “must always tick all of the boxes in all circumstances” approach to the legal advice received by businesses.

The tick box approach seems to particularly cause frustration when there are concerns about an employee’s work performance. That is not to say that following appropriate procedures when dealing with work performance is not important – sometimes doing just so is exactly the right approach. But business owners and managers may also have a pressing commercial need to look at work performance issues in the context of their overall business situation.

At times there is simply an inherent tension between on the one hand “what the letter of our procedures requires”; and on the other hand, resolving a difficult people problem quickly to allow the employer to achieve its commercial objectives.

There is no doubt that an employer’s written policies and procedures are an important risk management tool. However, business owners and managers also need the commercial freedom, not to mention confidence, to be able to take a timely risk-based approach to managing employee related difficulties. Managing and evaluating risk, and taking swift commercial risk-based decisions, shouldn’t be thought of as a no-go area. Often the commercial solution is simply the right thing to do not only for the employer but for the employee as well.

The need for proper assessment and management of risk is exactly why Outset has developed a fixed price employment advice product. This product, for example, helps employers through decisions about following its own procedures (in appropriate cases) but also, managing risk associated with difficult employee conversations about performance and conduct at work (in other appropriate cases).

We’ve called this product “Primed”. Primed entitles our clients to access legally compliant employment contracts, policies, procedures and a range of other template documents via a user-friendly online platform. In addition, it also provides timely email and telephone advice about complying with all areas of employment law, as well as when (and how) to have those more difficult risk-based conversations. This is a sensible approach to employee relations risk management which won’t leave you frustrated about always “having to tick boxes, which takes too long”. It’s also an approach which respects the dignity of an employee at a time in their working life where a “hard conversation” should be handled fairly and sensitively.

It is certainly true that employment law and employee relations can be a tricky area to navigate. Ensuring that it is not a “minefield” requires advice which properly respects the normal commercial principles of risk management which you habitually apply in other areas of your business life. It need not be a “minefield”. And to the extent that it is “constantly changing”, using our online resources and knowledge sharing infrastructure means that our clients won’t feel taken by surprise by the changes that do happen from time to time. 

If you would like more information about our fixed fee employment law protection, which covers the costs associated with receiving an employment tribunal claim, please contact Mark O’Shaughnessy – mark.oshaughnessy@outsetuk.com 01622 474 156.

Primed is professional service support brought to you from Outset; a Flint trusted partner company.

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