One of the biggest drains on time, resources and productivity for business owners can be the energy expended in tackling employee disputes.
Thankfully we’ve moved a long way from the Ebeneezer Scrooge, mill owner or gang-master approach to managing staff, who were often treated little better than slaves. We now have clearly defined employment regulations that are specifically designed to protect employees from mistreatment and on occasion those same rules can come to the aid of the employer.
Despite these rules, I am still very much in demand for my services because issues continue to arise. Problems arise due to humans being, well…human. We are complex, and can often be unpredictable in nature, which is when matters can, and do, escalate.
At the time of drafting this article the UK Employment Tribunal service is ‘log-jammed’ with cases and with each one there will have been hours spent looking into complaints, investigations undertaken, and consultations with staff and legal teams.
As an employment lawyer I should be rubbing my hands together but in truth I would far rather see a smaller backlog and fewer cases – but I suspect my idealism will take some time to become the reality!
One factor that I am seeing as a developing trend is of matters that make their way to the tribunal which really shouldn’t. These include employers who should accept accountability and find ways to resolve complaints internally, and employees who bring claims that have no reasonable prospect of success.
An example of this uplift in spurious claims pinged onto my screen recently and it highlights one of the reasons why we could have so many cases in the system. What’s most surprising is that the claimant was an HR advisor working for an employment support company!
The HR advisor made her claim for age discrimination following a discussion around the most favoured venue for the company Christmas party. Her suggestions of family appropriate restaurants were mocked by colleagues who preferred the idea of a livelier location in London.
It was claimed the remarks were made by younger colleagues and consequently her wishes were ignored due to age. The claim, therefore, according to the HR advisor was one of Age Discrimination. In a further exchange, a work colleague in their mid 20s stated the advisor “had a lot of experience” the implication taken by the claimant of being ‘old’.
Both complaints were dismissed by the tribunal judge. Firstly, being disagreed with did not amount to discrimination or harassment and secondly, she did indeed have experience and this statement was “factually correct”.
A desire to go clubbing rather than have a meal in a restaurant or be in more sedate surroundings for a Christmas party did not, in the judge’s eyes, amount to a case of discrimination.
Let’s face it, from my perspective and that of most business owners, we have conversations and make decisions at work all the time and naturally those exchanges can sometimes result in disagreements. It’s at times like this that we need a common-sense approach. Be mindful that there are those who may feel offended if an attempt to lighten the mood, inject humour or take a more aggressive stance is taken.
No one should be “left behind” in a conversation and managers need to be made aware of the need to encourage input whilst not dismissing contributions that might be considered “left field”.
The example above was a weak case but the cost for the business would still register, with investigations and the legal representation required to respond to the complaint. Finding an effective way to engage with a disgruntled member of staff and mitigate such disputes no matter how bogus would be well worth the effort at an earlier stage, before matters escalate.