Check your contracts of employment
The contract is the most important HR document you'll have in your business and it should be kept up to date with changes to salary and working hours, plus any changes to employment law.
The biggest problem we often find is that many businesses don't have contracts. We advise all employers to issue employees with a contract*.
At the very least you are legally required to provide all members of staff with a written statement of the terms and conditions of their employment within 60 days of starting employment. By setting out what is expected from both the employee and the employer in writing, this can prevent misunderstandings in the future and make managing employees much easier.
Plus, having an up-to-date written set of terms will become essential should matters ever come to a head.
Note: Changes to employment law come into force in April and October every year, so you need to make sure your contracts are updated. Members can download an up-to-date contract of employment template here, plus we can also provide a contract and staff handbook review service – call us on 0845 130 1722 for more information.
Discipline and grievance
If an employee's conduct falls below an acceptable standard and/or a grievance is made against a member of staff, you should instigate the correct processes set out in the contract of employment.
The principles for handling disciplinary and grievance situations are set out in the Acas Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance. Whilst the Code is not legally enforceable, following them can help prevent tribunals and it is the minimum standard accepted by an employment tribunal, so failing to follow them could increase a compensation award by up to 25% where the employer has 'unreasonably' failed to follow them.
Redundancy is a difficult time in any business and emotions can run high, leading to claims being made. Be fair in your dealings with all staff and be supportive of those looking for new employment.
You also need to follow the proper procedure, which can be found in this redundancy procedure template bundle. Dismissal Never dismiss staff on the spot – no matter how grave their alleged misdemeanour, you still have to follow a set procedure.
From April 2013, new employees have to work for you for two years before being able to bring an unfair dismissal claim, but they can still bring a claim for automatic unfair dismissal based on discrimination or for exercising their employment rights, so you need to follow the right process. This can be found in our disciplinary procedure template.
As an employer, you must comply with the Equality Act 2010. This means ensuring that your HR processes are not discriminatory to any workers and that discrimination in the workplace is dealt with appropriately.
If one of your employees complains that they have been unlawfully discriminated against in a work situation, you have a responsibility to deal with the complaint and should do so promptly.
If an employee does make an allegation of discrimination, you should take professional advice immediately, do not attempt to deal with the problem on your own.
Members of the Forum can call our helpline on 0845 130 1722.
A lot of disputes that end up at tribunal can be nipped in the bud if caught early enough and dealt with efficiently. Don't put off awkward meetings or decisions; try to correct errant behaviour as early as possible.
All managers and supervisors should be trained to deal with any disciplinary problems that arise and to follow the correct procedures. As the owner of the company you will still be liable for any employment tribunal claim if one of your managers doesn't follow employment law.
Get the right cover
You can protect your business against tribunal claims by taking out legal protection insurance. Members of the Forum receive legal expenses cover as part of their membership package.
It's important to take employment law advice from an expert in this area to make sure you're following the right processes. Members of the Forum can also get advice through our helpline on 0845 130 1722.
*Tribunal Service 2010/11
Employment tribunals pose a very real threat to small business employers, with the average award for unfair dismissal cases standing at £8,924* and discrimination cases costing even more. Here are a few pointers to ensure you stay on the right side of the law and out of court.