Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Elephant in the Room

I have been wondering for months whether to say this or not. To risk what people will say and think of me if I do. Yet it is something that privately people say to me all the time.

But I am going to say it anyway.

Our employment laws - and the way they have been interpreted by the courts are - I believe, are unjust.

I don't say this just because I am biased (which I am) but also because I actually care about justice.

So these laws...where do I start?

Perhaps most obviously, they make it unreasonably costly and difficult to deal with any kind of issue involving employees, be it organisational change or dealing with underperformance or indiscipline. Everything has to be treated like a legal process (which, of course, it now is, even in the very early stages).

Employers often live in fear of these laws ( I know, I am one). For these laws act as a stealth-tax on our income, time and mission/profit.

I am making a strong claim here so let me make a few statements and see what you think.

1. It should be reasonably easy for a company, or charity, to part company with somebody who isn't delivering their side of the bargain. Shouldn't it? Am I wrong here?

2. It ought to be possible, without a great deal of fuss, or expense, to make reasonable changes to people's jobs to suit the changing needs of users and customers. Wouldn't you agree? But it isn't.

3. It ought to be quite possible for a company trying to stay alive to keep its best people without risking all sort of legal hassle. But it isn't. Quite the opposite in fact.

Instead many organisations are faced with a legal minefield in any of the above situations.

Dodging the mines means expert navigation from HR experts and lawyers. Organisations least able to afford this - like small charities - can end up in a lot of trouble.

Not, I hasten to say, for doing anything particular bad or immoral (not forgetting that some employers are shits). But, quite often, due to breaking fairly minor rules around consultaiton or accommodation to people's sensibilities about what they think their jobs should be.

And I should know because I have been there more times than I like to remember. Indeed in our early days, one such case almost brought down the business.

Yes, the whole future of a charity which now helps 5000 people a year put at risk because the law said we didn't consult someone `properly' about their redundancy. That cost us several thousand pounds we didn't have at the time.

Did the punishment fit the crime here? Was this `justice'? While there are aspects of the American system of capitalism I abhor, its lighter touch on employment law is something I would welcome.

I would welcome opinions, anonymous or not.

But if you do agree, and I believe most people actually do, then let's break this conspiracy of silence and tell the truth as we see it.


Rob 'Arris said...

No need for anonymity Craig; perceived to be elitist or not we are in the majority in feeling this way. Not only business owners and chief executives, but senior and middle managers view this state of affairs as ridiculous, inefficient, costly and in some cases unfair to the employer. Let me put on record at this point that i believe that all employees should have clear rights, and clarity of what those rights are. Unfortunatley the laws are made for those that flout them, so responsible employers are slowed down, and sometimes have their fingers burnt too.

For me it comes down to the "changing bottom line" (my slogan for New Labour and its poncy "we are the voice of the people" attitude when it suits them) - for example there are days gone by when it was fair to assume that in exchange for a days pay people should be expected to do a days work, whether suffering with a cold or low level sickness or some family stress or relatiosnhip issues or childcare problems or whatever it may be. And that the business you work for could make decisions in the best interests of the business and future success that may change your job or working conditions a little. That as you describe Criag has changed and employment law in my view, has ensured that employers become an extension of the nanny state. It keeps people "in work" and off benefits and it makes it easier for people to maintain employment. The government love it (and here's another tax stat as shocking as the last one i gave.... the government spends more in benefit handouts than it recovers in income tax each year...).
The work ethic of this country (and possibly others) changed at some point in the last 25 years; and at that moment the government began to make it easier and more comfortable for people to work. The pendulum went too far in my view and the lawyers are laughing their asses off.
Well said Craig, its about time we spoke publicly about it - but lets consult with every employee in the World first shall we?!!

Craig Dearden-Phillips said...

Thanks Rob - forthright as ever. Your point about the role of the employer as an extension of the paternal state is a good one.

Mark Griffiths 'ideally speaking...' said...

At the risk of easy simplification, I say there is a lesson here for new start-ups in the Social Business sector. Keep the 'employee' basis to just a core of key people. As the business grows, don't take on staff, take on self-employed contractors - people you know you can work closely with, but whose lives are not about turning up to get paid, having sick leave and paid holidays. Work of the future should all be about self-employment. When people wake up in the morning and know they have to motivate themselves to get paid, then they'll realise why they're alive.

Ian said...

Were you trying to sack someone or make them redundant or dress up a sacking as a redundancy? There are very good reasons for doing it properly in a redundancy situation, so that unscrupulous employers can't just get rid of large number of people quickly.

If you were a lot more honest about what you wanted to do in terms of sacking someone, then you wouldnt run into legal problems with redundencies.