If you run your own business, many issues can give you sleepless nights especially those relating to employment law. One of the most common of these is a difficulty with an employee.
Tribunal claim fees were abolished last year so if an employee wants to bring a claim they can now do so with little risk. Since then, the number of claims to employment tribunals has risen, reaching around 110,000 over the past year. This figure doesn’t count claims that were either dropped or settled before getting to tribunal.
Despite the high number of claims, only 536 unfair dismissal claims ended with the employee receiving compensation but the time and expense of going through a claim is something employers will wish to avoid, and by taking certain steps you can reduce your exposure to a claim.
As a starting point, you should make sure that the essentials are in place:
- Use written contracts of employment. Give these some thought so they aren’t just generic but cover what you need. If you have an issue with an employee, the contract will give you and the employee something to go back to.
- Review your contracts periodically. Employment law changes all the time and employers often make the mistake of using the same contract for years, only finding out that the law is out of date after they have encountered a problem.
- Put basic policies in place and use them. Disciplinary policies and grievance policies are standard but it is also helpful to have policies covering incapacity, the use of social media and work computers etc. As with employment contracts, these can be drafted to cover the specific needs of your business. Policies like this help managers and staff know what’s expected.
- Have at least a basic understanding of the types of claims that employees can make. If you have an understanding of your obligations and what might get you in trouble, you are less likely to find yourself in difficulties. For example, one common mistake that employers often make is to dismiss someone who is frequently off sick, under the assumption that the employee can’t bring an unfair dismissal claim because they don’t have 2 years service. This might be right, but if the reason that the employee is off sick is due to a disability (which can include some forms of mental illness), they could bring a discrimination claim which is potentially more costly than an unfair dismissal claim.
Most employers experience difficulties with an employee at some point. The best advice is, when in doubt, seek legal advice. An employment law solicitor is the best place to go for advice rather than relying on the experiences of others and, crucially, get advice before you take action.
You may have valid grounds for wanting to dismiss someone but if you don’t handle the procedure correctly, you may end up paying compensation for a claim that you could have avoided by getting good legal advice.
Find out more about employment law for employers.
Find out more about employment law for employees.