3 Myths about Dismissing Employees

A quick quiz:  answer either “Yes” or “No” to the following 3 questions:

1. If an employee doesn’t turn up to work for a period of time (unauthorised leave) then (s)he has, in effect, dismissed himself/herself?

2. Can an employee only claim unfair dismissal if they have worked for an employer for at least two years?

3. Can an employer dismiss and employee employee “on the spot” if (s)he has committed an act of gross misconduct?

Did you answer any of the above questions with a “Yes?”  All of the above examples of HR Myths.  

There are lots of myths about relating to the dismissal of employees.  We can provide you with solid and pragmatic HR advice and answer all the questions you may have from managing unauthorised absence or issues relating to gross misconduct.

Government Cuts: Lessons from the NHS

On Sunday morning, I woke up to hear the news that Government Departments are being asked to draw up savings plans that equate to 25% or 40% of their budget.  This news left me with a foreboding feeling.

I think this is because I’ve been there.  Whilst the majority believe that the NHS has had a decade of plenty, some Trusts have been through some tough financial times.  A number of years ago, when I returned from one of my maternity leaves, I found myself as a Director of HR in a Trust with significant financial issues.   (The reason for the financial mess we found ourselves in has been documented in a public inquiry and isn’t the subject of this blog.)

Achieving a 25% cut in budget, let alone a 40% cut is going to be difficult.  If I had to live through it all again, then this is what I would be saying:

1) As a starter for 10, work out what is core business and what isn’t.   If it it isn’t core business, stop doing it – unless it generates income.

2) Once you have defined your core business, face the fact that this level of cuts isn’t about trimming around the edges.  This is about service redesign.

3) To achieve substantial savings you will need to be creative and innovate in your approach to service design.  Consider the impossible, because that might just be the option that you eventually decided to take.

4) Be brave.  You will need to take a number of calculated risks if you’re going to be successful in achieving your savings.

5) Don’t drag out the planning stage. Staff will want to know as soon as possible whether they are in or out.  They may not like the truth about their future employment, but they would rather know than being left in “limbo”, waiting to hear.

6)  Think through the implications of any “quick (savings) wins”  before you implement them.  For example, don’t stop the usage of all temporary staff (bank / agency).  Downstream, you’ll end up having to back-track on such decisions and this will undermine your credibility as a manager.

7) Whatever you do, you are not going to be popular.  Accept this and work hard at your communications strategy to compensate for this.

8 ) Stay (legally) safe: Don’t cut corners when it comes to your employment contracts.  In an era where you’re trying to save money, the last thing you need is to have to face a number of ETs – which will cost the organisation time and money.

I decided to stay with my Trust when we were in Turnaround, but a lot of my colleagues jumped ship early on.  I felt that I would benefit from the experience,  but it left me jaded and I lost the passion for my job which gets me out of bed every morning.  For those managers in government faced with this current challenge:  I wish them luck.

The Impact of the Equality Act in the NHS

 We all know that the Equality Act 2010 received Royal Asset on 8 April 2010 (blah, blah) and that it replaced 9 major pieces of existing discrimination legislation (plus 100 other instruments) with one single Act and also introduced new law.  But what does it specially mean for NHS Trusts?

  1. We need to start using new language:  “protected characteristics” is the new phrase to represent the different diversity strands:   age, disability, gender reassignment, marital and civil partnership  status, pregnancy and maternity, race, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.                                  
  2. The Act harmonises the definitions associated with equality (ie: direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment & victimisation).  Although it isn’t advisable, some HR departments include the different definitions in their policies.  Therefore, if you are one of these Trusts, you should review your policies – ideally taking out the section that provides the definitions, but otherwise updating them as appropriate.
  3. From next April, there’s a requirement to publish data relating to gender pay.  Whilst it may seem that Agenda for Change has already embedded equality into the system, it is worth taking a look at the average pay between men and women per pay banding.  You might get some interesting results!
  4. One of the most challenging areas will be to determine how best to implement the use of positive action in recruitment.  I think that this subject is so broad (and new) that a separate blog post should be dedicated to this.  But for now….spend time thinking about it and built it into your “Inclusion” action plan.
  5. In terms of Tribunals, there are two new points to consider.  The first is the new freedoms for Judges to make recommendations that will (apparently) benefit the wider workforce, not just the claimant, where the Tribunal makes a finding of unlawful discrimination.  Let’s hope that Judges are up to date on current thinking in relation to health-care management and clinical practice.  I envisage this area will be a minefield.
  6. And secondly,  The introduction of dual discrimination:  outlawing discrimination on the basis of two (and no more) protected characteristics (eg an asian woman can claim race and gender); This will make ET cases more interesting.

All Trusts need to keep a look out for the CEHR‘s new Employment Code of Practice and take action as appropriate (and again, another blog post will be coming once that’s published).

And on a serious note, the spirit of the new legislation is to ensure that organisations, such as the NHS, demonstrate they have a real commitment to equal opportunities not just by having in place a policy but also by demonstrating that the policy is actively implemented, monitored and reviewed, and that responsive action is taken;  How many Trusts can say they have “real commitment”? And that’s where the real challenge lies.

ETs are good for your HR Health

Last month I was working with a group of HR Managers.  In the middle of a workshop I made an observation about how they approach a particular element of their work: I have worked with a wide range of NHS organisations over the last decade and it was the first time that I had seen this practice.

Their response was interesting: they worked through all the risks associated with their current practice in comparision to that in other organisations, making reference to relevant legislation where appropriate. In the end they decided that although what they do is different to other Trusts, they saw no reason or benefit for changing their practice.  And I agreed with them.

But what impressed me most about this discussion was their approach:  their knowledge of legislation is current and embedded into their every day practice.  This group of managers regularly get involved in ETs and I began to wonder if this had an impact on their approach?

To give another example: sometime last year, I worked with a Trust which was very proud of the fact that they had not a single employee submit an ET claim for 10 years.  But when I worked with the HR Managers, I discovered that they had limited understanding of best practice, current legislation or national guidance.   These managers had not had their practice challenged in court and so they and their organisation had allowed the quality of their work to slip.

The comparisons are easy to make, but in an ideal world we (as HR professionals) shouldn’t have to go invest a disproportionate amount of time working on ETs to make us good practitioners.  There are ways to ensure that we are maintaining our understanding, embedding it in our every day conversations without having to defend our manager’s actions in court. The Trust with poor HR practice also demonstrated a lack of challenge and accountability with the HR Team, which no doubt contributed to their limited knowledge and understanding of their profession.

I’m not saying that regularly fighting ETs is the only way to stay sharp, but it certain helps.