As an employment lawyer, my involvement in employment relationships normally comes at the back end: helping to bring about a painless parting of the ways or picking up the pieces at an employment tribunal on occasions when the sorrow of parting is not as sweet as it might be. It often strikes me that many of the headaches associated with dismissals could be avoided by good recruitment practice.
I spend most of my leisure time sailing. Good recruitment practice – like safe sailing - boils down to following a series of drills. When sailing, these make the difference between getting away safely from a busy marina with power cable unplugged, lines running free and the gang-plank tucked away and ending up in a muddle doing a dead beetle impression on the pontoon.
My school clients have processes they are obliged to follow to safeguard children: for example, they must prepare a safeguarding statement to include in any advertisement and carry out checks on potential employees with the Disclosure and Barring Service. But it is worth every employer having robust processes in place to ensure they recruit the right individuals and avoid problems further down the line.
For example, it is essential to draw up a job description and person description for every post – so that employees are recruited to fulfil business needs. Too often jobs are tailored to fit around available individuals, instead of finding the right person to do a specific job. One of my clients which merged with another company sought to find a slot for its longstanding office manager.
By failing to take into account the needs of the new merged business, it only succeeded in putting the lady into a position for which she was poorly suited. This proved in due course to be an expensive mistake.
An application form designed with business needs in mind will produce better outcomes than just seeking a letter of application. Obtaining at least two references is a minimum. Including a probation period – not less than three months, but not more than six – in a contract of employment can help avoid many problems – but only if the employer follows it up by diarising a review at the end of the probation period and ensuring that this is carried out in every case.
One of my clients got into hot water when one of the individuals with responsibility for recruitment initiated a policy of recruiting employees who were members of her Jehovah’s Witness church. Unfortunately, she also followed a practice of sending her recruits to Siberia if they decided to stop going to Bible-reading classes or wished anyone a happy Christmas. The employer found itself at the sharp end of a claim of religious discrimination.
It’s worth taking some trouble to get the employment relationship off on the right foot. All that is required is for you to do the right things in the right order.
Hywel Griffiths is a Consultant Solicitor at Ashton KCJ. He is an accredited Mediator and conducts mediations both for the Alternative Dispute Resolution Group and in the Central London County Court Mediation Project. Hywel has extensive experience as an Employment Tribunal advocate, in the conduct of contentious and non-contentious employment matters, in drafting and enforcing employment contracts for directors and other senior employees, in advising on TUPE issues and in managing issues arising on redundancy and reorganisation.
Ashton KCJ was established following the merger of Ashton Graham and Kester Cunningham John on 1st October 2011. The firm employs 300 people in East Anglia and as such is one of the region’s largest and most prominent law firms. It has extensive geographic coverage, with offices in the main commercial centres along the A14 and A11 corridors – Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe and Thetford.
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