Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the “not too bad”

This week’s parliamentary shenanigans have left the possibility of a “No Deal” Brexit very much on the cards – despite repeated statements from politicians of all sides that No Deal is not what they want.

Given that there is – at the time of writing – only two months to 29 March, the date on which the UK is due to leave, small businesses should be taking steps now to prepare for the worst-case scenario. In HR and employment terms some of the common queries I have had are:

1.       Can I still employ existing staff who come from the EU?

Yes, you can, although they will – after 29 March – need to apply to the Home Office for what is called ‘Settled Status’. Information on the process is available here.  You can continue to employ them while they go through the process. The official Government position – for what it is worth – is that unless there is a specific reason to deny settled status (e.g. criminal convictions) it will be granted.

If there is a deal, they will still have to apply for settled status but have up to 31 December 2020 to make their application.

People who have been in the UK for less than 5 years may only be allowed to apply for “Pre-Settled Status”. You will still be able to continue to employ them provided they have applied for,  and then been granted this.

2.      Can I recruit people from the EU after 29 March?

If there is a deal (with a transitional period) then yes. But if there’s no deal, then the situation is very unclear.

The worst-case situation is that new recruits from EU countries will need to meet the same or similar criteria to workers from other countries. This will mean applying for work visas (the new name for work permits) and registering your company as a sponsor organisation. This is a long-winded and convoluted procedure which many small firms have avoided in the past precisely for that reason. There are proposals to change the system, but they haven’t as yet been agreed or implemented.

If your business uses short-term ‘low skill’ labour (e.g. seasonal agricultural or hospitality staff) then there are proposals to implement a scheme of 12-month visas which will allow people to work in the UK temporarily. Again however it needs to be stressed that these are still only proposals.

Whatever system is put in place, employers will still be expected to carry out the normal “right to work” checks before employing someone.

3.     What if supplies are disrupted – can we lay staff off temporarily?

It depends – read my full post on this issue here.

4.    What about existing staff who need to travel to EU countries for work?

If there is a no-deal, the EU has said that people from the UK should not need a visa to travel to EU countries for short holidays or business trips. They will however need to apply for an ETIAS “visa waiver” document (similar to the ESTA scheme operated by the USA) every 3 years.

If you have business trips planned at the end of March or early April, there is the possibility of flight disruption.

If you have staff driving in Europe – whether this is for business trips or delivering freight –  you will have to make sure that all drivers carry a “Green Card” to show they have insurance. As this can take a month to process, you will need to apply by the end of February at the latest.

It’s also likely that in a no-deal situation, the EHIC card – which allows people to receive free health service treatment in any EU country – will no longer apply to UK citizens. So you will need to make sure that you have adequate health insurance for any employees travelling outside the UK.

The situation is extremely fluid at the moment. Although the information is correct at the time of publication, it may not be in a day or so. Keep an eye out for future posts. If you have a Brexit-related HR or employment question that isn’t covered here, please get in touch

Straw and Rifkind show the problem of managing staff with “second jobs”

There’s been much schadenfreude in the exposure of two former high ranking government ministers, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, touting themselves for business and offering to sell their “influence” to a fictitious Chinese company. (In the interests of political neutrality one is from the Conservatives, one from Labour).  It’s provoked a debate about whether MPs should be banned from holding second jobs.

MPs aren’t employees. But the same issue of whether an employee can hold a second job is one I am often asked. So what is the situation?

Firstly, you can’t impose a blanket ban on individuals doing work when they aren’t working for you. Individuals have a right to spend their time outside work in whatever way they wish, which includes earning money. However, you do have a right to ensure that they are not doing anything which could damage your business –so you can legitimately prevent them from working for a competitor, or other organisation which might want access to your commercial information (a supplier or customer for example). As with all these things, should matters be challenged by the employee, you’d need to show that there was some clear impact on your business.

You can also prevent an employee from doing other work if it would stop them from working for you. So if someone wants to do an evening job starting at 6 but isn’t due to finish their shift with you till 7, then you can of course also prevent them from doing this.

The third key area is Health and Safety, particularly (and ironically given how much some employers seem to hate them) via the Working Time Regulations. These lay down the rules about the maximum 48 hour working week, rest breaks and time between shifts. If a member of staff works 35 hours a week for you (9 to 5 Mon-Fri say) and then wants to do 20 hours a week in a bar (say a four hour shift Wednesday/Thursday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday) you could try to prevent them from doing so on the grounds that they are working 55 hour weeks possibly without sufficient rest between shifts. Again, if you can show a clear safety risk (they operate machinery for example) it’s easier to do this.

With the advent of flexible working, zero hours contracts (where all parties have pledged to outlaw exclusivity clauses that prevent people from working for someone else), increased numbers of part-time roles and the growing number of “in-work poor” mean that for many employers, their staff may well have more than one job. Managing such situations may become increasingly common.

4 tips for Microbusinesses who need to take on staff

Today is #microbizmattersday, a day to celebrate those who run their own businesses and employ 0-9 staff. It’s a fast growing sector and we may well see it continue to grow in the coming years.

Taking on staff can be a major issue for micro-businesses – as one report put it the owner moves from delivering their product or service to being an unpaid tax-collector and employment expert. And the sort of staffing issue that most HR professionals would take in their stride can become a serious problem, threatening the existence of the business itself. I’ve recently worked with two microbusinesses, both of whom had to handle the situation of a single disruptive employee. In both cases the situation had been exacerbated by a lack of knowledge by the business owner (primarily by failing to tackle the issues soon enough rather than by over regulatory management). And it’s certainly true that many of the microbusiness owners I work with want to be “good” employers.

It doesn’t have to be difficult to take on staff, but if you are planning to do so remember these 4 key points:

  • Get Employer’s Liability Insurance – this is a legal requirement and covers you if a member of staff has an accident or injury at work. It will normally even cover you if an individual makes a claim many years later, for example if they develop an illness which may have been the result of working for you
  • Pay people correctly – your accountant will normally operate a payroll service (or be able to recommend one) which will make sure tax and national insurance are correctly deducted and, just as importantly, paid over to HMRC. The cost of doing this is well worth the time saved trying to get your head round tax codes, allowances etc!
  • Get your health and safety right. Unless you work in a particularly hazardous environment, where you should already be aware of the risks of certain machinery or chemicals, it’s mostly common sense (keeping work areas tidy, reporting accidents etc) – although you’ll also need to start doing things like having electrical equipment (kettles, pcs, copiers etc) tested on a regular basis
  • Get your basic paperwork right. An employment contract doesn’t have to be a long winded or legalistic document, but you must give an employee a written statement.

The cost of taking advice and doing things properly far outweighs the cost of “getting it wrong” – so factor the cost of professional support in to your decision about whether you can take someone on.

If you’re a microbusiness owner, you may also find these two older posts of mine useful – One Bad Apple and Back to Basics. And if you want to know more, my book covers many of the key things a business owner needs to know. You can download it here. (I should point out that as it was published in 2012, some – but not all – of the detailed employment law has changed, although the basic principles and guidance haven’t)

One Bad Apple

Originally posted May 2014

I’m currently the approved HR adviser for Knowsley Council’s Business Growth scheme, and recently that’s involved me working with a couple of entrepreneurs who are considering taking on their first members of staff.

What’s struck me on meeting them are 3 things

  • They want to be “good” employers – do things legally correctly and behave fairly to their staff
  • They have a perception that employment law is designed to stop them doing things
  • This perception is often based on the fact that they’ve  heard stories of other small businesses that have had problems with an employee and which ended “badly” for the employer (“He was doing X, Y and Z, they couldn’t get rid of him and when they did he took them to a tribunal which cost them ££”)

If you employ 5 or 6 people then having 1 problematic member of staff can be a major management headache – especially if that individual starts quoting apparent “rights” at you.  While it’s often quoted that you should base your management approach on the 95% of staff who work well rather than the 5% who are a problem, it can be difficult to remember this when your time is being taken up by one troublesome person.

So here are some tips to tackle these situations

  • Don’t let things fester – tackle a problem when it first appears. The longer you allow unacceptable behaviour to continue, the more the individual will assume it is ok. This applies whether it’s performance, attitude, time-keeping or any other work area
  • If someone quotes “rights” at you – check it out before responding. Unless they are employment experts, the chances are that they are no more knowledgeable than you, and are twisting something to their own advantage.  Remember that many employment rights are the right to request something without being disadvantaged (e.g. flexible working), not an absolute right in themselves.
  • The law does allow you to dismiss someone provided you have a fair reason (which covers 5 very broad categories) and have followed a fair process (which essentially means giving the individual the chance to give their side of the story before making your decision).

And if you do part company, analyse why things went wrong

  • Did you recruit the person because they were a “friend” of an existing employee, or because you needed someone quickly and the individual “looked ok”. Recruitment shortcuts are one of the commonest causes of problematic employees
  • Did you spend time with them when they started work, ensuring they knew what was expected of them and they understood how your business operated. The time you’d spend doing this will be significantly less than the time you’ll spend managing them when things go wrong

Successful entrepreneurs have things go wrong and learn from their failure. But when it comes to employment too many use one failure as an excuse for not trying again. Remember that one bad apple shouldn’t – and doesn’t have to – impact on the long term success of your business. (As those 70s business gurus The Osmonds put it here)



Not Just there for the Nasty Things in Life

Originally posted April 2014

When I arrived at a client recently, the receptionist greeted me cheerily with “hello Simon, nice to see you. I suppose this means we’ve got a staff problem!”

Now it’s true that for many smaller businesses, an “HR issue” means a problem with an employee – whether it’s sickness, disciplinary, work performance or something else. And it’s also true that in a small business these individual issues take on a much greater significance than in the large corporate world. Making sure they are handled correctly is important.

But it’s worth remembering that HR is “not just there for the nasty things in life”. Taking positive HR initiatives can help your business to grow and be more successful. For example in recent months I’ve worked with organisations to:

  • Support new first line managers to understand and develop their managerial roles
  • Integrate their HR systems into their quality management, allowing them to tender against much larger competitors
  • Review recruitment processes, enabling them to attract better quality candidates
  • Review their pay and benefits package, helping them to retain key staff.
  • Run team building sessions for work teams that weren’t gelling

So while I’m always happy to troubleshoot for a client, it’s very satisfying to help a business succeed by developing the people it employs.

If you’d like more information, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email or give me a ring. And as Ariadne Associates are accredited with both Growth Vouchers and Big Assist, as well as being Knowsley Council’s approved HR provider for its Business Growth programme, you may be able to get support with the costs