Dear Deliveroo…

An open letter to Will Chu, founder of Deliveroo

Dear Mr Chu

I read with interest your recent comments that you’re unable to offer the riders who work for Deliveroo better terms and conditions because to do so would ‘risk the flexibility’ that they enjoy.

I fully understand that entrepreneurs who have a great business idea aren’t always experts in things like marketing, finance or – in this case – managing people. But most of those who make a success of their business get expert advisers to guide them through these issues and ensure that they support their business aims in a legal and effective way.

I can only assume that you haven’t done so when it comes to employment matters, so I’m happy to correct some misapprehensions you seem to have.

Firstly, you suggest that it’s up to the Government rather than your company to define individual employer status. Actually, it’s not. There are a number of long-established legal tests that can be applied to determine whether someone is an employee, a worker, or self-employed. It may be true that 21st century economy needs 21st century legislation – and certainly the Government are looking at this at the moment – but at the moment the existing legislation does seem to be able to deal with most situations, even in the dynamic ‘gig economy’.

Secondly, employment status doesn’t prevent you offering flexible working arrangements or work patterns.  I’d have thought the data you collect on ordering times for takeaway meals would allow you to identify regular peaks and troughs in demand and schedule your labour requirements accordingly. Using a bank of casual labour, paid through the payroll, would allow you to offer sick pay, holidays and pensions to your regular core workers and supplement these at peak times.  It’s a bit of a 20th century solution, but sometimes old ideas still work effectively

Finally, I have to say that trying to disguise the nature of the working relationship – by using phrases like “invoice” not “timesheet” and “branding guidelines” instead of “uniform” – won’t cut the mustard if you’re challenged. Employment Tribunals will look at what actually happens rather than the words on a page and are pretty adept at seeing through sham arrangements.

I’m always happy to help growing businesses avoid simple employment mistakes and so if you need some further advice please give get in touch, although if you do have 15000 workers I’d probably suggest you need to have some full time in-house expertise. You might find my book helpful though, it sets out clearly and simply what entrepreneurs and small business owners need to know about people management.

Best wishes

Simon

 

In Defence of Classroom Training

“We’re going to send you on a training course” – words that strike horror into many employees and which cause learning and development professionals to bang their heads in frustration. After all, employees hate being forced to sit in a classroom and being given stuff to do about a subject they can’t see the relevance of or practical use for. While L&D people have spent months- even years – devising alternative techniques such as MOOCs, e-learning and other interventions – to ensure that they can provide cost-effective ways to improve people’s skills and knowledge.

Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been asked to deliver a lot of classroom based training – something which I haven’t done for maybe 6 or 7 years. In part it’s because the small employers I work with are recognising that they need to invest in their staff, either to retain them or because the skills they need are lacking

And here’s the news – learners actually like “old fashioned” classroom based training. They value the time away from their daily role to concentrate on a topic; they normally have intelligent questions about the subject matter and can see how they can apply it to work situations; and they like the fact that they get to meet colleagues (or in certain instances people from other businesses) and can get to know them in a non-pressured work situation. A form of low-tech social networking if you like. And many have commented to me that they learn more this way than they would by being asked to complete an online module either in their own time or rushing to complete it during the working day.

I’m sure some L&D professionals will point out to me studies that show training courses are the worst at delivering changes in behaviour in the long term, or have the lowest “return on investment”.  To which I would say you may be right. It may be that classroom training is simply an example of the Hawthorne Effect. But properly designed, my observational evidence with a number of diverse businesses is that it is still an effective way to deliver training, and should still be an important part of the learning and development “mix”

Employment Law and the “Gig Economy”

There’s been lots of talk recently about the so-called “gig economy” – the situation where individuals work as and when for companies based on their availability and on demand from the company, without any of the security or protection of being an employee. It’s led to a call from many that there should be a “third” status of worker – someone who is neither a traditional employee nor self-employed. In the UK matters have been considered by the Government’s Office of Tax Simplification  and in the US there have been several articles on the subject following court cases featuring Uber, the “disruptive” taxi firm. (As an aside, here’s why I don’t think Uber are as radical as they seem)

But do we need to add in a new legal definition of worker? I remain unconvinced, for the following reasons

  • Despite the changes in the economy, it’s still clear in the overwhelming majority of cases whether an individual is an employee or self-employed. And the existing “tests” to determine employment status are capable of reflecting a wide range of relationships and working practices
  • No-one seems very clear on what this “third status” would be – how exactly would it differ from being an employee or being self-employed?
  • The “gig economy” has worked well for decades in industries as diverse as construction, hair dressing and graphic design without the need for additional legislation.
  • As the debate about zero hours contracts has shown, trying to legislate to control employment relationships creates as many problems as it allegedly solves.
  • Is the “gig economy” here to stay? In other words, is it a fundamental change to the world of work or just a reaction to the economic issues of the last 10 years? After all, as any current or recent CIPD student could tell you, the Flexible Firm Model has been around for well over 30 years.

Successful people management is all about recognising that there is little that is black and white, we are always dealing with shades of grey (many more than 50!!). Until we know what the problem actually is (and indeed if there really is one) legislation is unlikely to be the solution.

Shared Parental Leave – Don’t Make a Drama out of a Non-Crisis

It seems that everyone in the HR and Employment Law world in the UK is getting into a bit of a tizz about Shared Parental Leave, which comes into force after Easter. “Does anyone understand Shared Parental Leave?” asked a CIPD blog recently, while employment lawyers are busy falling over themselves to offer seminars on the subject, so that employers can avoid “the baby trap” as one described it. Anyone would think that the entire structure of British industry was about to collapse because some fathers may want to take some time off with their newborns.

The concept of Shared Parental Leave is so simple that Employment Minister Jo Swinson could describe it in a tweet “It’s maternity leave shared between two people”. It is also true to say that the regulations themselves are complicated, partially because they use introduce clumsy new phrases like “continuous leave” and “discontinuous leave” and partially because they attempt to cover every single possible scenario. If followed to the letter, they also introduce some overly formal and bureaucratic procedures.

Confusing and bureaucratic regulations are nothing new in HR and employment law. We work within them all the time – and many organisations, especially smaller ones, bypass the letter of the law to get to solutions that work for both the employer and the individual employee (a fact the government recognised when it got rid of most of the bureaucratic rules around Flexible Working requests).

So why the fuss about this one? Setting aside the cynical view that employment lawyers make money from running seminars on new legislation, the resistance comes from the fact that too many people (including a lot in HR) don’t want to change or recognise the fact that the world of work is changing. Many employers are perfectly happy to take the benefits to them of flexibility (zero hour contracts, contracting services to the self-employed, a tacit acceptance of the fact that employees will work late unpaid and continue to respond to emails in the evening) but aren’t willing to accept the same when staff would like it. Couple this with the “HR says No” attitude still too prevalent among many in the profession and the thought of Shared Parental Leave becomes a doomsday scenario.

I’m not naïve, and I’m sure there will be some teething problems with Shared Parental Leave. But – as with every HR problem – constructive dialogue between the parties will usually sort out the situation, while a blind adherence to procedures and process won’t. It also seems likely that demand for Shared Parental Leave will be small at first, giving people a chance to get used to the new system.

One final thought. Around 20 years ago, the Disability Discrimination Act came into force. Then there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about all the changes that companies would “have” to make and how it would force them to take disabled people they didn’t want to really employ. The high heavens didn’t fall then, and I don’t expect they will do now.

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.