You scratch my back…

You scratch my back…

Much has been made of the deal between courier firm Hermes and the GMB union which gives self-employed ‘gig economy’ workers various benefits, such as holiday pay, provided they sign up to follow delivery routes laid down by the company rather than simply set their own delivery route.

One interesting side debate that has occurred among some HR professionals is whether this deal is indicative of the lack of trust that businesses have in employees, and the underlying assumption that employees are inherently less productive than the self-employed unless they are controlled.

It’s an opinion, but one which I think is incorrect. It seems to ignore that work is a complex relationship, with economic, psychological and sociological aspects, which has at its heart a ‘bargain’ – I (the worker) will give you (the business) my time and skill in return for pay, a safe environment and fair treatment by the employer. The power in the relationship usually lies with the employer although there can be times when the employee has the upper hand.

The nature of any bargain is that if I give something up, I expect something in return – otherwise it’s not ‘fair’. So in this situation, the employer giving extra money to individuals wants something back for it – in this case a higher degree of control over the working arrangements. It doesn’t necessarily suggest a lack of trust (the existing system of drivers setting their own routes seems to have worked well enough for both sides) but a recognition that the relationship has subtly changed – and crucially still feels fair to both sides.

Think about it this way. When you are dating someone it’s a fairly loose arrangement, a little like true self-employment. When you’re not with your boy/girlfriend, there’s a certain element of trust (you assume that they are not dating others when you’re not around) but generally you don’t bother too much about what they are doing. When you move in together, the relationship changes –  you give up certain things (the ‘right’ to come and go as you please, watch what you like on TV, decorate your room in a particular way) in return for other benefits. No-one is suggesting that loss of control over the TV remote or letting your partner know where you are implies a lack of trust or an inherent belief that single people have more freedom than the cohabiting. You each make a bargain to give certain things up in return for other things, in order to preserve fairness and balance.

So rather than examine the specifics of the GMB-Hermes deal, look at it in the round – it’s about maintaining equilibrium in the relationship.

(If this all sounds a bit theoretical and airy-fairy, there  are some real practical implications in the world of work –  find out more here)

people walking on street between concrete buildings

Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

 

Plumbing the depths of Employment Law

Post updated 13 June 2018 to reflect the Supreme Court decision

The case of Pimlico Plumbers v Smith  – which has been decided today by the Supreme Court – has attracted a lot of publicity for the hitherto obscure and anoraky topic of Employment Status. As is always the case, much of the media coverage is misinformed and the case is being ‘spun’ by the various parties. Since small businesses need to be clear about their employment responsibilities, it may be helpful to explain the differences.

An employee is someone who works for you under a contract of employment. Most people in most companies are employees, which is why the issue of status doesn’t arise in most organisations. Employees have a number of legal rights (e.g. unfair dismissal, notice periods, right to a redundancy payment etc). Employers pay them through a payroll after deducting tax and national insurance
Self-employed individuals are those who work on their own account – they may do work for a variety of clients (both individuals and companies). They invoice their clients and are responsible for their own tax affairs, and they can make a  profit or a loss. They have very few rights (mainly around health and safety and some limited discrimination rights).

All employees are ‘workers’. But there are also others who can be classified as “workers”. They are those who work for you under some form of agreement where they are required to undertake the work personally. Workers are entitled to fewer rights than an employee but they do still qualify for things like paid holidays, sick pay, and minimum wage. It is this group that form the basis of both the Pimlico Plumbers case and the current debate about Uber taxi drivers, Deliveroo cyclists, couriers for City Sprint etc.

To establish employment status, there are a set of legal tests that have been established. For example, who controls where and how the work is done? Can the work be passed to a ‘substitute’? Is the person ‘integrated’ into the business? Is there an expectation that work is provided and if so that the person will do it? And most importantly, even if there is a written agreement saying one thing, if what actually happens is different then this needs to be taken into account.
And because of an oddity of law, it’s perfectly possible to be a worker for the purpose of employment rights and be self-employed for tax purposes. This is what causes many of the disputes.

In Pimlico Plumbers case, the Company and Mr Smith signed an agreement that he was a self-employed plumber. It saved the company money in Employers’ National insurance and administration time, and Mr Smith paid less tax. Mr Smith however was expected to wear a Pimlico Plumbers uniform, drove to his jobs in a Pimlico van and was required to undertake a certain number of hours per week for the company. Nor could he advertise his own personal plumbing services to Pimlico’s clients. Everyone seemed happy with this arrangement until Mr Smith had a heart attack, had his agreement with Pimlico terminated and received no sick pay.
The courts so far have applied the tests based on the facts presented to them, and concluded that Mr Smith was not an employee, but that he was a worker. The Supreme Court has now confirmed this.

But the real lessons for small businesses are that:
• Trying to fiddle or fudge employment status can come back to bite you
• If the reality of the situation changes over time you need to review your agreements
• Think about why you want someone to work for you and be clear about the intended nature of your working relationship before you start the selection process.

If you want to know more about how employment law affects small businesses, in a simple, easy to read book, just click here

The failure of HR

Well, after much speculation, and a weekend of leaks, yesterday saw the publication of the Taylor Review into employment, entitled “Good Work”. Much of the focus has understandably been on the Employment Law implications (excellently summarised by Darren Newman) and there has been a mixed reaction to the proposals.

But one of the key things that struck me from the report was the implicit failure of HR Management over the last 20-30 years, in allowing this situation to develop. Taylor’s concept of ‘good work’ would not look out of place in any CIPD document (and isn’t radically different to the ideas of a Victorian-era Pope). But the fact that Taylor feels it necessary to state that:

·         Flexible working is currently one-sided, in favour of the employer

·         A culture has grown up of insecure work and unpaid overtime

·         Employees and other workers are not listened to and often have no way to put forward their views

·         Not enough time or money is invested in training and development

·         The over-control of workers leads to problems with individual wellbeing

Suggests the reality – of what HR are doing – doesn’t match the theory.

So why is this? There seem to me to be five main reasons for HR’s failure.

·         Clinging on to outdated ideas – like “Best Practice” – a set of theories that derive from a discredited 1980s management study

·         A mistaken perspective, that sees businesses as some kind of corporate North Korea where dissidents (anyone disagreeing with the management viewpoint) are trouble makers to be removed, or re-educated via ‘employee engagement’ programmes.

·         Alternating between scaredy-cat approaches where we hide behind “policy says no” and “we might set a precedent”, and macho ‘business partnering’ where we try to act like the corporate equivalent of mafia hitmen.

·         Dehumanising people by referring to them as “human capital” (an oxymoronic term that reduces people to data on spreadsheets)

·         Becoming obsessed with the process rather than the outcome. I don’t care which “Applicant Tracker System” is best or about the relative merits of an ‘e-learning portal’ v ‘online facilitation’.  

I’m glad to see that the CIPD are having a review and consultation around our professional standards. But it’s how HRM is put into practice that worries me, and it seems we are way off the game in a lot of areas.

 

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

 

Ch..Ch..Changes

Over the last few weeks, there seems to have been a welter of articles and events on the changing shape of work and –  as a consequence – how we need to throw our models of change and organisational design out of the window. Whether it’s the robots coming to take our jobs, the gig economy, globalisation or Brexit, everything’s changing and we’re living in scary new world where nothing is certain.

Except perhaps it’s not changing quite as much as we think. For example, recent data suggest that the rate of increase of the use of robots has actually slowed across Europe in the last five years and is at a lower rate in the US. That might speed up again but even now is only at a level of 2.5 robots per 1000 workers.

Similarly, the gig economy – as recognised by a recent CIPD report – still only forms a small percentage of the workforce, most of whom remain in traditional employment relationships. Even if we extend that to all self-employed workers, despite the growth in recent years they still only form around 15% of the working population.

I’ve been hearing about the impact of the VUCA world for at least 5 years now. Looking around, most of the organisations I work with are still structured in a very similar way to the way they were in 2012 – and I suspect they will not look that different in 2022.

The reason – humans adapt slowly to change. The technology to create driverless cars may exist, but until they are socially accepted they won’t take off. And that won’t be until numerous ethical and political issues are resolved. How many people talk to Siri/Cortana/Alexa currently? A growing number, but still only a tiny minority. Many humans find the idea of conversing with an inanimate machine a difficult concept. It will come no doubt, but over a longer timescale than the proponents suggest.

So while we should review our models and theories of change (particularly dumping the outdated Lewin model in the dustbin of history) we should remember that change will be controlled by the speed that humans want it to – not simply by the fact that we have the ability to do something.