Much of the trepidation around employment law lies in the sheer breadth of legislation and guidance that informs it. The question is, do we need to be so quick to fear it?
In our latest blog, we’ve interviewed one of our specialist Associate Trainers, Paul, about how he helps delegates gain confidence and competence in their understanding of employment law. Paul has over fourteen years of experience in training and consultancy. His qualifications include an MBA and Post-Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. Thanks for sharing your insights, Paul.
Paul, what will people get out of your Employment Law for Managers course?
As with all Yellowday and Red Training and Consultancy courses, we take a very practical approach to the subject. We aim to give our delegates the skills to manage situations back in the workplace. So…it’s a real-world look at essential employment law and what every good employer and manager should know.
We cover some of the more challenging areas such as disability and mental health. These can be tricky areas to navigate, as it’s an area of growing focus that people are still feeling their way through.
Employment law changes a lot, doesn’t it?
Interesting you should say that. In fact, we have now entered a rather stable period for employment law because UK politicians are busy with other things! Of course, one of the last big legislative changes – which was not focused purely on employment but certainly had ramifications for it – was GDPR. But for the most part, right now employment law is in something of a steady state, which makes it a good time to learn about it. Students and delegates can learn about recent casework without worrying about the distraction of the next big thing.
People describe employment law as a minefield. What do people get wrong about it and why?
The biggest issue people have with employment law is that there’s an awful lot of it! It’s informed by a great many pieces of legislation and guidance, and it’s always evolving because of new precedents set by case law. It also takes years of experience to get to know it well.
Employment law and guidance is intended to help employers get something right – or give them powers of redress when something goes wrong. Few people set out to breach employment law; it’s just difficult because it can be complex and misunderstood. We teach people how to have conversations that can resolve workplace issues, work through them early and nip them in the bud.
Do you want to learn more about employment law? We offer an ‘Introduction to Employment Law’ course, which is run by Paul. It covers the essentials of employment law and how to keep out of trouble. Delegates should leave the course feeling more confident in dealing with tricky situations in the workplace. Click here to view more. An additional benefit of the course is that it enables delegates to develop their support networks more widely.
What issues or questions do you most often see when you tailor these courses to clients’ experiences and needs?
Something we tend to end up discussing a lot is what I call the ‘triangle of misery’. The triangle of misery is where a grievance or issue with an employee is rapidly followed by another grievance. These situations can cause a lot of confusion about how to deal with it all.
Can you give me an example of how that might unfold?
Yes. It often happens like this: there will be a performance issue or potential disciplinary issue where an employee is underperforming. The manager begins an investigation or some performance action. The employee then submits a grievance about their treatment by the manager. The HR department, managing the whole process, is stuck with trying to plot a safe course through it all.
We show our delegates how to separate the processes and maintain consistency throughout, drawing the processes to a reasonable and consistent conclusion that will, hopefully, avert the risk of future trouble. We use practical case studies to highlight possible solutions and best practice.
Another area we look at a lot, which can arise in cases where both physical and mental ill-health is at issue, is the idea of disability and reasonable adjustment. Under the Equality Act, an employer must consider making reasonable adjustment for people with disabilities. But what is reasonable is very much open to debate and interpretation, so again, we work through case studies.
Can you describe a generic situation where the question of reasonable adjustment might come into play?
It’s often the case that an employee believes that, because they have a disability, their employer has to do everything possible to accommodate them. The concept of reasonable adjustment is all about considering what is reasonable in context. An employer shouldn’t use money as an excuse not to do something (in itself), but they can look at the practicality of making adjustments.
There’s often a misunderstanding about this. Someone missing a limb might not be able to work at height, but neither would an employer necessarily be expected to go to huge costly lengths to accommodate them. It all depends on the setting.
We often coach people in the area of reasonableness to help reduce the risk of successful grievances and claims, but we have to set expectations too. Ultimately, reasonableness is something only the courts can decide. Managers can look at previously published cases, but often have to second guess what range of views a tribunal might take. As I said, reasonableness is highly contextual.
What are the implications for employment law when it comes to mental health?
Employment law is often invoked in cases of mental ill-health when managers try to handle situations of great complexity. For example, where someone is unwell and the situation affects the relationship between employee and manager.
A good starting point is to recognise symptoms and gain practical skills in opening up conversations with employees. The next step is to then consider where support might be provided. Mental health can qualify as a disability under the equality act, which takes you back to a conversation about reasonable adjustments and how (and whether) you can support someone.
One particular challenge of mental ill-health is that people can have episodes. So, although adjustments might not be needed all the time, they may need to be considered if an employee has a recurrent issue lasting more than a year. We look at good management practice in this context – and at what the law says. Delegates often take comfort from understanding that.
What sort of feedback do you get from your delegates?
We all like positive feedback, but the feedback we really love is when delegates show they now understand a subject to the point where they can put it into practice successfully. They come onto our course feeling uncertain or uneasy, and within a few weeks or months, they have managed a situation well because of our training. That’s a great feeling!
Aside from an improved understanding of the basics, what one thing do you want your delegates to gain from the course?
Behind most workplace situations I have been called in to help with, there’s been an issue with poor or weak management. This is sometimes driven by a lack of knowledge or fear of getting it wrong. We want our delegates to go away more competent and more confident in handling difficult situations.
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