Three ideas: avoid being taken to tribunal
Ways to ensure your employees don't turn against you if something goes wrong.
Words: Emma Haslett
1. Be scrupulous about procedure
Of the 266,542 tribunals last year, more than a fifth were
disgruntled workers accusing their former employers of unfair
dismissal. Of the cases lost by businesses, around 80% were lost
not because the employers were in the wrong, but because they
hadn't observed the correct procedures.
So even if an employee has turned up to work wearing nothing but a
bowler hat and is in the process of scrawling expletives over your
building's frontage in large, pink lettering; stay calm and ensure
you follow procedure.
There are five valid reasons for dismissal: conduct (your naked
graffiti artist would more than qualify for this), capability
(where the employee doesn't have the right skills or is frequently
absent), legality (if, for example, someone working as a GP isn't a
qualified doctor), redundancy (if there is insufficient work or the
business is closing) and 'some other substantial reason'. Avoid
seeing the latter as a catch-all - 'substantial' is the keyword
No matter how valid the reason for dismissal you must adhere to a
fair disciplinary procedure - otherwise you'll be assumed guilty.
For more information on statutory dismissal procedures, take a look
Disciplinary and grievance procedures booklet (opens a
2. Sign a deductions agreement
There were almost 34,000 claims for 'unfair deductions' last
year. You are not allowed to take any money out of your employees'
wages except to: pay taxes (National Insurance, etc); they have
agreed in writing (either by signing an agreement or as part of
their contract), it is a result of statutory or disciplinary
proceedings, or it is part of a tribunal decision.
For example, if you own a restaurant and a client leaves without
paying, you can't deduct the amount they owe from a waiter's wages
unless they have previously signed a deductions agreement - and
even then, your deductions must not take their pay below the
National Minimum Wage.
There is further protection for retail workers. If there is a
shortfall in the till when you are cashing up at the end of the
day, you can only take 10% of your employee's wages for that pay
period - so if they earn £300 a week and the till is £60 short, you
can only take £30 one week, then £30 the next.
To read more about deductions, see the
direct.gov employment guidance.
3. Be fair
Even though the Equal Pay Act was passed back in 1970,
research has shown men are still earning 17% more than their
female counterparts - which means on average, women earn £369,000
less than men during the course of their lifetimes.
There were almost 46,000 equal pay claims taken to tribunal last
year. 'Equal pay' doesn't just mean wages, it includes your
business' entire benefits scheme: that'ss bonus payments, company
cars, health benefits and pensions.
To make sure you're paying your employees fairly, undertake a
job evaluation, comparing each member of staff's qualifications,
skills, effort and decision-making. Make sure you aren't looking at
each job in isolation - instead, come up with a number of pre-set
criteria and compare. Don't make basic assumptions: part-time jobs,
for example, are not easier and casual and temporary workers - bar
a few exclusions - now have equal benefits rights as permanent
If you need to refresh your memory on what equal pay looks like,
code of practice on equal pay from the Equality and Human
Rights Commission (EHRC).
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