The day my professional mask slipped

A lot of the time when I meet someone new and tell them that I keep entrepreneurs out of HR trouble. I get told a dodgy or embarrassing story about an incident that an individual had to deal with. Everyone loves a bit of drama!

I like to think I’ve seen most things and am pretty difficult to shock. I am often told that I have a great poker face, but I do remember the last time a client only had to look at the look shock on my face to realise that something was very wrong!

I have a client that told me they had some outstanding issues that needed addressing when they signed up to receive our advice and support on a retained basis. I remember in our initial meeting they had probed pretty hard on our experience of dealing with staff relationships and even went as far as asking if we could create policies that banned them!

About two weeks into working with them, they contacted me because they had received an ET1 – the notification you receive from the Employment Tribunal Service when a claim has been submitted. So I went in to see them to gather evidence and see whether the case had legs.

It transpired that an employee had raised a grievance against her manager (whom it was rumoured she’d been in a relationship with) and when the grievance wasn’t upheld, she went off sick. The claim was for discrimination and also stated that she had not been paid.

When I asked for details regarding her sickness and pay. I was told we stopped her pay when she didn’t come into work and we haven’t heard from her and she hasn’t returned our calls. I asked for documents to substantiate that they had made contact and copies of the sick certificates; I was given one sick certificate!

At this point I could see that the look on my face made my client distinctly uncomfortable! I really wasn’t sure where to start cataloguing the mistakes that had been made, amongst other things they had NOT:

  • Followed their grievance process and given the option of appealing the outcome of the grievance.
  • Paid sick pay according to their policy.
  • Documented the attempts they had made to contact the individual.
  • Written to the individual after failing to contact her by phone.
  • Demonstrated carrying out their duty of care to the individual

Now, in their defence they are American and this was their first experience of UK employment law, so they had made some assumption based on their U.S. experience.

I was able to speak with the individual and negotiate a settlement agreement with her (as she didn’t want to return to work), pay her was she was owed and her notice pay; for less than what it would have cost to prepare an Employment Tribunal case.

The lessons that my client (and I hope you) learnt from this experience were:

  • Ensure you have comprehensive up to date HR policies in place.
  • Follow your HR policies.
  • Document what you have done.
  • Don’t make assumptions, employment law can be complicated.
  • Take advice before you act.

You can find the vlog on this subject here.

If you need HR advice and support to keep you out of HR trouble contact us to find out how we can help you here.