Many organisations, especially small companies operate in an environment based on informality and rules. In some cases, this could be because the company has taken on a life of its own and grown from a one man band to a company employing several staff.
Despite the growth, most companies with less than 50 staff do not feel the need or cannot afford the services of a HR department, the result being there is no clear guidance in place that sets out what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace.
It is fair to say that a lot of companies have existed on this basis for a while without any concerns. However, the minute something goes wrong, that is when the problems are likely to arise. Below is a case study to illustrate the point.
‘Jack comes in to work around – 10am every day. He takes 1.5 hours for lunch and spends a further 30 mins a day on average either surfing the net or speaking on the phone to his girlfriend. Jacks manager had spoken with his vaguely about behaviour but nothing had changed
Joe the MD is fed up with this lax behaviour and demands that Jack is dismissed. On the grounds that he is always in late, takes long lunch breaks and spends too much time on personal business in work time. This all sounds perfectly reasonable right?
Three months later the company finds itself in an employment tribunal – Jack has sued the company or unfair dismissal. The tribunal finds in favour of Jack. How can that be?
This is because as part of the tribunal’s investigation the company is unable to demonstrate that it had clearly laid out rules about time keeping, taking personal calls on the phone in work time and not clear guidance around lunch breaks.
If the company had a clear set of rules laid out in a UK employee handbook, which had been presented to Jack when he first started with the company, they would have been able to argue that they had made it very clear what the rules are and that Jack had breached them, they would have been in a strong position to defend themselves against claims of unfair dismissal.
No matter how small your organisation, it is important to set out the rules of conduct in the workplace in your UK employee handbook in order to avoid possible claims against the company.
The UK employee handbook does not however only service as a form of defence of companies against possible employment tribunal claims, they can also serve as a source of reference for managers and staff about ‘the way things are done around here’ so that people understand their rights and entitlements.