A case of preparing for the unknown

The Human Rights Act finally comes into effect in October, with far-reaching
implications for employers. But a recent survey found that even many
public-sector organisations, who are directly subject to its provisions, don’t
really know how to prepare for it. We asked some of those at the sharp end how
they think the Act will affect them and what they are doing to comply

Sandra Campbell
Chief personnel officer, London Borough of Bromley

We have been conducting a human rights audit. We set up a small team of
lawyers and personnel officers to look at the likely impact of what we do and
deliver.

There are a lot of issues. We have already got a code of conduct for e-mails
but we have got an eye on that. Also we are studying existing grievance and
disciplinary procedures to look for conflicts of interest. We have run a lot of
courses including awareness training for senior officers and briefing sessions
for our elected members and taking a comprehensive approach to raise awareness
because clearly members make decisions but it is also vital that they
understand concepts.

I am taking a careful approach. But I am concerned about the increasing need
for resources to deal with the HRA. We are taking on a legal expert so there
are substantial resource implications, some of which may turn out to be valid.
We are taking a joint approach between legal and personnel departments which begins
in best practice.

Gareth Hadley
Director of personnel, Prison Office headquarters

The HRA will have little or no impact on our department as our policies
comply with and often exceed legal requirements. Our lawyers have already
checked our procedures and practices against the HRA.

The only training we have introduced is for line managers about the impact
on prisoners. We are a good employer and while there may be something we have
not thought about waiting to trip us up, we are confident that our practices
will stand the test of this extra scrutiny.

Helen Froud
Director of corporate services, Worcestershire County Council

Worcestershire County Council has been worried about the impact of the HRA.
As a public authority we think the new Act will give the opportunity for
complainants to pursue another route when they have exhausted the existing
routes of appeal. Clearly this may sometimes be in the public interest but it
will certainly be more expensive and may further protract hopeless cases.

We decided early on to brief senior staff and councillors and to carry out
an impact assessment of the law. I tasked our head of legal services to lead
the project. We produced sets of briefing notes for senior staff, provided
training sessions for senior management groups and arranged specialist training
for key legal and HR staff.

The training sessions covered the areas relevant to each directorate. For
example, in educational services we concentrated on school admissions,
prosecutions for school non-attendance and school transport. In environmental
services we concentrated on planning issues and the rights of unsuccessful
objectors, allegations of entrapment for Trading Standards and traffic
regulation orders.

In the social services department we discussed the issues of registration on
the Child Protection Register, the rights of those not receiving social
services due to budget shortfalls and the possible impact of the right to
family life on care proceedings. We helped management teams to select a few key
policy areas where they felt they could be vulnerable and reviewed them in the
light of the HRA.

We haven’t been able to check HRA compliance. We feel fairly well-prepared
but are still very unclear about how many legal challenges we will face.We
believe the key policy areas may well be: openness in the planning arena;
openness regarding traffic regulations; and the impact on child protection
procedures and community care provision.

Anne Coutts
Personnel director, Chelsea & Westminster NHS Trust

The trust is running a seminar for all managers on this Act and the likely
implications both for us as an employer and as a health care provider. We see
this as being the first in a series of training events and briefings for
managers over the coming months and the specific actions such as the
implementation of new policies and practices within the trust. Our trust board
was also briefed earlier in the year on the key components of the Act and the
possible ramifications for the trust.

We foresee that certain conventions will have a particular impact upon us as
an employer including Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life,
home and correspondence; Article 9: Right to freedom of thought and religion;
and Article 10: Right to freedom of expression.

Our response will include developing policies on the use of e-mail and internet
as well as reviewing the requirement in contracts of employment for medical
examinations. We will also be looking at our equal opportunities policy and the
trust’s Code of Practice on Equality of Opportunity and envisage making some
minor amendments to our code of practice on staff dress.

Kirsty Ayre
Solicitor with Pinsent Curtis

The Act will have an impact on all employers but in the short term it will
be greater among public sector employers who will have a right of action
against them (section 6.1 of the Act).

However, all employers need to be reviewing their equal opportunities
policies, their policies and practices for phone tapping, surveillance and
dress codes. The primary reason for the impact on the private sector is that
employment tribunals, as public bodies, have an obligation to act within the
convention and all existing legislation must be interpreted in a way that it is
compatible with the convention.

Peter Kelk
Chief inspector, Metropolitan Police Service

The new Human Rights Act legislation reinforces our commitment to policing
by consent and our approach to working with the public and reflects the
standards of behaviour expected from our officers according to our existing
code of ethics.

We have set up a central unit to deal with the introduction of the Act
within the service and this unit has a number of responsibilities. We are
reviewing all our own policies and procedures across the organisation to ensure
that they are consistent with the Act and are contributing to the work the
Association of Chief Police Officers is carrying out in this area. We have
produced our own template for that review and our solicitors department is
ensuring that all our lawyers are fully trained in human rights issues.

To ensure all Met employees are fully informed about the legislation we are
investing in a comprehensive training programme. This consists of a distance
learning package for every member of staff, whether police officer or civil
staff, explaining what the legislation means for them and for the organisation
as a whole.

We are using the Met’s intranet site as an additional channel to brief all
employees on human rights issues. There is also a very comprehensive programme
of training for all those staff who have front line contact with the police.

These training packages are role-specific so, for example, all our borough
commanders will have a specialised knowledge about what is expected of them in
a supervisory capacity.

The Human Rights Act should hold no fears for any police service which is
aware of the rights of individuals and treats communities appropriately.

Shaun Stacey
Employee relations manager, Naafi

We are doing nothing directly because we are in the midst of a general
review of policy and procedures and within the process we are seeking to
introduce best practice.

In some of our stores CCTV is used and we are making sure that the processes
are clear.  But overall, the difficulty
with the HRA is that it is a bit wishy-washy and we don’t know what the
ramifications are.

A lot of our establishments are on military bases but that brings its own
pitfalls, because we have to protect not only our own revenue but also the
position of the military.

We shall be consulting the Data Protection Registrar which is looking to issue
a code anyway on how to monitor the behaviour of employees.

Roger McKenzie
Race equality officer, Public Commercial Services Union

In our opinion, the main impact of the Human Rights Act will be in the area
of religious discrimination. A large proportion of our members are Muslims and
it is right that they will have protection.

With regard to the HRA in general we are about to ask our negotiator to work
up action plans because our experience with new legislation over the years has
shown that firm actions need to be in place so that there is a proper and full
response by the employer.

The unions are quite prepared to work with employers on these issues, but at
the end of the day it is down to the employers to make sure that all employees
are aware of their rights and also the implications of any breaches of their
rights.

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