Legal training: Right side of the law

Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger is the not the first name that comes to mind in connection with progressive employment law, but last year, the actor turned governor of California, sent a tremor through the legal world.

The muscly politician signed up to the Californian Sexual Harassment Training Law, which requires employers with 50 or more staff to provide a minimum of two hours’ sexual harassment training and education to managers. This includes introductory training, followed by training and education once every two years.

Despite a huge increase in the number of sexual harassment and discrimination claims in the UK, with discrimination claims alone up by at least 40% since 2002, we are not yet on a par with the Golden State for compulsory training in equal opportunity policies. But there is also a feeling that as line managers take over more responsibilities for people issues from the HR department, any type of awareness-raising exercise in employment law has to be a good thing.

“So many employment law disputes come about because line managers get it wrong,” says Nicholas Edwards, head of client training at Eversheds. He points out that this is not necessarily the manager’s fault.

“Most organisations recruit or promote managers because they have success in the business function,” he says. “Their people skills are taken for granted and their HR responsibilities seldom explained. But how many line managers know where a company handbook is or what a tribunal is?”

Awareness-raising is what is needed, says Edwards, citing his company’s course, Essential Employment Law for Line Managers, as an example of the type of training on offer.

Need

There is a definite need for people development specialists to work with line managers on learning issues, says Petra Cook, head of policy at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

Cook believes recent research such as the CMI’s Management Development Works study highlight this shortfall.

“Employment law should not be ignored,” she says. “Line managers need to ensure they are educated enough to be able to address the needs of their team while also being mindful of legislation and possible pitfalls.”

But it looks like employers are trying. Demand for line manager training in employment law is on the up, says Nick Jones, employment law partner at solicitors Hammonds.

“This is partly due to leaner HR departments and more of HR being devolved to the line,” he says.

Jones also points out that properly managed, a little knowledge can go a long way – if only to equip the line managers with the ability to spot a problem, involve HR at an earlier stage, and provide a better chance of managing the situation as a whole.

“If line managers are given the tools to manage, then they stand a better chance at doing just that,” he says.

Hammonds, like many of the big law firms, incorporates a blend of training methods to make sessions interactive. It is now developing a diagnostic tool that will identify delegate’s skills gaps.

But it’s the simple things, such as not keeping notes when dealing with personnel issues, which trip line managers up the most, says Paula Rome, co-ordinator of emproveHR, the training and advisory service from law firm Lewis Silkin.

“The classic mistake is ignoring issues, hoping they will go away,” she says. And Rome points out that line managers often don’t have the confidence to ask what to do, and progress on a course of action without checking first.

Certificate

There is a case for educating line managers in a formal programme. With this in mind, professional education company BPP Malpas has developed the Certificate in Employment Relations Law and Practice, which it will launch this year.

This new qualification aims to give managers a comprehensive background in employment law, relations and practice, and to equip them to deal with the mandatory requirements for the responsible management of people.

“The aim of the programme is to alert line managers to the framework on which things sit,” says chief executive of BPP Malpas, Christine Hart.

The certificate can also apply to those involved in HR management or embarking on a career in personnel. The certificate is accredited for Continuing Professional Development requirements from the CIPD and the Law Society. It is based at NVQ level 3.

“Organisations are aware of the lack of knowledge,” says BPP chief executive Christine Hart, ” but where do they send [managers to learn]?”
Hart explains that the certificate is designed to help managers understand employment relations, and take necessary steps to avoid exposing their organisations to risk.

“Hopefully, this course will fill the gap,” she says.

“It will at least tell the learner when they need to raise awareness of what the consequences [of an employee’s actions] could be.”

The certificate covers four key areas: employment practice in context; setting up employment contracts; managing the employment relationship; and managing the exit from employment.

The course will be delivered via flexible learning through tutorials or on a modular basis.

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