Added legal burden will enhance HR role

The frenzied speculation about corporate killing and the stiff penalties company directors could face may now be laid to rest as the Home Office consultation paper is now out.

A new offence of corporate killing and two new offences to deal with death caused by recklessness or gross carelessness are among the proposals to replace the current law on involuntary manslaughter.

The changes to the law will have wide implications for HR, although much of what they need to do should already be good practice. Personnel managers will have to make doubly sure that checks, like working hours that staff are doing, are made. They will have to be certain that drug-testing checks are being carried out so staff are fit to do the job they are recruited to do. References and qualifications will need to be checked and effective health and safety training will be crucial.

Personnel managers may be groaning as another legislative burden comes their way but the profession should regard it in a positive light.

As the document highlights, the penalties for getting it wrong are rightly severe. Directors could be disqualified from holding management positions. And the two new individual offences of reckless killing and killing by gross carelessness will carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

But the severity of these penalties is, perversely, good news for the HR director. More work does mean more responsibility and they will fulfil a vital role in the company – protecting the skins of senior executives or fellow directors.

Maybe the board will listen more carefully to what HR managers are saying – that good health and safety training and checks are important. And responsibility for health and safety will have to be driven downwards with each person responsible for their area or work.

And the speculation can continue as the document does not give all the answers and raises more questions. The HR profession has until the beginning of September to respond to the proposals so seize your chance to write, e-mail or fax responses.

And don’t forget to e-mail a copy of the consultation document to your chief executive or board of directors just to make them remember how important personnel really is.

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