Anonymous applications MP sticks to her guns

The MP who suggested names should be banned from job applications to prevent discrimination is standing by her proposal, despite it attracting fierce criticism from the HR profession.

Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat MP and party equality spokeswoman, suggested that the Equality Bill should include an amendment to ban names and other personal information on CVs and written applications so that employers could not glean any information about gender, race or age before candidates were called for interview.

The suggestion, which would result in job candidates listing their national insurance numbers as a means of identification, was shot down by HR chiefs as “bureaucracy gone mad”. A online poll also revealed that 73% of the 323 respondents said names should not be banned from job applications.

But Featherstone said: “Of course, one action such as this [banning names] won’t end discrimination in the workplace or getting into the workplace. However, it may well eliminate some of the barriers to interview. Since floating this, lots of people believe it to be a very good, very cheap and very easy step to take.”

She added that some employers already use nameless CVs as part of their employment process to prevent discrimination.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is also broadly in favour of the idea, but has cautioned against it becoming mandatory.

The Government Equalities Office said it would consider Featherstone’s idea when the Equality Bill reaches committee stage.

A senior member of staff has been discovered to have made false expenses claims for matters that were in fact private. I now want to carry out a full review of everyone’s expenses claims over the past four years. Are there any legal issues?

There has been widespread coverage of MPs’ expenses claims, and this will filter down into the business sector. However, there is a marked contrast between the breadth and variety of an MP’s ‘legitimate’claims compared with those of an ordinary employee. One source suggests that among the general working population, almost a quarter of all expenses claims, totalling in excess of £1bn annually, are invalid.

The discovery of one false claim can trigger a widespread investigation, both in terms of the number of employees involved and the time frame under investigation. There is a lot at stake and, legally, the focus should be on ensuring that dismissals for expenses abuses are scrutinised favourably by the courts and tribunals.

Your investigations may begin with a ‘desktop’review of expenses claims, or a call for a detailed forensic accounting analysis. You may need to get professional advice on more covert evidence-gathering exercises. Once you embark on this part of the process you will need to consider issues such as suspension of full pay, preservation of evidence and police involvement. You must pay particular attention to both your internal procedures and the provisions of the April 2009 Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures to ensure you avoid unfair dismissal claims.

Crucially, and whatever the complexity of process involved, you should get an early feel as to whether you need to conduct disciplinary hearings for gross misconduct. It is vital to remember to look beyond the immediacy of the practical arrangements to the task of defending any resulting civil court or statutory employment claims – eg, for unfair dismissal.

Ensure you are ready to demonstrate to an employment tribunal that you satisfy the well established Burchell test, which refers to a 1980 ruling on the reasonableness of a dismissal. In other words,at the time of dismissal, you genuinely believed that the dismissed employee was more likely than not to be guilty of the misconduct, and that you had reasonable grounds for this belief, having carried out as much investigation as was reasonable in the circumstances.

Michael Berriman, partner, Weightmans

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