Legal action

Changes in the legal system can be a minefield for employers. But the
Eversheds Employers’ Convention, supported by Personnel Today, should help you
through the complexities

Changes to employment law, the increasing weight of EU legislation, and the
introduction of new technology – particularly the Internet – are resulting in
fundamental changes to employers’ responsibilities and it is vital that they
keep abreast of these developments.

Employers’ Convention 2000, which takes place on 12-13 April, has been designed
by law firm Eversheds to tackle the most pressing issues facing today’s
employers through a series of seminars and interactive workshops. The plenary
sessions will consider issues such as the Internet that are likely to have a
wider impact on employers in the future, while many of the workshops will be
based on issues employers are already confronting, and will be supported by
case studies.

This is the second Employers’ Convention to be run by Eversheds. Practice group
chairman Viv Du-Feu says, “It seemed to us that there was a niche in the market
for a focused event delivered by HR lawyers and experts that people would want
to come to. We aim to deliver a quality, thought-provoking, fun event.”

Hands-on

The convention has been designed to apply a hands-on, problem-solving
approach to employment law, rather than “black letter law”, or simply stating
what the law demands. Because Eversheds employs HR consultants in its larger
teams and provides corporate training on aspects of employment law, Du-Feu says
the firm has a good understanding of personnel issues and how new regulations
will actually impact on the workplace.

Partner Owen Warnock adds, "The conference reflects the way we go about
employment law work. There is currently a massive amount of employment
legislative change and it gets more and more complex, particularly around
issues such as parental leave and part-time employees. But what people want to
know is what this means to them and how the changes will work in practice. They
need to know how to meet their own working requirements, while also meeting
their legal requirements."

Many of the workshops (detailed on p24) are therefore based on case studies
of recent court cases handled by Eversheds – including how the problems could
have been avoided.

Where appropriate, they also aim to draw on delegates’ experiences.

Central themes

The central themes addressed during the convention – including
computer-related issues and flexible working practices – reflect the kinds of
questions that employers are asking. Trish Embley, associate and director of
client training services, says, "The Internet is changing the way people
do business and their jobs, but there are good and bad sides to this. On the
good side, it offers more choice, new ways to recruit, ease of delivery for
training, and it enhances flexible working. But it also brings in a lack of
control and the downside includes issues such as employee cyber-sabotage,
fraud, defamation and all the nightmare things that can go wrong when you
introduce the Internet to your business."

One area that is causing the most concern from employers is e-mail, and the
possibility of sexual harassment via e-mail. Warnock says this must be put into
a broader context, which the convention aims to address.

"While sexual harassment via e-mail is a problem, it is part of a
bigger issue of setting appropriate guidelines regarding the use of computers –
what you can download; how the information can be used; if someone working on
your computer comes up with a wacky new idea, who does the idea belong to? If
you work at home, whose computer is it? Defamation by computer and so on."

Then there is the issue of data protection, with the Data Protection Act due
to come into force next month. Partner Claire Rankin says, "The new Data
Protection Act highlights many interesting issues for HR professionals and
their use of IT. For example, can personnel information such as CVs be
circulated on an intranet system or made available to a parent company based
abroad? Who has responsibility for processing personal data and are they aware
of the legal obligations? Do employees have access to references?"
Employers also need to consider the price of getting it wrong.

The issue of flexible working practices will also be addressed in a workshop
led by Warnock. "This is something we looked at last year and I expect it
will continue to come up." Again, there are a range of different issues to
consider within the field of flexible practices.

"There is evidence that offering flexibility in how people work
attracts a broad range of high-calibre employees," he says. "But
while employers may appreciate that, there are often managers who are not happy
taking someone on outside regular hours. Or employers might be caught out if
they get issues such as parental leave wrong. Or if someone is working for them
via e-mail, the company may not be protected in terms of how that employee uses
the information."

It is crucial that employers are prepared to address issues such as these,
says Warnock. "You need a clear policy that people understand and HR needs
to know how to deal with it. You can’t have every employee thinking, ‘If I
leave to have a baby I can come back part-time because that is what everyone
else has done’. A company has to set expectations about its policies and
employees’ legal rights."

Guidance

As well as the pragmatic guidance on employment law, HR professionals
attending the event will have the opportunity to network, making valuable
contacts and also learning from others’ experiences. As Warnock comments,
"At last year’s convention, parental leave was a forthcoming issue and was
handled as part of a workshop.

"We found that a number of companies taking part already had parental
leave policies. In their experience, it hadn’t been used much, which was quite
reassuring for a number of delegates to hear."

Delegates will also receive an updated copy of the Workplace Survival Guide,
an employment law reference for HR professionals developed by Eversheds. It
will include legal guidance on issues such as compulsory trade union
recognition, as well as looking at some recent legal cases and their
implications in areas such as RSI, excessive absenteeism and the National
Minimum Wage.

Cost

Full attendance rate is £895 (+VAT). This includes all scheduled refreshment
lunches, evening entertainment and dinner on 12 April, plus full access to the
convention and five-star B&B accommodation on 12 April. One-day attendance
rate is £395 (+VAT) Discounts are available where more than one delegate
attends the convention.

By Caroline Horn

Workshops

Each day delegates will participate in three workshops, chosen from the
following 16 topics. They will be led by expert employment lawyers.

Mediation

An essential tool for resolving employment disputes, presented by David
Beswick

• Explores the concept of mediation and consider its advantages over the
traditional forms of litigation.

Unions

Remaining union-free or single-union after the Employment Relations Act,
presented by Martin Warren

• Covers a variety of subjects relating to how the Employment Relations Act
affects a corporate’s relationship with trade unions.

The Maternity Maze

Finding your way through the new maternity regulations, presented by Audrey
Williams and Karen Macpherson

• Explores, through case studies, issues under the new maternity leave
regime, including qualification rights, medical suspension, employee rights
during maternity leave, and return to work.

Flexible and Part-time Working

The real world and the law, presented by Owen Warnock

• Looks at the emerging principle that people should be able to work
part-time, if that is what they want. When can an employer insist on full-time
fixed hours?

Parental Leave

How to make the regulations work for your own organisation, presented by
Owen Warnock

• Provides an update on the Parental Leave regulations and examines how to
get the best out of the regulations by using your scheme to attract and retain
good employees.

Learn from Others’ Experience

Presented by Hilary Campion

• Identifies pitfalls that can lead to expensive employment tribunal cases
and considers practical outcomes and solutions.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Teleworking, homeworking, presented by Roger Steel

• Considers the practical and legal issues facing employers and employees
when documenting such arrangements.

Paperless Personnel?

Data protection in the e-era, presented by Claire Rankin

• Examines the impact of the Data Protection Act 1998 and looks at what
constitutes personal and sensitive data, and employee rights and access.

Outstanding Outsourcing

Get the best out of outsourcing, whether as a user or provider, presented by
Rob McCreath

• Provides an update on the application of Tupe to outsourcing and covers
changing terms and conditions, changing contractors and outsourcing deals.

Sex, Drugs and Deodorant

How to manage difficult people, presented by Ann-Marie Thompson

• Considers the legal issues arising from and practical solutions for
dealing with issues such as employees with personal hygiene problems, drugs and
alcohol abuse, the malingerer and the criminal.

The International Workforce

Employing non-UK citizens and transferring UK employees overseas, presented
by Audrey Elliott

• Looks at topics such as work permits, employment law implications, and tax
and national insurance requirements.

The Cyber-Environment

Balancing the development of e-awareness with avoiding e-abuse, presented by
Paul Gregson and Debbie Jones

• Looks at some of the issues posed by the computer age including controlling
the use of language in cyberspace, confidentiality issues, avoiding viruses,
defamatory statements, employer monitoring, accessing inappropriate material,
harassment issues, and time-wasting on the e-mail/Internet.

Is There Anybody Out There?

Effective communication with pension scheme members, presented by Liz Fallon
and Ingrid Everson

• Examines what you need to communicate and making the most effective use of
the means available, and considers the effect of disclosure and data protection
requirements.

One Half x Two = Three?

The practical impact of the Working Time regulations, presented by Elaine
Aarons

• Examines the effects of the cases that have so far been reported on the
Working Time regulations and the Government’s proposals for changes to the
regulations and the difficulties they pose.

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Content of CVs

The importance of pre-employment screening and vetting, presented by Trish
Embley

• Looks at case study examples, the lessons to be learnt from them and the
relatively simple checks that could have been carried out.

Under Pressure

Stress and bullying at work, presented by Peter Norbury

• Covers the legal principles which apply to inappropriate stress and its
interaction with bullying and aggressive or intimidatory management practices.

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