Letters

This week’s letters

Employees are most likely victims of tribunal system

I read the article ‘Bully boy tactics’, (Personnel Today, 15 June) with
great interest. It accurately communicated the adversarial nature of tribunals,
but I was astonished by the message that the system’s main victims are the
respondents [at a tribunal].

Some claims will be frivolous or vexatious, but where an applicant is
professionally represented, one would also expect them to be advised of their
claim’s prospect of failure. Unlike respondents, applicants usually do not have
the funds to employ counsel, and would not do so in the knowledge that they
have little prospect of success.

Many tribunal claims are genuine and, in a dispute involving an unexpected
career break or worse, applicants look to the tribunal system as a safety net.
Such genuine and serious claims are often resisted, and when they are,
applicants are often intimidated by the respondents’ use of a solicitor. It is
common for the unrepresented and often unemployed applicant to face high-handed
and oppressive treatment from the respondent’s representative.

Those ‘bully-boy’ tactics are apparently justified by the belief that they
will force a withdrawal of the claim through stress, lack of will or lack of
funds. Where the applicant continues and is successful, those tactics can
backfire, resulting in an award of aggravated damages.

Where an employer and employee have entered a dispute almost by accident and
without animosity, it is likely that they can resolve it themselves without
recourse.

The ‘conflicts’ that come before tribunals are perpetuated where one party
resolutely denies a genuine claim, and the ‘legal wranglings’ begin where a
party is defending the indefensible. The wranglings are a deliberately applied
tool for steering discussions away from relevant facts and questions.
Consequently, the tribunal panel is left to process a huge volume of confusing
information, and sifting out the facts becomes a tedious task. Amid this
distraction, and quite possibly when the panel has grown tired or even bored, a
persuasive representative can win the day on their submissions alone.

Elaborate and diversionary defences to quite simple claims appear to have
become routine. They are a product of professional legal advice that has more
to do with what a respondent can ‘get away’ with, rather than whether they are
liable. The main beneficiaries of the modern system are, without a doubt, the
legal representatives.

Acting within the law does not require detailed and extended knowledge of
current legislation, but is down to good, old-fashioned common sense and
reasonable behaviour. This is what a tribunal panel will favour.

Adrian Melia
Independent consultant

I have just read your article about employment tribunals (‘Bully Boy
Tactics’, 15 June).

I am a member of two support groups for people who have been bullied in the
workplace by management. Your article did not highlight the fact that if you
end up in a tribunal, you have clearly not tried to resolve a claim by
mediation.

Acas figures show that about 77 per cent of submitted employment tribunal
claims do not go to tribunal. Tribunals can be successfully avoided by
implementing the Health and Safety at Work Act, proper grievance and
investigation procedures and efforts to hear employees’ problems in the
workplace.

Most employees who end up in my support groups claim that HR either tried to
sweep the matter under the carpet or pretend they did not receive the initial
claim.

Olusola Fadero
Member, Bully Online

In Canada, my organisation is reviewing and updating its policies relating
to harassment. Recent legislation in Quebec regarding ‘psychological’
harassment (Personnel Today, 22 June) has merely served to reinforce our
commitment to comprehensive policies and nudged us towards embracing a broader
definition of harassment.

The bulk of policies have historically dealt with the more visible forms of
harassment – sexual and racial. Psychological harassment can be more subtle and
may be more difficult to define, detect and prevent. And yet, it may be more
prevalent and damaging. In this respect, the introduction of new legislation by
the Quebec Commission des Normes du Travail has raised the bar in dealing with
hostile and unwanted behaviour in the workplace.

Bruce Thew
President, Ceridian International

Some people rely on working longer hours

I read with interest your legal opinion (29 June) regarding the UK’s opt-out
of the working time directive.

My husband normally works 60 hours a week as a security officer. He is paid
just above the minimum wage. If he was forced to work 48 hours a week, it would
have a severe effect on us financially. It’s not by choice but necessity that
he continues to work 60 hours a week, to make ends meet. To save up for
holidays or any unforeseen expense, he has to work up to 84 hours per week.

Who will make up the shortfall in our weekly income when the UK is forced to
abolish the opt-out?

Details supplied

Blanket smoking ban is not the solution

It is all very well calling for a blanket smoking ban, but the effect on the
club/bar industry will be huge. I thought we lived in a free country and that
smokers and non-smokers alike should be catered for.

This ‘nanny state’ legislation will benefit no-one, and half of the
anti-smoking ‘fascists’ probably wouldn’t visit a pub or club if soft or
alcoholic drinks were being given away free.

Details supplied

Firms failing to see untapped resource

I was not surprised to read reports that the Royal National Institute of the
Blind has identified that more than 90 per cent of employers may be breaking
the law by discriminating against blind and partially-sighted jobseekers
(Personnel Today, 22 June).

Employers are failing to make the most out of the resources available to
them to support both visually impaired and disabled applicants. As companies
move to online recruitment, there is a danger that they leave themselves
exposed to falling foul of legal requirements to provide a level playing field
for all applicants.

Organisations must consider and take action to address these issues now, not
only to meet the demands of new and changing legislation, but also to ensure
they can attract and access quality candidates to support their business in the
future.

Lesley Nash
Director, Changeworknow

We must keep trying to get diversity right

The Commission for Racial Equality’s Interim Report issued in June, which
investigates the police force’s diversity practices/policies, raised some
points that should be addressed (Personnel Today, 22 June).

Under the Race Relations Act, there is no excuse for the lack of race
equality plans, and the report does well to criticise the failure to monitor
the composition of the workforce. This is the most basic requirement for making
a diversity policy work.

However, there were some worrying remarks in the report concerning diversity
training. A sheep-dip or one size-fits-all approach to training will never
produce the desired results. People need to identify their own unconscious
attitudes and prejudices before their behaviour can change.

It is also really important to remember, however, that many police forces
have made great efforts to address diversity issues and will continue to do so.
Establishing a living, breathing culture that respects and encourages diversity
(rather than simply producing guidelines and rules to eradicate open prejudice)
takes time and sustained effort. We will not see results overnight and there
will be setbacks, but this does not mean it isn’t vital to keep trying.

Jon Whitely
Head of diversity, Pearn Kandola

Ann Summers turns the tables on sexism

I read in your 22 June issue a letter regarding the recent ‘sexist’ advert
for Ann Summers.

Does the author, Steve Chilcott, not realise that women’s sexuality has been
used and abused for hundreds of years to sell things, so it’s about time the
tables were turned?

Besides, the model in question has a great physique and should show it off
(and presumably is being paid for his efforts). He obviously doesn’t have a
problem with it, so why should anyone else?

Andrea Hill
HR adviser, Surrey and Sussex NHS Trust

Editor’s note: The tone of Steve Chilcott’s letter was decidedly
tongue-in-cheek – in response to letters about a previous Ann Summers’ advertisement
in Personnel Today – and should not be interpreted in any other way.

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