This week’s letters

Court employee safety ruling is good news for employers

In the service sector, the most serious hazard that the worker commonly
faces is the general public. Screens, CCTV cameras and emergency escape routes
may all be appropriate to help protect them, but employers may be reluctant to
make such adjustments – possibly because of the costs and disruption, but more
frequently on the grounds that it will make no real difference.

It has long been a matter of contention whether an employer should always
make every adjustment possible to increase employee safety. But a recent court
case has now provided good guidance for employers.

The Court of Appeal recently heard the case of Yorkshire Traction Co Ltd v
Searby. The case involved the fitting of a protective screen on a bus, but the
same principles apply throughout the service sector.

Mr Searby, the driver, had been assaulted by a passenger. He successfully
brought a claim for damages on the grounds that his employer was negligent in
not fitting a protective screen to prevent the assault. He was awarded damages
of £32,140.73. The employer’s appeal was successful. It was decided that the
measure of risk, perceived disadvantages, and the attitude of the workforce had
to be taken into consideration and that as such, the failure to fit screens did
not amount to negligence. The degree of risk needed to be considered and the
facts showed that risk of injury to bus drivers from assaults by a passenger
was very low.

While every employer is under an obligation to take reasonable steps to
protect their staff, the legal liability is not simply established by showing
that it was reasonably foreseeable that the absence of a screen could expose an
employee to injury. This is a common-sense decision that should be welcomed by

Michael Ball
Employment partner, Halliwell Landau (law firm)

Is it time to invest in sensitivity training?

In the wake of the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Ministry of Defence
scientist David Kelly, the press last week referred to the insensitivity of HR
director Richard Hatfield, whose organisation also, allegedly, has a ‘Tosser of
the Week’ award.

I have often defended HR when confronted with such suggestions by family and
friends, but nothing could prepare me for something I witnessed recently.

An HR director with 25 years’ worth of experience grinned broadly as she
told her number two her role was redundant. This was two weeks before
Christmas. The HR director then told her number two to have a really enjoyable
Christmas and New Year, and followed this recommendation up in writing to her.

Should regular sensitivity training be mandatory for senior human resource

Details supplied

Portrayal of women needs to change

I enjoyed your article about the seven greatest HR directors (13 January).
However, I’m curious why, when referring to the only female among them, you
felt compelled to include her age and the fact that she was a ‘mother of two’.

Why is this relevant, or are you trying to make the point that she is
successful despite her status? I suppose at least you stopped short of
describing her hair colour, which is what usually happens when successful
business women are written about in the media!

Details supplied

Editor’s reply: We take your point, although we included the
information as we felt it added a bit of personality to the piece. We also felt
that a woman juggling the raising of children with such a successful career
deserves applause.

Should agencies be made redundant?

As someone who was recently made redundant, I just thought I’d share my
recent experiences of recruitment agencies.

I registered with a number of agencies who specialised in HR vacancies and
overall, I was very disappointed by the ‘service’ provided by them. Finding
another permanent HR position which suited my skills and experience took me a
long and stressful nine months.

My main gripes with the agencies are: the lack of communication from them;
that much of my time was spent chasing them for updates and feedback; being
sent to the wrong address to attend an interview which resulted in me arriving
late for my appointment; and attending interviews and not being told by the
agency about the outcome.

To cap it all, I was interviewed by an agency for a consultancy position
with the company itself. The interview went well and I was given positive
feedback during it. However, it then took me numerous telephone calls over
three weeks to be told the outcome of the interview.

Given that I was unemployed for nine months, I had the time to pursue the
agencies and follow up on interviews, etc. But I hate to think what the process
is like for someone who is in a permanent position and is looking for a change
of job.

Details supplied

Women shooting themselves in foot

I read the recruitment article (‘Slap on the face for ambitious babes’,
News, 13 January) with dismay, and have to say it succeeded in highlighting the
superficial standards that many employers use to evaluate and hire staff, particularly
women. What saddens me most is that it is female directors who are apparently
more prejudiced than men in this area.

Perhaps this is due to the human condition, bowing subconsciously to
deep-rooted instinctive selection processes. If so, it is important that
employers realise that it is not a smart way of selecting a workforce and start
to investigate a more strategic approach. Ability, aptitude and personality are
all important in the world of employee assessment.

The continuing rise in using psychometric testing to measure each of these
attributes now creates an array of choices when developing psychometric
facilities within organisations. Used properly, the impact it can have
throughout an organisation is significant. Not only in the selection process,
but across individual and group competency, strategic HR management and the
retention and development of a company’s talent place. With the majority of
testing now available via web-based tools, access for organisations of all
sizes is simple.

Alison Gill
Managing director, Getfeedback

Ray of light in dismal graduate climate

A ray of hope has emerged from the dark cloud of tuition fees and the
Association of Graduate Recruiters’ gloomy report suggesting that we are
producing too many graduates. More than three-fifths (62 per cent) of graduate
recruiters now believe students would benefit if they took on jobs while
studying. Recognition at last for the value of work experience.

Degrees that provide the best employment prospects for students have among
the highest proportion of graduates returning to a previous employer. This is
evidence in itself that more enlightened employers are organising work
placements that give students the opportunity to develop those vital ‘soft
skills’ and then wait for them to complete their studies before re-employing
them on a permanent basis.

The message to students is clear: access extra funds while studying; learn
basic skills that will give you a head start when you graduate; and get
relevant work experience.

Those employers who want tried and tested, ‘oven-ready’ graduates unburdened
by massive debt should provide more paid work experience opportunities for

Liz Rhodes
Director, National Council for Work Experience

Incompetence spells danger for managers

I’ve read plenty of articles in the past few months about poor competence among
UK managers.

How do we solve these problems? A good start would be encouraging managers
to improve their competencies in skills such as spelling and grammar. They also
need to be encouraged and trained in people management skills.

Araba Nunoo
HR manager

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