This week’s letters

Claimants would be deterred if they had something to lose

Hurray! The Housing Association for which I am HR and training manager has
just successfully defended a constructive dismissal claim brought by a
disgruntled ex-employee, but BOO – the panel rejected our claim for even just
partial costs.

As a registered charity, we are always trying to squeeze every penny out of
every pound, so with legal fees alone amounting to more than £20,000, we really
have to wonder if we have actually ‘won’. I dare not even think about the true
total cost to our organisation in terms of money and precious time that could
of course have been put to so much better use.

I’m sure everyone in our profession was pleased when the option to award
costs in such claims was introduced. However, news of the revolution doesn’t appear
to have filtered down to all the national panels.

Being aware of its avaricious nature, we were surprised and disappointed
when this particular claim wasn’t rejected at the first hurdle, but constructed
our defence in the safe HR tradition that common sense and justice would
prevail. The claimant of course was looking for an ‘out-of-court settlement’,
but fearful and bound by governing regulations, we reluctantly dedicated more
and more professional time preparing for the inevitable tribunal.

The claimant, however, prepared no real case, didn’t hire a solicitor or
counsel, and appeared to amass costs no greater than her bus fare. Ultimately
she did the cause of justifiable cases nothing but harm. In fact, when the
futility of her situation finally dawned on her, she left the tribunal before
the final outcome was actually declared. She left, of course, with the comfort
of knowing that she gave it a try, which is always worth doing when you’ve got
nothing to lose. We, however, were left feeling deflated, knowing how much time
and money had been wasted.

Is there not now an argument that claimants should be required to back up
their actions with some form of bond or surety (means tested, of course) to
show their confidence and absolute belief in the validity of their accusations?

This would, of course, be refunded, together with any subsequent award and
costs when their claim is upheld, or put in the ‘costs pot’ should it fail.

It is all very well legislating that costs may be awarded against a claimant
following a case, but tribunals are always likely to be reluctant to come down
hard on an individual in favour of a company or organisation – especially one
with an apparently bottomless pit of public money.

If the claimant is required to offer a pecuniary guarantee of their resolve,
then funds for any costs would be immediately available. Perhaps more
importantly, such claims would be less attractive as applicants would finally
have something to lose.

R Mason
HR and training manager, MCIPD

Strategic investment is the way forward

I was pleased to see that Patricia Hewitt is advising companies to evaluate
HR as a strategic asset to their organisation (News, 30 September).

Part of this evaluation should include consideration of how HR can be
developed to reach its maximum potential, yet organisations often only
implement learning programmes when they need to address a short-term skills gap
within the company.

It is only as a result of organisations strategically tying learning to
their corporate objectives that goals such as long-term business success,
strong leaders and a competitive market position can be enjoyed.

Strategic investment in learning also ensures that employees understand how
their training programmes and overall development helps contribute to
propelling business objectives forward.

Unsurprisingly, the organisations that are the most successful in their
market sector, are the ones that understand the true value of their people and
how investing in this valuable resource through strong training and development
results in a dynamic, creative and successful organisation.

Sophie Jarvis
Consultant, Spark Communications

Society has a duty to raise our children

I think we should put this whole question of parental rights at work in
perspective once and for all.

Your anonymous correspondent (‘What about the right to run a business?’,
Letters, 18 November) states that people choose to have children – their
employers don’t force them. And I certainly wouldn’t make it compulsory. But
isn’t it the duty and responsibility of everyone in society to raise the next
generation of employees, customers, doctors, teachers and all the other people
we depend upon?

As ultimate beneficiaries like the rest of us, surely employers and those
who choose not to have children should still play their part in the workplace
by supporting those who take on the velvet yoke of parenthood. There is
obviously a reasonable balance to be struck, but to argue that work can somehow
be disconnected from the many real-life ‘non-critical’ demands of raising a
family is fallacious, and undermines family values in the long-term.

I think the people who want to have it all are not parents, but those who
would rather opt out of their broader practical responsibilities to our children,
because they tend to be a bit messy and inconvenient – which is what parenting
is on a bad day. We seem to have forgotten it takes a whole village to raise
one child.

Details supplied

The older workforce needs to be nurtured

The stats say it all: the UK workforce is ageing. In less than 10 years’
time, almost 40 per cent of it will be 45 or older. And only 17 per cent of it
will be 16 and 17-year-olds.

Age discrimination is a luxury that companies can no longer afford. The
business case for helping the older worker is a powerful one. We can’t shut our
eyes to the fact that older staff want to work, and are capable of excellent
work. And around 23 per cent of UK businesses are now experiencing skills
shortages, compared with 16 per cent in 2001, according to a report.

Evidence from the Treasury shows that UK productivity, however measured,
lags behind that of other major industrialised countries. The Government needs
to remedy that. There is also evidence that the UK fails to raise the
aspirations of its citizens, whether economic, social, educational or cultural.

Age discrimination is set to be outlawed by 2006. Meanwhile, there is a lot
of mindless waste of older people with talent and enthusiasm that, with some
retraining or some flexibility in their working patterns, could be a long-term
asset. Yet so many older people miss out on employment because they don’t have
the skills to write the right letters – ie, the type that showcase their
talents to potential employers. As a result, too many of their applications hit
the bins, and they give up and join the ‘hidden unemployed’.

Older people need advice on how to get themselves back into the workplace –
how to capture the imagination of potential employers when they apply for jobs.

In turn, employers must develop critical workforce development programmes,
and create ways and means of allowing people flexible working time. For some,
retraining and education are daunting prospects, bringing back memories of
unhappy and unsuccessful school days. They need to be nurtured through their

Skills shortages in the UK are particularly marked in customer service
organisations (24 per cent), wholesale, retail and hospitality (29 per cent)
and manufacturing (20 per cent).

Employers have to realise they now have the chance to tap into rich seams of
skills, experience and knowledge. If they do, they will find they have staff
who are punctual, flexible and reliable, absent less often, and patient when
training and supporting new employees.

Sandy Finnigan
Chief executive, Careers Bradford and founder of Blue Tree

Human rights issues raised by BNP ban

The home secretary has called for the automatic disqualification of members
of the British National Party (BNP) from the police force.

While such a policy may be desirable from a race relations standpoint,
disqualifying a police officer on the grounds of their political beliefs raises
human rights issues, including the rights to freedom of expression and
association, and to privacy in their private lives.

At the moment, although police force applicants must declare any political
party membership, there is no automatic ban, and it doesn’t bar them from
joining the force.

It also highlights interesting issues for the private sector in what they
may be able to require staff to disclose. We are seeing an increase of the
employers’ power over an employee’s personal life and conduct outside of the

Andrea Nicholls
Partner and head of the employment department, Howard Kennedy

Gay rights omission was irresponsible

I noted with interest and disappointment an omission in the employment law
timetable printed on the legal page in the 28 October edition.

You rightly noted the Religion or Belief Regulations will be introduced on 2
December 2003, but completely ignored the Employment Equality (Sexual
Orientation) Regulations, which come into force on 1 December 2003.

Is there any wonder why gay people feel marginalised – or at worst ignored –
when magazines of quality, such as yours, ignore legislation that will make a
real difference to their quality of life in the workplace?

I hope you will see fit to print an apology/acknowledgement of this

Chris McCoy
Project manager – diversity, Defra – York

Editor’s reply: We have covered the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation)
Regulations 2003 in several previous editions (please do a search on our
website archives on www.personneltoday.com).
We have readdressed the issue of equality in subsequent editions, and will
continue to do so. We could not tackle all issues affected by the forthcoming
regulations in the small amount of space available in our 28 October edition.


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