Walker case – employer duty

Letters of the week

• Your article on the Walker case (15 February) covers an interesting topic
but I do not agree that blanket immunity can be given to people making
complaints. I have undertaken a number of harassment investigations over the
years and only once have I come across a malicious or vexatious complainant.

My view is that employers do have a duty to protect people from malicious or
vexatious complaints and to take action against people who do, unless the
following criteria are met:

• Illness – the case I dealt with involved a person who was later shown to
be mentally ill.

• Genuine error – where a complaint is made in good faith.

I can only speculate why Walker dreamt up such a serious allegation but the
case also points to the need to use meditation, where possible, as way to
resolve such claims. Did Walker make this allegation and then, being unable to
stop, got caught up in a process that lead to her personal ruin?

Where employers find that people have acted with malice, I believe they
should be disciplined. How can someone be expected to work with a colleague who
behaved as she did?

Also, Linda Jones is right – no one should be deterred from complaining but
will allowing a person to make the allegations Walker made encourage someone to
make a complaint who is a genuine sufferer? I believe not; it will simply
devalue an important part of ensuring a harassment-free workplace.

Jeremy Morrison

Buckinghamshire Fire Service

Firms’ line on family policies

• I am undertaking a management report on the subject of family-friendly
polices. I would be grateful for any information about companies in relation to
their attitudes, whether they have used the government model for parental leave
or an enhanced policy.

Any information would be appreciated and will be treated in the strictest

Terri De’Anne

HR manager


Fax: 020-7757 2699

[email protected]

Culture is a key to success

• It was good to read your article, "Tomorrow’s Work" (8
February), not least because it gives formal recognition to my own role of
"Manager of Culture & Training"; but more, to see that other
companies may follow the lead of Mason, which recognises that organisational
culture is a key driver of business success.

It is true that a key part of my work is ensuring that the company lives up
to its public image. All too often, the line sold at recruitment never
materialises. My job is make sure it does.

How do we do this? We never lose sight of the fact that we – managers and
staff – should never treat others in a way that we would not wish to be treated
ourselves and that the bottom line is that without people, we would not have
any culture to drive us forward.

In reality, I am a trouble-shooter, team coach, agony aunt and spin doctor.
If anyone is interested to learn more about my role, I am more than happy to
talk to them.

Karen Simpson

Manager of culture and training

Mason Communications

Respect, not the title, that counts

• I have been much amused by the debate about naming/renaming our profession
because the same debate rages in my first profession, librarianship. I am an
Associate of the Library Association, which is in the process of merging with
the Institute of Information Scientists.

Some librarians have in the past few decades been keen to adopt fancy job
titles which reflect the widening role of the profession – Information Manager,
Information Scientist, Information Worker, Learning Adviser, Learning Centre
Manager are just a few. These have recently been joined by Knowledge Manager
and titles from across the pond such as Cybrarian for those whose role is
primarily in the use of electronic information.

Evolving job titles are a healthy thing because they show that employers are
thinking about their changing needs. The difficulty comes when a profession is
not comfortable with its traditional name because this, they believe,
perpetuates an inaccurate or negative image.

Librarians are especially paranoid about primly dressed single people of
either sex who say, "Shhh!", but the truth is that the public image
of the librarian has moved on.

Library clients are quite able to understand the range of skills librarians
have to offer, arising from the diversification and growth of library services.
This is in no small part due to innovation in public libraries as well as to
the media and publicity skills of public librarians. Further education college
librarians are also pretty street-smart.

Librarians who are confident and assertive are viewed with respect. The
organisations for which they work come to expect more in consequence, and at a
strategic level. Our own professional literature indicates that people managers
are also highly skilled, confident and optimistic about what they do and the
value our profession adds to the world of work.

As a relatively new entrant to the profession I have no vested interest in
any particular job terminology but I would suggest that there is merit in being
recognisable to your customers. I believe that constant rebadging engenders
suspicion, not confidence – how do you feel about the re-naming of government
agencies, funding schemes and nuclear power plants? The trick is to gain
respect for what you do, not to change its name.

Fenella Lacey

Employee development adviser

Shropshire County Council

Letter of the week

Consultation is a sham

• The Government has no commercial awareness at all in respect of any
business issues. It seems to me its policies are designed to reduce our ability
to compete in the global market.

We have to contend with the price of sterling and the issue of taxing
workplace parking spaces and the removal of employers’ ability to thank and
reward their staff with treats on the company because of tax reasons and so on.
It then restricts our efforts further by placing unrealistic demands on UK
industry in the form of overly bureaucratic and cost-adding legislation.

The Government does not want us to consult as it wants to bring it in
through the back door. This is why there is ineffective communication and
consultation and unrealistic timescales.

The Government also seems not to understand that a company can react to and
implement the requirements of new legislation within a small timescale, when
very often the company has real commercial issues to deal with as part of the
process. The Government also gives official launch dates when it is obvious
that the interpretation of the legislation has still not been agreed.

We had this with Working Time and now we have it with Fairness at Work,
where we had a "go live" date of 15 December for the new regulations
and we were into January before our advisers had a definitive understanding of
what was expected. If my company treated our customers in this way we would not
be trading now.

I would also point out that the Government does not effectively inform
employers regarding consultation, yet it instructs the tribunals to come down
hard on employers who have not consulted with their staff. I believe that most
employers are reasonable and want to do the best by their people by
implementing best practice, but please can we make it a value-added process
instead of added cost?

The best way to achieve this is to have a detailed consultation process with
the experts, the practitioners, managers and employee representatives who keep
the business operational.

Perhaps the Government could use the Tecs and Business Links to coordinate
this process instead of selling products and services that not all of us may
want or need.

On the subject of Tecs and Business Links, why is the Government wasting
more money on closing these services and then re-opening them as new
organisations staffed with the same people still selling the same products and
services? The lesson has not been learned from the early 1990s when the Tecs
and Business and Enterprise Links were formed and then merged together, some
with the Chambers of Commerce as well.

It seems the Government has to change and implement its model despite the
added and unnecessary costs, not value, to business support in the regions. We
now have the Government Offices, the Regional Development Agency, the combined
Tecs and Business Links, the Chambers of Commerce and the local authorities
plus all the colleges and universities to pay for.

Now we are to lose the combined Tec and Links and replace them with two
separate organisations in the Learning and Skills Councils and Small Business
Service, which is being set up to discriminate against our larger businesses.

I would also ask the Government to look at the structure and access to
business support that is available to our European friends who employ more than
250 people. How Europe must be laughing at us. First we sell off as much of our
industry to them as we can, then we are so keen to introduce European
legislation – which adds cost, not value, further restricting our ability to
compete – we do nothing about the strength of the pound, then we increase the
costs of business support and restrict it to a privileged few.

Whenever I talk to civil servants or politicians they tell me that
manufacturing is in decline and we must prepare for the new industries in the
services and the arts. Do these people not know that if we take away the
manufacturing sector’s ability to compete then we kill the need for services,
as there will be no one left to serve and no one will have any money to spend
on the arts.

Come on Tony Blair, we need a balanced strategy. Support the growth and
competitiveness of all our businesses, particularly in the manufacturing
sector, make grants available to all UK companies regardless of the number of
staff and size of turnover and encourage them to take on and beat the
competition globally, achieving world-class status.

Learn from the Tories’ mistake – they once thought we could have an economy
based on services, with their "post-industrial society". Do you have
the same vision? I wonder.

Lee Avery

Group HR manager

Hadley Industries

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