Something has got to change for small businesses because every time the government introduces another piece of legislation they give extra freedoms to employees and put yet more onus on the employer, says Mark Shilton, partner in Aspire Communications.
Based in Nottingham, the company is one of 40 independent franchises set up by a leading telecommunications company to offer a personal touch and bring their services closer to local businesses.
The franchises tend to employ small teams and don’t have the resources for full-time human resources managers, so several of them have called in employment law specialist Bibby Consulting & Support to help them negotiate what Shilton calls a “minefield” of legislation that is heavily weighted towards the employee.
“We run a complex sales environment,” he says, “and we put a lot of effort into helping everyone to achieve their full potential. If they are struggling we take them through a personal development plan (PDP) which is designed to improve performance. We always want to support our staff as much as possible but the process of PDPs, verbal warnings and written warnings is lengthy and difficult to get right so we need to bring in extra help.
“We’ve never had anyone take us to an employment tribunal but there is always that risk and so it is absolutely essential that we get professional advice – more than anything to indemnify ourselves against any potential problems.”
Prevention is far better than having to deal with crises, Shilton says, and Bibby Consulting & Support’s services have enabled his company to avoid difficulties by making sure all eventualities are covered.
“The bottom line is that from an employer’s perspective UK legislation is far too geared towards the employee,” he says. “The government has outsourced its responsibility to the individual employer and it is far too easy for someone to make life difficult for you – so it is vital that you have all the correct processes in place and comply with the very latest legislation. This not only protects your business but it also makes employees feel more comfortable because they know exactly where they stand.”
He adds: “I can understand legislation to protect employees’ rights but the commercial reality is that if there was less red tape it would help us to survive and prosper as a business and give us the ability to recruit more people.”
Shilton is no supporter of recent proposals to offer employees automatic enrolment in a pension scheme, for example, or allow them to reclaim annual leave if they fall ill while on holiday, or enable companies to be charged with vicarious liability over an employee’s behaviour. And he is keen to point out that most small business owners’ pockets are not as ‘deep’ as the legislators would suggest.
But it is peace of mind, he says, that Bibby Consulting & Support’s services bring to his type of business.
“None of us in the company have a human resources background,” Shilton says, “and I employ a team of 25 so we are not a big enough organisation to justify the wages of a dedicated HR person. That’s why outsourcing makes a lot of sense. Laws relating to tax, PAYE and National Insurance are so complicated that I have to employ an accountant and the same applies to employment law. We can’t possibly keep up-to-date with all the latest changes in legislation so by calling in the experts we know that we will always comply.”
Bibby Consulting & Support’s Managing Director Michael Slade comments: “There are thousands of organisations out there with small teams just like Aspire Communications and they need all the help they can get with remaining viable and being able to grow and take on more staff.
“The government has promised to cut red tape but in fact it seems to be growing. Ticking all the boxes when you are a small business is getting increasingly difficult and more and more companies are turning to us for help.”