This post is about the importance of understanding the legal obligations a business owner has to his staff. It also illustrates that for Health and Safety and Employment Law there is little room for manoeuvre if the owner doesn’t get it exactly right.
The circumstances relate to a client of mine who ran a retail business. He had, as a result of an incident with a client, cause to disciple a member of staff which subsequently led to her dismissal. I should say at the point that the said staff member concerned was pregnant and we were all acutely aware that processes, procedures and actions had to be transparent and obviously above board. As I might add you should be with any disciplinary procedure. It is however well understood that with a pregnant lady involved additional close scrutiny is placed on the process by the tribunal and legal systems.
Following the dismissal an appeal process was followed and the decision upheld. The person concerned then sought to take the company to an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal for discrimination because she was pregnant. The twist came on receipt of the claim. It was not only for unfair dismissal but for breach of health and safety because no formal risk assessment was undertaken by management once she had informed them of her condition. This issue had never been raised by the employee at any time through the process. Although informal discussions and agreement took place legally it doesn’t appear to make a lot of difference, although it might provide some mitigation, so rather unexpectedly my client has moved from having what he and his advisers considered a solid defence to a position where he might expect a 4 figure fine.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case and indeed the fairness of the situation it is crystal clear that owners must be absolutely on top of their legal obligations to their staff. This is a significant investment for many small businesses but as this owner found out not doing it could be more expensive still.
Exigent Consulting specialises in providing Business Turnaround, Sales, Marketing and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business. We help Business Owners improve the profit performance of their business.