Colleagues upsetting a checkout worker with their reaction to the unfortunate noise her chair made; football with rolled-up carrier bags; no safety shoes; overlong lunch breaks; even a member of staff who started showing up for work early and turned out to be going through a divorce, was temporarily homeless and sleeping overnight in the office.
My quick survey at the BRC reveals nearly everyone knows of a work scenario where disciplinary action was on the cards.
For the past four years, these cases have been covered by Statutory Dispute Resolution Regulations and they’re a perfect example of good intentions gone wrong. Happily, they’re also a great example of the Government admitting a mistake and that doesn’t happen too often.
The regulations were supposed to help employers and employees resolve issues without going to court. But the result was more claims at employment tribunals.
Was there some downturn in employers’ treatment of staff over this period? Of course not. Clearly some of those cases turned on difficult legal issues and needed a tribunal but, equally, more and more got there because disputes became overly formalised and things escalated.
Employers knew they could lose on a procedural technicality, even where right was on their side. So, instead of calling someone in and having a word, it was straight to written warnings, formal meetings, right to a representative and right to appeal. Believe me, there’s no way back from all that to sorting it out informally and you’ve got stress, big costs and soured relationships all round.
As an employer of 3 million people, it’s all crucial to the retail industry. Retailers are people businesses and it’s store managers, with all their other responsibilities, who manage most retail staff and deal with grievances or disciplinaries. Big retailers may employ thousands and provide head office support, but a store is a small unit, much like a small business. Managers need to be allowed to take a commonsense approach.
Through our seat on the Michael Gibbons review, the BRC told the Government the regulations should be axed and replaced with a statutory code.
The Government agreed and, when the Employment Bill receives its Royal Assent later this year, the Dispute Resolution Regulations will cease to be.
We are also on the consultative group for the new code. Rightly, it won’t take protection away from staff, but it will allow everyone to approach disputes informally in the first instance. Big businesses with policies already in place can keep them, but we’ll have minimum standards for those with less expertise or resources.
It may not seem like a revolution, but this is time and money saved for retailers. Isn’t it great to hear the Government say the best three words in the language: “You are right.”?