The combination of employment law and HR “best practice”’ can have an interesting effect on an organisation.
At best, valuing the people underpins a successful and motivated organisation, and employment law compliance is not a challenge or an obstacle so much as a natural part of a bigger process of the enterprise’s success.
HR practitioners often dread employment tribunals – concerned about the time they take and, the costs. Yet line managers are often charmingly indifferent to the niceties of procedure and process in both grievance and discipline scenarios, which will radically affect the likely outcome of a tribunal case. It is natural for the ‘specialist’ to want to guide the process to ensure a technically good performance.
HR can be wonderful supporters, and sometimes even challengers, of the internal processes. But things can get out of hand in some organisations, and HR can shift from supporting the process to owning and then controlling it. This has the effect of disempowering managers, who then increasingly view disciplinary issues as “something HR handles”. A bad experience with an HR predecessor can leave line managers unwilling to report problems to HR, since they expect to be required to jump through needless hoops while their problems remain unsolved.
Line managers need support. So do staff. But where HR’s ‘welfare’ role is not kept clearly separate from the ‘enforcement’ role. Marking and keeping clear boundaries is essential.