Monthly Archives: November 2010

Free redundancy download

We all dread redundancy

It’s not easy finding out you are ‘at risk’ of redundancy. All those legal things that seemed to be somebody else’s problems suddenly are all about you – and you can’t remember half the things you ought to.

Download our free guide to redundancy. Based on our 30 years experience it can help you start working out what you can challenge, what you can’t and what money you might expect to get.

Simple,  click here to download it

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Filed under employment law, free stuff, redundancy

Teacher claims ‘right to distribute pornography at work’

Miss Henderson worked as a mentor and leader for girls aged 11-16 who had barriers to learning, at inner city school in the London Borough of Hackney. She was sacked for gross misconduct after it was discovered that she had been using the school computers to download pornography and distribute it to her colleagues.

She denied that the material (which was explicitly pornographic) was inappropriate, arguing that it might be an enriching experience for the children to see this and from which they would suffer no harm. This argument did not convince the school who dismissed her.

She claimed that because the school had no explicit rule against teaching staff bringing pornography into school or viewing pornography at school, then she could not be disciplined for doing so. And she claimed that dismissing her was a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which protects freedom of expression.

The case made its way through tribunal and employment appeal tribunal – both of which found in the school’s favour. How much did that cost in legal fees?

Employers often complain about pointless cases being brought against them in tribunal, but wasn’t the school a bit of a sitting duck? There was nothing in the contract or policies issued by the school the restricted the use of the internet in any way.

If you are an employer who wants to restrict what can be downloaded on your computers (for whatever reason) it is a cheaper and more effective option to issue a simple internet policy or set of rules.

If the school had had such a policy in place (and could show it was issued) they could have stopped this tribunal at a preliminary hearing and may be even have gone for costs against the claimant instead of spending vital money from the education budget on litigation.

A short clear internet usage policy would have done the trick!    

The picture is clipart posed by models and not of the real teacher or class

Christopher Head is director of specialist employment law consultancy Irenicon Ltd. One of Christopher’s key skills is drafting short but comprehensive employment contracts in plain English that put the employer in the driving seat with problem staff. email: tel: 08452 303050 (local rate caller number) fax: 08452 303060


Filed under contract, employment law, employment tribunal, unfair dismissal

Unfair dismissal changes – fiddling while Rome burns

The government is considering increasing the qualifying period of service for unfair dismissal to two years.

In the 30 years I have been advising on employment law, the qualifying period of service for unfair dismissal has moved from six months, to one year, to two years (for small businesses) to one year.

When it was six months, managers waited until seven months to dismiss. When it was a year, they waited 13 months! Quite often the reason for dismissal existed for weeks or months before the unfair dismissal deadline passed. What would have been simple is made complicated by a few weeks’ delay. Why is this?

Business owners rarely get into business because they are great with staff. Normally they are great at something … that at some point involves having staff for that ‘something’ to reach more people and make more profit. Being human, we put off ‘difficult’ conversations until the last possible moment. Criticising someone’s performance at work, and especially dismissing them, is a difficult conversation for most managers and so it is likely to be avoided or put off.

Whatever the qualifying period of service, businesses can only thrive when they get the performance they are paying for. The critical skill for business owners is to find a way to motivate staff to perform to the right standards. But all too often, the ‘fear’ of employment law obscures the issue. We hear of entrepreneurs who decide not to have staff because of employment law. But nobody refuses to have customers because they don’t understand consumer law!

It is easy for advisors to sell ‘fear’ to small businesses – it encourages them to buy insurance policies, and to retain advisors. Awareness of risk is sensible – we can take reasonable measures to reduce it. But generating fear is counter-productive all round. When we start to act in accordance with our fear rather than the facts, then we get things like people refusing to go out at night for fear of violent crime, even though they are in an area of low crime.

A year is a fair amount of time to find out if someone can do a job. What do we expect to find out in two years that we don’t know in one? Employers need to face their fear of employment law, and make sure they know how to handle performance and other issues. Changing the qualifying period of service doesn’t make the issue go away. Managing people effectively is a key skill for the successful business. And despite what many people say (particularly those trying to get into your wallet), employment law is not to be feared. Use it wisely, and incorporate it into your management processes sensibly, and it is a business friend, not an enemy. And it doesn’t take a ton of paper or impossibly complicated procedures to get it right … those are the mistakes that come from not knowing, not from knowing.

The tragedy is that fear of employment law often encourages businesses to adopt unnecessarily complex procedures that cause rather than solve problems. And that fear often stops people from taking the sensible management action at an early stage that would pre-empt an employment law problems arising in the first place. Thirty years’ experience with our clients from the tiny business to the multinational makes it clear – you don’t avoid employment law problems by insuring, and fear is not a good teacher. You avoid employment law problems by knowing your ground and managing your business for profit.


Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : You can follow Annabel on twitter –

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Filed under employment law, performance management, unfair dismissal