Tag Archives: discrimination

Clarkson and the N Word – a slippery slope?


Jeremy Clarkson is in the news once again.   Last time for reciting the old nursery rhyme eeny meeny miny mo….and going on to use the now forbidden N word.  And now we have the ‘slopes’ debacle.   It seems there is no end to the ways in which one media person can create offence to various groups.

This is not the first or second time Clarkson has offended. I am not writing to debate the rights and wrongs of old  childhood nursery rhymes, changing language and societal norms or even race discrimination.   But few organisations would be able to endure this kind of publicity…


What if you were the BBC?

What if it were your brand being associated with this debate?

Would this be damaging to your business?

Many organisations struggle with managing ‘stars’ who do things everyone else would get fired for.  Jeremy Clarkson is not employed by the BBC. Like so many people he is not an employee of the organisation he is so publicly associated with. If he were an employee, internal rules and policies apply. If necessary disciplinary sanctions, even dismissal, are considered.  But freelancers and sub-contractors  are different.

If your sub-contractor or freelancer starts trashing your brand where do you stand?

Do you have a written agreement with your freelancer?

Does it deal with this sort of thing?

What rights would you have as the person whose brand is under fire if this was going on around your business?

Please complete our survey on freelancers 

Please complete our anonymous survey on the types of freelancers you pay and help us research the issues around managing and contracting freelancers .  Click here to start the survey.   We are not collecting email addresses  – just doing research.  Click the link at the end of the survey and claim your copy of our Freelance Top Tips – will save you time and money.  Usually onlly available as part of packages costing £100 or more…


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Filed under discrimination, Freelance Workers

The past is no guide to future performance

Mary is an established member of her team, with good social and professional relationships with her co-workers.  Her boss has managed the unit with a fair degree of success (neither perfect nor imperfect), and everyone knows where the boundaries are and what is expected of them.

Boss moves on with fond farewells.  New boss Sarah arrives, with her own way of doing things.  Mary feels put out by the changes, and wants to carry on working as before.    She complains to colleagues about the changes, and starts to campaign with them that they should not implement them.     She tells her colleagues that many of the changes are pointless and will not work, and she will not participate in them.   When a colleague tells her “Sarah’s the boss, why not just do what she says?”  Mary turns on her heel and laughs.  Although Mary is a valued member of the team, her campaigning is making life very difficult for her new boss.  The team is dividing into ‘pro Sarah’ and ‘pro Mary’ camps.  Mary talks about “I was here first”, and “it worked well before”

Sarah was a very popular boss with her old team, and she is well liked by some of the new team.  She is very approachable, regularly buys drinks for everyone in the pub, and is willing to bend the rules to help her team members, letting them go home early if needed.    Standards are slipping a bit – the old boss was a stickler for detail, whereas Sarah is more of an overview person.   No-one from outside would notice the difference, but old team members shrug their shoulders and pick up the slack.  Sarah doesn’t seem to know.

Why is it we are so bad at change?

Planning for change, or accepting changes that are not planned, is something few us are willing or able to do.

Sarah went into a new team without a clear plan for how she would evaluate whether change was needed, communicate that change, implement it, and monitor it.  She just did what worked well in her old team.

Mary did not expect any change except for the name of her boss.   When faced with change she resisted it all.

If the team is lucky there will be a natural mediator on the team – one of those wonderful people who are the glue that really make the workplace work.    We need someone to say to Mary: “The boss is the boss.  Unless it is dangerous, or illegal, it is her job to say what we do.  If you think it is inefficient or there are better ways, have a quiet word with her and let her know, otherwise you need to do it.”   And we need someone to feedback to Sarah that she is changing how things are done (she may not be aware of it), and that she needs a process for bringing people along with her and for dealing with Mary.

How many HR specialists does it take to change a light bulb?

That depends on whether you want to keep the light bulb.

Sarah could have a useful learning experience that will enhance her skills and make her next promotion easier, or she could struggle with Mary and slowly begin to fail – she could get stuck here.  Mary may even accuse her of bullying, as Sarah repeats the same instructions over and over again and Mary gets progressively more isolated from her team.

Mary can learn how to handle change and difficult situations.  Or she can campaign against her boss, and sooner or later she will find herself with no promotion prospects, and quite possibly no job.   Mary can feel bitter that her lovely job was ‘stolen’ from her by this awful manager – an attitude that may affect her life at home as well as at work.

It’s not a big deal to help new managers put together a system of ‘raising the bar’ so that they can change the way a team works.   It’s not such a big deal to help Mary (at an early stage) to work out the difference between changes she needs to give feedback on, and those that are not really something to worry about.

So where were HR when all this was happening?   They were busy with other important things.  They had not routinely touched base to see how this team functioned.  Of course, when Mary claimed she was being bullied, and Sarah claimed she was totally unsupported by management, HR were all over the investigations like a rash.  The hours of note taking and decision making meant they were then too busy to touch base with any of their other teams.

Is there a happy ending to this tale?  Not really:  Mary spent years resenting Sarah, and then transferred to another team.  She is not regarded as a popular or successful team member, because she has kept up the habit of complaining about the boss and resisting all change.  Sarah never got another promotion in the organisation.  She stayed in post for a few years and then got a job outside.  She started with her new team in the same way, and is now convinced that people are just awkward and you have to push them harder to get what you want.   HR are still doing a lot of paperwork and taking a lot of notes at meetings with unhappy people.  No change there then.

Employment law is where the rubber meets the road – where people problems become legal problems and the law intervenes.  It can’t make Sarah a better manager, or Mary a more realistic employee.  It can’t make an organisation introduce the small interventions that prevent this type of problem  What employment law does do is penalise and sanction those organisations who get to tribunal after they haven’t done their part and a legal issue has arisen.

Of course if there are any ‘equality’ or ‘discrimination’ issues here, this turns into a nightmare scenario.  Sarah picked on me because I am white, transsexual…..  Even in unfair dismissal terms, the process of performance management can be a very long haul if it is started late and from an already-broken situation.

If there were no employment law and the organisation was free to act in any way, would that really solve this problem?  To what extent is the very existence of employment law the problem?

To my thinking, employment law, if incorrectly applied, can be a complicating factor, but it’s never the problem itself.   Giving long serving employees three warnings and an opportunity to change their behaviour doesn’t seem unreasonable.   In this situation would you really want to walk in and just sack Sarah or Mary (or both)?

There is another complicating factor:  in many organisations, both performance management programmes and warnings are often seen as the death knell for individuals – simply the start of an inevitable process of ‘managing someone out of the business’.  We need to do something to change that – but that’s not an employment law issue, it’s a cultural one.

It’s not employment law that gives us difficult problems.  The Sarah/Mary problem is one we get every day, and it has a relatively easy prevention plan, early on.  But allow it to fester to the point when employment law becomes an issue, and then you are in for a more painful remedy.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060
Website:  www.irenicon.co.uk
You can follow Annabel on Twitter

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Filed under bullying at work, discrimination, employment law, performance management

Employment law does not prevent performance management

If I had a penny for every time a manager told me that employment law prevented them from managing their staff, I would be so rich I wouldn’t need to work.

Most of the problems we deal with on our hotline stem from a failure to properly manage performance.  Whether it is ‘bullying’ or problems in managing maternity leave, selection for redundancy, even half the discrimination problems we get – they all stem from a failure to:

  • Design jobs people can succeed in
  • Recruit people with the right skills
  • Set achievable goals within that job
  • Adequately resource for success
  • Monitor performance and feedback
  • Adjust course where needed

When we talk to employees within teams we find them saying – management won’t touch x person because they are protected by discrimination law, management don’t tackle poor performance early enough or clearly enough.

The managers say employment law stops them doing this.

Employment law is not that tricky if you know what you are doing.  Some organisations are cursed with the ‘employee from hell’ but most are not.   You don’t have to wait until you can’t stand it any more and then try to shoe horn ‘employment law’ into a last minute dash towards dismissal (with the replacement waiting in the wings).  You can integrate the basics into a simple performance management system.

If you are struggling with manage your team (or an individual)  and thinking “if employment law didn’t exist I’d…………….”  now is the perfect time to start working on that problem.

Employment law is not going to stop you managing poor performance in your business if you know what you are doing.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : www.irenicon.co.uk. You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye


Filed under employment law, performance management

Is it good to be different at work?

Irenicon is 30 years old this year. As one of the founders, it is a good time to look back and think, how have things changed. One thing that hasn’t changed much is how ‘different’ you can afford to be at work. As a woman founding a company 30 years ago, my female co-director gave me a wonderful piece of advice “You can wear an unusually cut suit in a conservative colour, or an unusual colour in a conservative cut” She told me that while people were intrigued by people who are a little bit different, they reject people who are completely different. Having changed my wardrobe on her advice, it turned out to be true. Being a bit different makes you memorable. Being totally different makes you threatening and hard to understand. When I started out, Personnel Directors (there was no such thing as HR then) were mostly men, and Personnel Managers were mostly women. Being a young woman trying to work in the ‘male’ area of employee relations was different enough. There was no room for interesting outfits, unusual opinions or anything else. The world has moved on. I am no longer young and there is nothing remarkable about senior women in HR. However the ‘difference’ or ‘diversity’ issue (as we call it these days) has not gone away.

  • Working parents have different needs to non-parents
  • People of different religions and ethnicities and colour can appear different at work
  • Lesbian/gay managers may prefer to remain ‘in the closet’ at work for fear it will affect their career
  • Trans-gender people are only really beginning to make open progress in the workplace

All these groups can suffer at work from being different. This difference can be unmistakable, such as with colour, or something that can be disguised, such as with sexual orientation or religion. Any difference can have an effect on career progression, since it starts us off with something that may be regarded as ‘an unusually cut suit’. Some people progress further than others in the workplace by adopting a ‘conservative colour’ — that is to say by conforming with group norms in every other respect. I suspect that individuals who follow the cut/colour rule are less likely to feel discriminated against than individuals who do not. Some groups or individuals can’t or won’t do that, and this affects whether they are ‘preferred’ for advancement. It takes a bold boss to promote against the grain of the organisation’s historic culture or values, and an “unconventional suit in an unconventional colour” is the highest risk of all. For all our talk of diversity, the temptation is to want a woman who acts like a man, or a token person who ticks the ‘diversity’ boxes but really acts and thinks like everyone else in the organisation. Some people long for the days when we can all stand out in our unique and magical splendour and wear a coat of many colours (or a grey one if that is what we want to do). Until then, we may need to wear the regulation jeans, smart suit, tracksuits or whatever the ‘conventional suit’ is in our workplace. People who want to advance in the workplace still need to tailor their suit or their colours to maximise their position. Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : www.irenicon.co.uk. You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye

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Filed under discrimination, employment law

How many bosses don’t read contracts?

A recent Which? Magazine survey suggested that up to 5.1m British workers have failed to read their employment contract properly.

How many bosses don’t read or understand the contracts they are issuing?

Which? make some great suggestions about what employees should do, but what should the boss do?

1. Read your contract! Are you prepared to do all the things it says you will do (if the situation arises)? If not, you should consider changing it. Being ‘in breach of contract’ can be a big problem and making promises in writing you don’t intend to honour just documents your failure.

2. Check the handbook – If your contract refers to a handbook, make sure you read this too, as its terms will also be binding

3. Ask questions – Do you understand your contract? Are there grey bits you just ignore? Do your staff? Ask them if they have read it and know what it means – that can be a shock!

4. Issue the documents – Some bosses keep contracts in a locked drawer and don’t issue them. If they are no good, get them changed, if they are good you need them out there doing what you need them to do.

5. Keep copies of the signed terms – You may need to show someone had a copy to make sure you chase up for signed copies and keep them locked away.

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Filed under contract, employment law

A shield, not a sword

shutterstock_95508547Employment law provides protection in the workplace for individuals from being subjected to a detriment or harassment on grounds of religious or philosophical belief.

But the statutory protections are a “shield”, not a “sword”.   The idea is to protect people from being treated worse than anyone else because of their belief.   They are a protection – not something we can use at work to make everyone else do what our faith seems to us to require.

An employee cannot call on the regulations to justify attempts to convert co-workers to their beliefs .  So a Jehovah’s witness cannot claim the right to try to convert their co-workers during working time.

Employees cannot claim protection of their beliefs to justify ill-treatment of co-workers.  This will not justify ill treatment of gay people at work if your religion seems to forbid homosexuality any more than it would justify the ill treatment of unmarried mums at work if your religion requires chastity.

Whilst there is some inconsistency of treatment when it comes to wearing religiously required clothing at work (Sikhs and turbans, muslim women and veils, Christians and crosses) we all need to steer our way tactfully back to the simple fact that the workplace is where we go to work.

Any clothing or accessories that means we cannot safely or effectively do the work we are hired to do is going to cause a problem.

If we are not willing to do the job we were hired to do we need to find another job.

Whilst I have every sympathy for anyone who finds their job changed in a way that is difficult for their religious belief after years of service (and that is another story) we can’t have a workplace where everybody can refuse anything on the grounds of ‘belief’.

While there is room for a great deal of flexibility in the workplace – we don’t have to all look the same, behave the same way, wear the same things or believe the same things – ultimately we have to get the work done.  That’s what we are there for.

Perhaps now is a good time to start giving a lot more flexibility and tolerance rather than demanding it?

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.   Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website : www.irenicon.co.uk.  You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye and check our regular articles and news throughout the autumn on our blog site – https://irenicon.wordpress.com/


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Filed under discrimination, employment law

Redundancy on the move

Finding a way throughThis year has brought an inevitable increase in redundancy exercises as organisations of all kinds have cut back to match falling revenues.

These types of redundancy exercises are usually tactical in response to short term or local conditions.  Painful as they are, they are really about ‘cutting your coat according to your cloth’.

The key thinking behind this type of exercise is around retaining people with key skills for the organisation to go forward.

The old days when bosses just decided who to keep by who they liked the look of are long gone.   UK Employment law has established a legal requirement for:

  • objective and relevant selection criteria
  •  consultation
  •  consideration of alternatives
  • appeals
  • equality

EU and UK laws have tightened up on redundancy consultation and although there is a move towards reducing consultation timescales for collective redundancies the fact is that many consultations improve the process and do avoid job losses (if not entirely) and others arrange more generous pay offs than the UK statutory redundancy pay.

The financial costs of such payouts can take months, even years to recoup, and the damage to morale and employer reputation of a poorly handled redundancy exercise can take years to sort out.   Whilst we invest in employee engagement specialists and even ‘onboarding specialists’ to help to attract, motivate and retain key talent, this often goes out the window when we are looking at redundancy.   Money itself is not always the only issue.

What are the key factors that make a good redundancy exercise when you don’t have a lot of money to throw at it?  We find the quality of your communication and consultation can be decisive.

Click these links for other blogs on redundancy :


and link to this web page on Irenicon – http://www.irenicon.co.uk/Consultancy/redundancyforemployers.html

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.   Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website : www.irenicon.co.uk.  You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye and check our regular articles and news throughout the autumn on our blog site – https://irenicon.wordpress.com/


Filed under discrimination, employment law, redundancy