Tuesday 22 October 2019

Play it by staff handbook to avoid facing a lawsuit

THE best bit of business advice I ever received was if you are ever in doubt about something, trust your instincts. There have been countless times I have gone against my instincts in my business and legal career and have subsequently rued the day.

You can always convince yourself that this time it is different or this person isn't as bad as you originally thought. I talk to business people every day who tell me if only they had listened to their instincts that they would not be talking to me now.

One of the dozen Chinese business safeguards is to 'Be a good judge of character'. If you think that a potential employee may cause you trouble then why risk it?

Of course, I am being generalist here and naturally this is not an exact science. But trust me, you do not want to be before a tribunal explaining why you had to fire Swiper (Dora the Explorer's arch nemesis for those of you without a three-year-old) for dipping his fingers in the till -- and then finding out he has won because you didn't follow procedures.

If you learn anything from this column today, let it be this: ignore procedures at your peril. You have been warned. Procedures are your safeguard, your shield against being sued when you become an employer.

Always have a contract of employment for each employee. NERA (the National Employment Rights Authority) can fine you for not having these in place. Additionally, a rights commissioner will also make an award against you for not having them. Have a company handbook detailing your policies about everything from opening the post to bullying and harassment.

Again, you do not want to be the owner of a multimillion company that does not have a redundancy policy.

I will win and you will lose heavily if I sue you on behalf of the dismissed employee. This has happened.

Setting up a business is always fun. You stay awake dreaming about your brand, how the new logo might turn out, etc.

Then, suddenly, you need to take on staff and things get complicated.

It's a sign you are progressing and getting places. But remember after a year's continuous service those staff are entitled to go to the EAT (Employment Appeals Tribunal) if you dismiss them and after two years they are entitled to redundancy.

So what happens if your employee becomes pregnant and goes on maternity leave?

What company policy is there in place? Your new hire has a grievance, he is being bullied by another member of staff.

It's not TV and it's not 'The Apprentice'. You wont get away with saying: "You're fired!".

So, you have an employee who you discover has been defrauding the business for years.

And you need to act fast. But you don't have a HR department. And the handbook you were working on is still an old email that you never quite finished. What to do? Know any good lawyers?

Shane Healy is head of commercial, employment and insolvency at Healy O'Connor Solicitors, Dublin and Cork. www.hoc.ie.

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