Let’s all sue!

I was reading the latest copy of People Management magazine, partly because I’m a dutiful Fellow of the Institute and partly because I couldn’t sleep.

As I was reading, it struck me how ridiculous HR has become and that we need to restore a level of balance to the way employers and employees work together. Let me explain what I mean…

A council sued a former Chief Exec because she (allegedly) concealed a depressive illness from them, she went off sick on full pay for a year and the council reckoned their former leader had cost them a million quid. A judge ruled against the council, not because they didn’t believe the council had lost a million, but because the wording on their medical questionnaire was unclear.

I mean, come on!

Here’s another one…

A worker nicked an iPod, admitted the offence and was fired. She later claimed unfair dismissal (and won) because the employer hadn’t bothered with a full investigation to look at all the circumstances… even though she’d coughed up her confession.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I don’t think in Britain that her confession would have been gained under torture.

In the same magazine there’s a big debate about the bureaucracy HR needs to have in place to protect the employer from all these tribunals that are brought against them. One particular lady was shot down in flames for suggesting that employers should reduce the amount of paperwork they were keeping in favour of… and brace yourselves here for a radical suggestion… talking to employees like humans!

Mind you, she did describe it as having “high quality conversations with employees” and why she couldn’t have simply said “have a good talk”, I’ll never know… but that’s HR for you.

The response to this radical solution was very interesting. Essentially it was this: don’t be stupid, we need all the paperwork otherwise we’ll never be able to prove that we are innocent when we’re inevitably taken to tribunal.

Two things struck me about this:

1. The people arguing in favour of all the paperwork were being kept in jobs by having the paperwork there

2. If we put as much effort into preventing ourselves from getting to tribunal by actually talking to people as we do into keeping records, the number of tribunals would be reduced… a lot

3. By keeping all this paperwork to protect ourselves we are almost admitting that we have something to protect ourselves from and therefore we must be evil wrongdoers and, therefore, all these tribunals are deserved

I know that was three things, not two, which is why I’m in HR not an accountant.

So, to summarise, yes, we have to keep proper records, but let’s not make record keeping our reason for existence. Let’s get out there and talk to employees, treat them fairly and perhaps the reason for the paperwork will begin to go away.

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