Wednesday 5 October 2011

Weeding out the incompetent

Most people starting a new job know and understand that there is some sort of ‘probationary’ period, during which their new employer can sack them if they don’t prove themselves.  It’s easy to see why employers want such a condition; judging people on the basis of an application form, cv, and interview is never going to be as effective as judging their actual performance.  And it’s not an unreasonable condition.
But how much more protection than that do competent and effective employers really need?  To listen to some business organisations, the answer is lots.  What they really seem to want is to be able to hire and fire at will, so that they have maximum flexibility with no come-back; the employees are just a resource like any other. 
Sadly, the UK Government has been listening to such views, and has proposed extending the period during which employees are barred from bringing a claim for unfair dismissal from 12 months to 24.
(In passing, it’s interesting to note that the announcement was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer – since when did he take on the responsibility for employment law?)
In effect, the government are proposing to double the period during which employers can legally sack someone unfairly.  It amounts to condoning unfair action by employers as long as it happens within the first two years of employment.
Why should we tolerate ‘unfair’ dismissal at all?  If the dismissal is fair, then the employer will win any tribunal case.  This proposal bans the reasonable cases as well as the unreasonable ones. 
The argument seems to be that there is a cost to the employer of having to defend any action, and abolishing the right to bring a case will therefore save businesses time and money – but there are surely better ways of weeding out the vexatious cases than simply banning all cases?
I can’t help wondering why anyone would conclude that the way to protect employers from unjustified claims is to abolish the rights of everyone, and simply allow unfair behaviour to go unpunished.  Allowing people to ignore health and safety rules for two years would be a good way of reducing their administration costs as well, but it doesn’t make it a good idea.
It’s another example of the thinking that the way to make business competitive is to give employers more freedom to treat employees as they wish.  Competent managers don’t need that sort of freedom.  We’d be better off ensuring that those running businesses have the competence and skills to do so, and to ensure that they treat employees fairly in the process, rather than simply licensing incompetence.


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Pwyntiau da iawn, John. Mae 2 flynedd yn ymddangos yn ofnadwy o annheg.

Mi fedr dyn gwnued gwaith da i gyflogwr am ddiwrnod cyn y dwy flynedd, a chael ei sacio yn ddi-reswm, heb dderbyn swllt o dâl diswyddo.

Hollol boncyrs!

You mean there's more??? said...

As it happens I have direct experience of this. Many years ago I worked for a firm and i was their golden boy selling stuff like it was going out of fashion.

Then as we got towards 10 months the leads dried and my performance went through the floor.

So anyway comes the end of the year and out I went on my ear.

Went to tribunal and won. Had the legal advice I could affoard from a solicitor who is now the conservative leader of a local authority. Settled for a couple of hundred quid.

My mate who got sacked at the same time had a union appointed solicitor Got a years salary.

Moral in there somewhere..

Anonymous said...

Did a contract for a firm a few years ago and the job was to assist a Geo-tech company, involved in oil exploration, to deal with some compliance issues identified by auditors.

It was a strange contract in that a middle manager had already just appointed an accountant internally to perform a similar job. A few weeks into the contract I discovered the accountant they had recently appointed had already done a perfect job. He had forensically identified that a foreign sales rep was in being paid inordinately large amounts of cash for non-existent sales. Further investigation found the foreign sales chap didn't actually exist but it was just a vehicle for bribing Russian oil concerns. The report to the directorship, from me as the contractor, was the same story told previously by their new junior accountant. The FD paid my bill, including considerable expenses abroad, all the fees, and implemented a compliance regime. Contract successful.

I then discovered the middle manager soon sacked the accountant as he was on probation. This was closely followed by the directorship sacking the middle manager.

When changes in the business environment occur, companies are forced to act, but often they can't deal with it internally. It also shows that some people are sacked in the probationary period because they are just too good at their job, refuse to compromise their professional standards, and their skills can expose failing in the person making the appointment. I also learnt there was no oil reserves in Switzerland (strangely their geologists kept telling me this) and am always amazed when companies hire contractors to tell them something they already know. In this instance the over performing accountant, who was sacked in the probationary period, had the perfect answer to 'why did you leave your last job', and was promptly appointed to a large firm of auditors. It was they who had flagged up the issue in the first place. A case of weeding out both the incompetent and the over-competent, when both are not desired or required.

Should have charged more for that one?