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HR: The basics you need to know before employing staff

4 December 2012


Many small business owners hold off employing staff on a full-time basis because they are concerned about the risks that they put themselves at through hiring - new staff might not deliver the service to clients that they would like them to or are perhaps they may not be compliant with employment law.

However, holding off from employing people can limit growth in some businesses. Some small business owners choose to hire freelancers because they think that they are taking a less risky strategy because they think that they are not legally responsible for freelancers, but in law the definition of an employee is not that straight forward. So to try to help ease some of these concerns and to help small business owners understand their responsibilities as an employer, early in November 2012 SMILE asked Levenes Employment to deliver a workshop about some of the important things to know before hiring staff.

The first important thing to work out is whether someone could be regarded in law as an employee; even if they are a freelancer or a contractor, in employment law, according to the relationship with the company a person could be regarded as an employee. There is no simple test for this but the HMRC website has some guidelines that could help. If  you are an employer you need to register as such with the HMRC and also refer to the site for the guidelines about your legal obligations as an employer.

All employees, workers, agency workers and partners are protected by the equalities act and it is important to become familiar with the main content of this. There are protected characteristics including age, sex, disability, gender-reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, and sexual orientation. The equalities act also covers aspects such as equal pay, equal opportunities, anti-bullying and harassment, health and safety, absence management, grievance, discipline and dismissal, and one can be protected as an employer by having policies to review and train staff in. Discrimination does not have to be deliberate to be unlawful and as an employer, one could be at risk by not providing the training or policies for staff.

The workshop also covered processes when hiring staff and making sure equal opportunities regulations are complied with when writing job descriptions and when advertising jobs, the right or wrong questions to ask when conducting interviews, and the protocol when completing reference checks. Also covered was making an offer of employment (verbal offers are enforceable once accepted) and how to take precautions by making the offer conditional on receipt of satisfactory references, what to include in employment contracts (inc holiday allowance, pensions, and additions that you might want such as probationary period, confidentiality clause, restrictive clauses). Levenes Employment also reviewed how to deal with grievance, discipline, dismissal and termination of employment. Levenes Employment runs free workshops covering many of these areas more in-depth and the staff at UCL Advances can provide a copy of the slides from the day.

Moral of the workshop: while there are risks to hiring the wrong person for your business or not following the rules in hiring the right person, the right employees can also help you take your business to that next stage in growth that has been just out of reach for too long!