• Deri Hughes

Employment law risks for boutiques (and how to handle them)

I was chatting to my friends at LexLeyton, a specialist business employment law firm the other day, about the typical employment law risks boutique consulting firms face.

Running a consulting firm can keep you awake at night in lots of ways. As well as figuring out how to get top line growth and recruiting a great team, prioritising your operational tasks is critical to getting that good night's sleep - and focusing on major risks first is often necessary.

But what if you don't know the risks you face? Or you need to help your team manage them as well?

Employment law is one of the areas where consulting firm founders can get themselves into hot water. While you won't typically be worrying about unions, and your highly motivated consulting staff are more likely to be over-working than faking sick days, there are three situations we often see boutique consulting firms fall foul of:

  • Poorly designed disciplinary policies, compounded by inexperienced Managers lacking confidence in dealing with sensitive conversations

  • Accusations of bullying, sexism, or discriminatory management

  • Behaviour on work socials and away weekends

The risks here are multi-faceted. The legal risk, which can lead to financial and/or reputational damage, although highly important is only one part of the story. The cultural impact of poorly designed policies or poor response to a crisis can be profound. Individuals in all roles of the process can also feel intense stress, impacting their wellbeing and productivity in other areas.

So, how to mitigate these risks?

1.      Design policies that are legally compliant, but also resonate with your desired culture. Your first step should always be to take responsibility (it's your business after all), and aim to support your team to deliver to the standards you're asking of them. If you need to take more drastic action, you need to think through the potential cultural impact. While under-performing employees with under two years’ service can technically just be given notice - provided there are no concerns in respect of discrimination, health and safety, or whistle-blowing - the way you deal with these situations and the processes you put in place have a lasting effect on your employees and the culture you are trying to create. 

2.       Set clear expectations around behaviours in all work contexts. This is the minimum an Employment Tribunal would expect from employers. A formal accusation of bullying is evidence of a relationship that is already broken. Inappropriate "advances" on a work social are never acceptable and, ultimately, your response to these situations is critical to avoiding major cultural damage. Being on the front-foot with your expectations reduces the chances of lines being crossed, and gives you a mandate for swift action if they are.

3.      Invest in training and supporting your senior team to implement these policies and processes with confidence. Consulting Managers have often been promoted quickly to senior positions, and suddenly find themselves running a disciplinary hearing for a close colleague when they are just a few years post-graduation. This can be stressful without a full understanding of the importance of the formal process and how to handle it. With proper understanding of their role this stress can be greatly reduced for all involved, and the risk of employment tribunal claims reduced for you as the employer.

Honeycomb's experts are happy to chat through any of these issues to help you understand the risks you might be facing, and figure out a path forwards that is appropriate for your business and it’s stage of development. We work with specialist business partners like LexLeyton to deliver tailor made solutions best suited to supporting your unique culture and growth ambitions.

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