With the new compliance regime upon us, now is a perfect opportunity for Compliance Officers for Legal Practice (COLPs) to review employment practices and update their staff handbook.
The COLP’s raison d’être is to ensure that any practice is fully compliant with any and all statutory obligations, including employment legislation. Whilst it may not be expressly stated to in the Authorisation Rules, Principles 8 and 9 of the Code of Conduct will still cover many areas of employment legislation, such as:
• Employment Rights Act
• Public Interest Disclosure Act
• Part Time Working Regulations
• Equality Act.
As such, COLPs have to have a broad range of understanding when updating policies and procedures so that they comply with all legal requirements and also work for the business. So to help you set up for 2013, here is a brief (but by no means exhaustive!) list of employment issues that should be covered in your office manual.
s1 ERA statements
Let’s start with the fundamentals. s1 statements are the written statement of particulars of employment which must be given to an employee at the start of employment. However, this is not the same as a contract of employment. Do you have systems in place to ensure all new starters receive s1 statements?
This pretty much follows on from s1 ERA statements, but with the emphasis on specifics for individuals. Business is a fluid concept, and change, even within the legal industry, is inevitable! So if your firm is planning to move into a new area such as injury claims, criminal law or conveyancing then it naturally follows that job descriptions may have to be changed to suit. Take this as an opportunity to consult with employees to develop best practice methods and perhaps even explore new ideas, as well as a chance to ensure that job descriptions in your office manual are accurate and up to date.
Recruitment procedures and redundancies
‘Hiring and firing’ procedures should be clearly laid out in all office manuals, primarily to comply with employment laws but also to avoid any misunderstandings or potential legal action for unfair dismissal. Not only do clearly defined policies on recruitment and redundancy ensure that the firm cannot be accused of unfair practices, but it also gives employees a level of confidence that the processes are being carried out in a fair and transparent manner. This can play an important part in promoting staff morale.
Part Time working
Ensure that your part time working protocols are up to date and that all practices adhere to current legislation. There is a general change in the employment landscape that has led more people working flexible hours, including part time. Ensuring that your practices are compliant could make a big difference to both the feeling of job security for part time and full time workers, and even smooth off the rough edges on your payroll and taxation compliance.
Compliance with the Working Time Regulations
This is still a bit of a controversial issue, but it is still crucial that all WTR legislation is clearly defined in the office manual, and that any opt outs are unambiguously agreed to. COLPs should be fully aware of any changes in the opt out status of an employee.
Mergers and Acquisitions
The whole point of TUPE is to protect the rights of employees during an acquisition or company merger. However, it apply to every situation. The legal profession is a dynamic industry where mergers are commonplace, and no matter how well defined in law, employees still often feel very vulnerable during this transitional period. By making it clear as to whether TUPE legislation applies in the event of a merger, or what alternative options are open, reassurance can be given and a far smoother transition achieved. More importantly, the COLP should take expert advice on the TUPE implications of any M&A activity, including outsourcing.
It was all change in 2012 for pension legislation, spearheaded by the introduction of the Pensions Act. This required employers to enroll eligible staff into a pension scheme and contribute towards their pension. While employees still have the right to opt out of the scheme, it is being heralded as a major change in the pension system for millions of workers and their employers across the country. COLPs will need to ensure that all office manuals are updated to factor in the changes in the pension system, and that employees are fully aware of their options. Will your contracts of employment need to be amended?
Other factors for COLPs to consider
• Recruitment, promotion and training
• IT and social media issues
• Maternity, paternity and adoption provisions
• Equality and diversity
• Dignity at work