Using Rules to Keep your Workforce Flexible

Photograph of Jenefer Livings, Founder of Silk Helix Ltd
17 January 2023
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It’s a commonly held myth that putting rules into writing makes the business rigid and inflexible. It is true, many of us have experienced corporate cultures with long excessively detailed policies tying us up in knots. This is not what small businesses need, though putting the right things in writing will help your business.

Back in April 2020 the law changed to give people the right to a statement of particulars from day one but that’s not the only reason to get things into writing. A statement of particulars is designed to protect employees by giving them the information they need about their job. However, you will want to use this or another document to protect your business. The two things can and should go hand in hand.

Another commonly held myth is that it’ll be easier to dismiss someone during their probationary period if you’ve not provided anything in writing. The truth is in fact the opposite. It’s far easier to dismiss if you’ve both complied with your legal obligations and told the individual on what grounds you may dismiss.

When it comes to employment contracts, they are in place whether in writing or not. Rules not written down are known as “custom and practice”, which means the rule is there by the fact it’s commonly known. This may be okay for those things that happen everyday, that everyone knows, but if you have a rule you only want to rely on occasionally it’ll need to be in writing. Changing shift patterns is a good example. Despite considerable resistance from employees I was able to help one client move all their staff from a single day shift to a two shift system, alternating early and late shifts. This was achieved with the perfect combination of an employment contract that gave the right to change shift patterns and a solid business reason for doing so. The process would have been much harder and potentially costly had we not had the contractual right to change shift patterns.

With the right flexibility clauses in your employment contracts the process of changing terms and dismissing staff becomes much simpler. The same applies to managing performance and absence. Where expectations are written down you are in a stronger position to discipline and dismiss for breaches. This is especially true for matters of gross misconduct, where you want the ability to dismiss without notice.

When rules are not written they are open to being disputed. How do employees know the rule exists if it’s not written? Possibly more importantly, how can we prove the employee knows the rule exists. These disputes will be time consuming and messy to resolve. Ensure you have the right foundations, a contract that protects the business and maintains flexibility. Putting rules into writing is about putting the right rules in place for your business, which is why we write employment contracts and employee handbooks exactly how each client needs it for their business. It’s why getting to know our client’s and their business is such a crucial part of the process. For help with your employment contracts and putting the right things in writing call us today on 01245 910 500.

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