Unfortunately employment issues, such as those arising from disciplinary or grievance matters, are something which every employer, no matter how good, is likely to experience at some point.  Given the likelihood that such issues will arise it makes good business sense to be prepared.  A failure to prepare can mean that these issues become disruptive to your business as well as time consuming and expensive to resolve.  In our experience a failure to prepare for these issues also increases the likelihood of claims being raised in the Employment Tribunal. 

It is often said that prevention is better than a cure, and this is a good approach for businesses to adopt in terms of employment issues.  As such, there are three basic steps that all employers should take to minimise the risk of these issues arising in the first instance, and allow them to be dealt with promptly and efficiently if they do arise. 

1. Have good employment contracts and policies in place

Every employee should have a well drafted, up to date and compliant contract of employment, which will govern the employment relationship.  This will provide both employer and employee with a clear understanding of their rights, duties and obligations.  This will immediately minimise any disputes or ambiguity surrounding the terms of their appointment.     

In addition, every successful business needs to set out clearly what is expected of employees and to know what to do when things go wrong.  Having clear and effective policies and procedures which can guide both employees and employers is very important in minimising the risks of claims.  The policies required will depend on the nature of the business but we would recommend the following as a good starting point: equality and diversity; absence management; disciplinary and grievance; performance management; and family friendly policies (dealing with maternity, paternity leave etc.).  Once the basics are in place, organisations can build on these as and when the need arises.

2. Communicate your policies and procedures

Having policies and procedures prepared will be of no use to an employer if those policies sit on a shelf never to be seen.  Providing your staff with training is essential for the development and success of your business.  Staff should know what the employer's policies are and where to find them, and managers should be trained in how to implement those policies.  A member of staff who is trained effectively not only in internal policies and procedures but also in terms of their role will be more efficient, happier and have increased performance.

3. Engage with staff

Engaging with your members of staff can ensure that they understand and are committed to achieving your business's goals and values.  It helps to motivate employees and ensure job satisfaction.  To engage your workforce, create clear objectives which are easily accessible and give your employees a voice.  In our experience, many employment claims arise from lack of engagement, lack of communication and allowing issues to fester rather than dealing with issues promptly when they begin to surface.

Finally, if in doubt as to the correct course of action to take when an issue arises, seek advice.  It is far better to take advice early and potentially avoid falling into a bear trap, rather than seek advice when the trap has been triggered and have to engage in a damage limitation exercise.