With Sports Direct and BHS in the news recently, I was reflecting on the relationship between employee engagement and business reputation with Elizabeth Judson, Head of Employment at Jolliffe & Co. LLP. How a business deals with customer complaints has an obvious impact on customer engagement and brand value. How a business deals with, or is seen to deal with employees may also have an impact. Reputation and brand value are inextricably linked.
Probably one of the biggest threats to reputation is an employee’s potential claim of unfair dismissal. In an attempt to protect their job, an employee may threaten to go to the press. Businesses have no right of response and little control of the story.
If the claim goes to court, the judgement is made on the balance of probability. Employers have to show a greater than 50% belief of misconduct. There is little certainty in court. It is a public judgement and a public hearing. The judge will seek a balanced view and may highlight employer failings. Again, businesses have little control of the story.
Protecting the business against potentially damaging outcomes means demonstrating all reasonable steps have been taken to comply with legislation. This translates to the employer and the employee applying good business HR policies. Everyone needs to understand what is expected of them and the procedures that need to be followed should this expectation not be met. Up-to-date employee handbooks and employee contracts are essential.
Raising awareness, training and understanding the law are also essential. For example, anti-discrimination is now the responsibility of the employee as well as the employer. If an employee is allegedly discriminated against by another employee and if the employer has taken reasonable steps through raising awareness and training to prevent discrimination, the claim may fall on the individual not the business.
As Elizabeth pointed out, it’s not just about legal advice but preventive measures. Ultimately, everyone is looking to minimise difficulty, stress and heartache. Good, well managed employee relations will facilitate sensible discussions and positive outcomes, preserve reputation and brand value.