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Masterclass

Parental leave directive

Gary Pollard, of employment/labour consultant Pollard Associates, says it is high time engineering firms got to grips with the developments in employment law.

Who could blame employers for feeling pulverised by the seemingly endless flow of employment statutes? Well, I could for one. If you employ people you should know your obligations.

Law is one of the factors that influence the relationship between employer and employee and is not a variable. If employers do not understand their legal obligations to employees, they fail to manage the relationship with their most valuable asset: people. It sounds like a cliche but is true nonetheless.

Industry employers pride themselves on their approach to some law. For example Health & Safety statutes are well thumbed. However, what about other legislative developments in employment? I wonder how many readers are aware that the statutory right for up to three months unpaid parental leave, subject to several provisions, was conferred on employees on 15th December 1999.

Few employers have a clearly drafted and communicated procedure to encourage their employees to take up this right, which would benefit mothers and fathers alike.

So why does an industry that contributes much to the fabric of society - and provides rewarding employment to many people - continue to lag behind other industries like manufacturing and finance in areas such as equal opportunities?

It is true that competition for work is fierce, and industry professionals are dedicated to their work. Profit margins are low, and costs high. So are employers ignoring factors perceived to reduce profit, hoping that the commitment and loyalty of their staff will endure? Or is it that machismo is still such a force in the industry that many employees are too frightened or embarrassed to stand on their statutory rights?

The answer Is probably a combination of factors. This creates a barrier to achieving true equality of opportunities and the intrinsic business benefits.

Employment legislation can benefit employers in a number of ways. It can help to improve morale and increase staff retention by promoting employment practices that allow employees to balance life and work. Productivity can be improved by reducing employee resentment, and profit increased by reducing errors made by unhappy, tired staff.

Other benefits include lower absenteeism and recruitment costs, and reduced risk of employee litigation. In other words, skilled application of employment law can give employers a competitive advantage.

On the other hand, employers who ignore new developments do so at their peril. Employment law is not discretionary. In 1999 107,000 cases were presented at the employment tribunals with unavoidable costs for respondents, win or lose. With the maximum compensatory award now set at £50,000 I imagine this year will be no less busy.

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