HR Practitioner’s Diary: A new chapter

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It has been a very hectic time (in a good way) but regrettably that means that the diary is going to a monthly rather than a weekly slot for the time being; I’m sorry to disappoint my loyal readers but hope to produce an even tastier, bumper monthly version and talking of delicious things my love life has made a turn that Bridget Jones would be proud of – read on to find out more.

W/C: 25 September 2005
Hairnets etc
I’ve taken on a three day per week contract with a manufacturing company who need a serious shake up with their company structure, all HR and Health and Safety issues. Their outgoing lady had been with them for some four years and the latter three years have obviously been an area of considerably complacency on her part.

Also the company have experienced two very poor trading years, but now have a new dynamic business plan to action and bring the business back up to being a key player again. They needed a true HR generalist and someone with restructuring and business change experience, so they see my presence as being integral to the success of this plan and I hope to do it justice.

This is a new environment for me as the company manufacture processed meals to supply to food chains, superstores and pubs throughout the UK. There is a great deal of focus on health and safety as well as thorough hygiene. It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced wearing Wellington boots, a white smock and a green hairnet whilst at work – thankfully that is only when I visit the production areas! Sooooo sexy!

It is clear the company has had to run a very tight financial ship and to that end they employ a large number of Polish staff who are seeking British citizenship. Again, this is a learning curve for me as I have never dealt with Home Office applications before. This type of workforce enables the company to pay very low rates, very little is above the National Minimum Wage.

It’s a case of you get what you pay for though and I pointed out to them that if they want serious help in achieving their business plan then they needed to realize that my services are an investment. I’m glad to say that they are paying my own valued rates without much squirming!

All of the manuals, policies, contracts, forms, signs – literally everything readable, has to be translated into Polish – yet another challenge!

Already there is one interesting scenario in that a young girl in the production area, Mandy, likes to flirt with the ‘lads’. It would seem that one of the older guys joined in on the flirtatious fun, whereupon Mandy decided to complain about him sexually harassing her. She took exception because of his age!

Upon investigating, the ‘lads’ involved said you could hardly blame the older guy for joining in on the fun and that if Mandy wanted to flirt, then she is a little naïve to think you can select age groups as suitable recipients for this kind of behaviour!

They feel if she is flirting then it is equally aimed at all the guys in her area and that she should accept and appreciate that. If she does not like the older guy joining in then she should not flirt – simple really!

I totally agreed with them and to that end talked with Mandy to advise her to curb her flirting and to spend her energies focusing on her work. I have also advised the guys to endeavour to ignore her flirting wherever possible. Hopefully, if Mandy loses her audience the problem should resolve itself, but it is one I shall monitor with interest.

Other areas of concern are that the current HR procedures are too long winded, so my task will be to simplify as much as possible and, as a result, reduce costs and time taken.

Health and Safety is a huge issue. Upon carrying out a risk assessment in production I confiscated two preparation tables whose legs were so rusty they were crumbling away at the base. Worrying when you think that food is being prepared on these tables for sale to the public!

A fire extinguisher stood on the floor in a corner of the washroom area. The floor is regularly washed with very strong detergents, the resulting effect was that the outer shell of the extinguisher was virtually unrecogniseable it was so corroded. Needless to say, it has been disposed of and a full audit of all extinguishers has taken place.

A few other areas for swift correction are:

  • the company have not checked their fire alarm for some 18 months.
  • the staff have never received a contract of employment (some have been there for 10 years)!
  • No-one has had an appraisal for four years
  • Health checks for food preparation operatives has not taken place for 18 months
  • Return to work checks are not carried out on staff, in particular when they return after a stomach upset. I’m sure you get my drift on this one when it concerns food prep and hygiene!
  • Fork lift audits have never been done!
  • There are no emergency procedures for the freezer and chiller rooms should someone be accidentally shut in
  • Morale needs seriously boosting after the struggles of the last two years and the staff cuts witnessed by those still remaining.

There is plenty to keep me going for a while I suspect, and it has definitely put me off of purchasing processed meals for life!

Mistletoe and whine!
Christmas kisses could land you in court – this is the message going out to employers with that ‘frisky’ time of the year approaching.

As a result of the new sex discrimination laws sweeping through the land, employers must now observe the latest strict workplace rules from Brussels. They are being warned to remove any risqué posters or calendars, curb office banter and sexual innuendo, ban the use of mistletoe at Christmas parties and any of the new breed of greetings cards which congratulate the recipient on a divorce or some such potentially sensitive event. There needs to be a clamp down on saucy whispers, suggestive winks and nudges and unwanted advances on their colleagues at social functions or they will face heavy damages in compensation.

In summary, organisations must provide a working environment free from victimisation and harassment on the grounds of sex.

However, the new definition of harassment does not just cover sexist behaviour. It spells out the way a person’s dignity can be violated by a hostile, degrading or offensive environment. That means anything from a lewd joke to ‘naughty greeting card’ could be used as evidence of sexual discrimination.

The legislation particularly focuses on the rights of pregnant women, making it clear that it is against the law to treat them less favourably on the grounds of their pregnancy or maternity leave.

The much broader offence of ‘sexual harassment’ is prohibited, which means that firms will be liable not only for direct sexual discrimination or intimidation, they could also face prosecution for gender harassment, such as storing equipment on a high shelf which can be reached only by tall men!

It is expected that these new rules will lead to a surge in employment tribunal claims as bosses become liable for any trifling evidence of harassment. One area which may commonly fall foul will be boozy lunches where people lose control and their tongues and brains may loosen up to the point of things being said and done which wouldn’t normally occur.

One expected effect is that the traditional company Christmas party will die out. Do you expect this might be the case within your own organisation? I’d be interested to know please.

Employees will also be able to get information about their bosses within eight weeks of the time they believe discrimination took place.

This will work in favour of both sexes, for example: if a man felt he had been discriminated on sex grounds when going before a promotion panel, he could ask for information on why someone else was promoted and what discrimination training had been given to panel members.

Would anyone like to share their thoughts with us on this subject, if so please send in your comments.

Well this is me signing off until the first week in November, so I hope you all have a great October. In the meantime:

Vital Stats:

  • Weight – 9 st 8 lbs (my wardrobe is getting a full airing again – it’s great)
  • Chocolate – Nil (I’ve plenty in my fridge, but am finding it so easy to ignore)
  • Wine – a few glasses of Shiraz with a hearty stew and dumplings (and, yes, my weight didn’t suffer)
  • Cider – two halves, as usual after golf
  • Boyfriends – ‘Rocket Ron’ is still going very well. He’s a dab hand in the kitchen and very tidy with his belongings – I like a tidy man! Enjoyed a lovely weekend together, dog walking, shopping, eating, drinking and snoozing (and maybe some smooching too, but I’m not telling too much)! Definitely watch this space as this guy is already declaring his love for me and wants to introduce me to his parents, daughters and friends. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this natural with someone – I’d forgotten how it could be for a while back there!
  • Deep thoughts – could I share my toothbrush holder with another person again?

Keep it simple everyone and enjoy your week ahead!

Sue

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