Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: I run a charity with ten staff and worry about the weight of employment legislation. Do I need an HR professional?

A: No, but I do have huge sympathy for you - many small and medium-sized enterprises are weighed down by red tape. Employment legislation seems to be a never-ending gravy train for lawyers.

Legislation already introduced this year includes rules on consulting staff as well as changes to maternity, paternity and adoption pay. More is to come in October with amendments to gender discrimination laws, and a revision of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (Tupe) is due next year. In the pipeline are proposals to extend minimum paternity and adoption leave from six months to nine, and flexible working rights for carers are to be extended.

We don't want to sound like reactionary old buffers, but the sheer weight of legislation is a problem. I know many chief executives are concerned that they may inadvertently fall foul of the law because they don't have HR experts on call. It's not just a question of knowing the legislation; we can sometimes be caught off guard by unexpected employment tribunal rulings.

There is no way an individual chief executive can know the rules of employment inside out, but you can learn how to manage the risk if you have sound policies and procedures in place and review them on a regular basis.

There are organisations that can assist. For example, Acevo makes use of the Work Foundation's employment helpline (020 7004 7373). We also subscribe to a service (free to charities) provided by our solicitors, Russell-Cooke, that alerts us to changes in the law and to significant tribunal rulings (www.russell-cooke.co.uk).

As you grow, you may need to think about getting an HR resource on your staff. You could combine this role in a wider resource remit - services or finance, for example. But be careful. Go for someone who is committed to organisational development, someone who understands the role of HR in promoting the organisation's delivery and customer focus. Don't hire process-driven HR people who think life is encompassed in 100-page staff handbooks and multiple form filling.

A word of warning. There is a danger that we get intimidated by the weight of employment legislation into introducing bureaucratic processes. We don't want to end up like bad local authorities with huge HR departments, voluminous staff handbooks and over-detailed processes. And we don't want to have a 'tick-box' approach to recruitment and selection.

Good employment practices are not just about knowing the facts. They are about good judgement, communication and diplomacy, and keeping a grip on good, old-fashioned common sense. HR is not rocket science.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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