I want to be a good employer but the law won’t let me

It’s a stereotypical thing to do, but I spend a little time at the beginning of each year taking stock and looking over what has happened and what I want to make happen in the coming year. I have to say, I have got a lot of things I want to get done in 2008 and, depending on how much I can twist the editor’s arm, maybe some of these will be featured in Real Business magazine.

For now, though, one thing I am making a deliberate effort to learn more about is being a good employer. Like a few other entrepreneurs I know, I have never actually worked for anyone else, so I haven’t had the chance to learn by example.

Interviewing people is where the challenge starts. I just want to know a little bit about the person – what makes them tick, what they do that is individual to them, and so on. Right around this point, the ludicrous legislation steps in to make what seems an easy job quite a minefield.

Laws that are supposedly there to protect against discrimination mean that you can’t ask someone if they are married, how old they are or anything of any consequence. To me, this just turns an interview into a cagey event, with a steely atmosphere more suited to the Cold War. From speaking to others in the same boat, it is clearly not just me who thinks this. You have to wonder what system of logic is used to come up with these so-called “safeguards” against discrimination.

If you can pry enough information out of the interview to actually make a decision on employing someone, the fun really starts. Or, rather, it doesn’t if you want to stay within the law.

As is becoming clear from the various stories in the media, so many employers are finding themselves in hot water due to what often seem to be good-natured jokes and office banter. One example I noticed in the news recently was that of a policeman in Luton who had been involved in a Secret Santa draw and had been given a Muslim colleague to buy for.

A lot of the people apparently gave quirky or light-hearted gifts, and this guy bought some bacon and a bottle of wine for the Muslim PC. Despite the Muslim PC not wanting to make a complaint, such a fuss has been made by the police force that the man making the joke has had to resign.

Okay, so the joke is close to the bone but it’s no different to giving a Catholic condoms – and I would find any of the above pretty funny. It comes down to the fact that the police are so scared of being held accountable for employment issues that they overreact to anything that gets near discrimination. It’s these same laws that are causing businesses across the UK to become uptight and humourless.

You can contact me through the Real Business Facebook group or directly by emailing Richard@velocitydrinks.com.

To read more articles by Richard Baister, click here.

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