Most small businesses hope to take on staff, sooner or later. Being in a position to recruit is a positive sign of growth. You’re no longer a “small” business – you’re an employer, bringing on staff who will become valuable assets to your business and help you to grow still further. On the downside, recruiting staff can become a legal nightmare for the unprepared and unwary – employment tribunal compensation for, for example, a discrimination or unfair dismissal claim can prove very expensive indeed.
So how does employment law affect small businesses hoping to take on staff? The first thing you need to consider is what type of staff you’re looking to recruit. This very much depends on what you want them for. If you’ve just landed a major contract or ongoing business, then you’ll need permanent staff. If you’re looking to meet seasonal demand, or need to provide temp cover for a position during holiday or maternity leave, then you’ll probably be looking for fixed-term contract or temporary workers. These different types of employee each have their own special legal requirements which it is your responsibility to meet.
Permanent workers need to be employed under a contract. This is open-ended, in the sense that it has no end-date, and can only be terminated by one or other of the parties serving notice. The contract is a written statement of all the terms and conditions of the post, and applies to both full-time and part-time positions.
Fixed-term employees, as the name implies, are brought on for a fixed length of time, or to work on a specific project. Their contract will naturally have an end-date (although they may be re-employed on a different contract, of course). Temporary workers tend to be employed by the agency who supplies them, but are still covered by employment law whilst they are in your charge.
Small businesses are most likely to need to legal help when it comes to drafting contracts and to understand the law governing terms and conditions. However, it’s important to remember that you have legal responsibilities right from the beginning of the recruitment process. For example, you need to make sure that your advertising and interviewing policies meet with equality and anti-discrimination legislation – or risk an eventually very expensive employment tribunal claim. As always, it’s vital that you don’t leave anything to chance, and seek professional legal advice from specialist employment solicitors if you’re in the slightest doubt.