How will Labour’s Policies impact Employers

Ever Gluttons for Punishment Steve and Richard of Fair Job – examine #labour s policies through an employer’s lens – these aren’t yet manifesto (that’s expected later this week)
Essential viewing for all employers, no matter how small you are because there are some extraordinary implications for your business here. Next up – the Tories and Lib Dems

Another report highlighting serious issues with current EDI practices.

Hard and fast on the heels of the Department of Business and Trade’s report into EDI in the UK (March 2024) and the Free Speech Union’s Dynata Report (April 2024) The Policy Exchange has just published another report on the impact that EDI has had on the UK workplace, and like the previous reports, its conclusions are pretty damning. Steve Chilcott, Co Founder of Fair Job UK takes a closer look at the report and its implications:

More Analysis of EDI in the Workplace

Following years’ of increasing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives being undertaken across the workplace, 2024 appears to be the year in which this EDI march is being really scrutinised and evaluated. Over the last few months we have had an increasing trickle of reports and analyses into the impacts of EDI, and to date they are not providing a very positive picture. This week another report has come out showing the variable responses that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives can create within the workplace. The report shows that not all EDI initiatives are having positive impacts, and some are in fact creating quite negative reactions, including the use of some recruitment practices, the use of pronouns in the workplace and the taking up political positions by organisations. The report shows that people are actually most concerned themselves about discrimination against socioeconomic background and about accidentally causing offence at work.

The report which was published on 19 May 2024 was commissioned by the Policy Exchange, a London-based think tank which describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan educational charity whose mission is to develop and promote new policy ideas that will deliver better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy.” The survey was run by Deltapoll, an independent public opinion consultancy, and questioned approximately 2,000 UK adults between 3rd to 7th May 2024. 

The use of Pronouns

The report shows that a significant proportion of people do not respond well to an expectation to use pronouns at work. The survey asked “If you were asked to wear a badge with your personal pronouns displayed (i.e he/she/they), do you think having to wear a badge like this would make you more or less likely to want to continue working for a company?” A significant 43% said it would make them less likely to stay, with only 7% saying it would make them more likely to stay. A clear negative reaction to any enforcement of pronouns within the workplace.

The Recruitment Process

The report covered a number of different EDI aspects that are often used in the recruitment process. 75% of people felt that employers should appoint or promote the most qualified person for the job, without taking into account factors such as race or gender. Only 15% felt employers should appoint or promote people in a way that creates a diverse team which reflects the makeup of the UK. This clearly indicates that recruitment decisions based purely on merit are considered by the majority to be correct.

Employers frequently like to include grand statements on their values within their recruitment materials such as job adverts. When comparing a customer service delivery value against an ethical EDI statement, the majority preferred the customer service delivery statement.  61% preferred “We are passionately committed to delivering excellent customer service and always doing right by our customers. You will be joining a skilful and driven team united by a commitment to fostering innovation and strong partnerships”. Just 28% preferred “We are an ethical company who always prioritise creating a diverse and inclusive space for everyone. We encourage all employees to bring their whole self to work and provide regular empowerment training sessions, workshops and events. We are particularly seeking applications from women, people from an ethnic minority background and people from the LGBT+ community.”

A statement that many employers now make is that their organisation operates a ‘take your whole self to work’ policy. 51% did feel such a policy can create a more open working environment where everyone is free to express their views, though 24% felt that in practice, such a policy can create a less open working environment in which only some views are accepted.

The survey questioned perceptions around applicant success in recruitment processes.  59% believed that when a male and female with the same qualifications and experience apply for the same job, they both have the same likelihood of getting the job. Unfortunately 10% thought the female is more likely to get the job and 25% the man.

When considering recruitment of different ethnicities with the same qualifications and experience, 53% felt ethnic minority and white candidates will have the same likelihood of getting the job, 17% believe the ethnic minority candidate will have a higher likelihood of getting the job and 23% believe the white candidate will have a higher likelihood. When Asian and White individuals were asked this question their answers were reasonably the same. Black individuals however, felt the likelihood of White applicants being successful was much higher at 45%.

A concerning 34% felt that in their workplace, people are sometimes hired or promoted to meet diversity and inclusion objectives, rather than in the best interests of the company. That worryingly rose to 44% when Black individuals responded.

So even though a significant proportion of people feel recruitment processes are fair on the front of both sex and ethnicity, there are not insignificant proportions of people who believe that their can be favouritism to both the group who may be considered to be historically favoured but also to the group who may have been historically discriminated against, i.e. women and ethnic minorities.

Organisational Political Viewpoints

The survey asked if an organisation publicly shared specific political viewpoints, how this would impact people’s views of them, specifically whether it would impact their decision to buy the organisation’s products. On each of the examples given, the lowest level of response given was that the expressed view would have a positive impact, increasing the likelihood of people buying the organisation’s products. In most of the examples, the proportion of people stating the expression of the view would have a negative impact on their likelihood of buying the organisation’s products is slightly higher than the positive impact. For each example, by far the largest response was that it would have no impact. The overall impacts considering the negative and positive impacts collectively are all negative, with the exception of BLM which has a very small overall impact of +1%.

More likely(a)Less likely(b)No differenceOverall impact(a – b)
Support for racial targets or quotas in their workforce16%21%51%– 5%
Opposition to Govt policy of reducing immigration15%24%48%– 9%
Support for Black Lives Matter21%20%50%+ 1%
Support for a Palestinian State16%20%47%– 4%
Support for transgender rights17%22%52%– 5%

The above results therefore suggest that the expression of political views is unlikely overall to have any positive impact on commercial success. In fact when asked, 50% of those surveyed felt that businesses have become too concerned with taking political positions on contested issues. Only 14% disagreed and felt they have not.

EDI Training

When asked whether some of their working time is wasted by training or other activities related to EDI, 28% felt that it was, 35% felt it wasn’t a waste of time, though 37% expressed no view. Not an overwhelming endorsement of EDI training.

Other EDI initiatives

28% felt that in their workplace, managers are too sensitive to complaints by employees who are women or ethnic minorities, though 29% disagreed that they’re too sensitive. However, a much higher proportion, 51% of Black staff felt managers are too sensitive. 

Socioeconomic background is often discussed less than the legally defined protected characteristics. However, the survey tells us that a number of people feel that in the workplace you are more likely to be discriminated against for having a working class accent than because of your ethnicity. 30% agreed with this statement and 24% disagreed, though a higher proportion, 43% of Black staff agreed that a working class accent can be discriminated against more than ethnicity.

If an employer organises regular events to celebrate and champion causes like LGBT+ Pride and Black Lives Matter, 31 % think this is more likely to make everyone (or most) feel welcome at the company. However, 22% think this will make it clear to some employees that certain types of views are not allowed at the company.

A concerning 49% stated that they sometimes avoid saying professionally legitimate things at work for fear of not being sufficiently politically correct or of accidentally causing offence. This rose to an incredible 71% for Black staff.  46% said they rarely or never avoided saying things for fear of being politically correct or of accidentally causing offence, but only 28% Black staff.


Organisations need to thoroughly evaluate their own EDI initiatives, ensuring they understand exactly what their desired outcomes are and then carefully evaluate the initiatives against those desired outcomes. They must pay particular attention to other potential consequences to EDI initiatives, particularly unintended consequences. This latest report, and others, are showing that the actual impact of EDI initiatives can be the very opposite of what is intended. Employers must take care that initiatives are not just performative but actively achieve the desired outcomes.  

Might the enforced use of pronouns actually make many people less likely to stay with their employer? Are all recruitment decisions made purely on merit? Different staff will have different perceptions on the fairness of recruitment, often polar opposite perceptions. Making grand statements, for example that you are an ethical, diverse and inclusive organisation does not impress many. Organisations making political statements appear to result in no positive increase in customers, in fact can deter customers. Many people have concerns that socioeconomic background is actually more likely to be discriminated against in today’s workplace, rather than protected characteristics such as ethnicity, including amongst ethnic minority staff themselves.  And finally, we are again seeing that many people are generally worried about what they say at work, and even avoid saying professionally legitimate things at work for fear of not being politically correct or accidentally causing offence – a culture of anxiety and treading on eggshells. This is felt considerably more by Black staff.

The Ban on ‘Some’ Civil Service EDI Jobs

By Steve Chilcott

It was announced over the weekend that ‘Minister for Common Sense’, Esther McVey, will today (Monday 13 May 2024) say in a speech that public money is being wasted on “woke hobby horses” across Whitehall. She is therefore set to announce a banning of any new roles across the Civil Service which are solely devoted to EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) and which are outside of human resources.  

McVey, who is a Cabinet Office minister without portfolio, also stated over the weekend in an article published in the Sunday Telegraph, that “all EDI roles within the Civil Service will be consolidated into their department’s HR teams, and Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries will ensure that these teams are focused on their statutory obligations around EDI – the things we are legally required to do which have a proven benefit, not unproven diversity work which has no basis in law.”

New guidance is also being developed that will stop all external EDI spending across the Civil Service unless it is signed off and pre authorised by Government Ministers.

Arms-length bodies that spend the most on external EDI will be called in for meetings with the Minister to account for how their EDI work benefits taxpayers. McVey, stated in the Sunday Telegraph article that the public sector must not become a “pointless job creation scheme for the politically correct”.

The MP for Tatton in Cheshire also stated that the amount of staff time taken up by diversity programmes was “a major concern”. “Time and money which should be spent on the core purpose of the public sector – delivering for the public – is being wasted on woke hobby horses of activist employees.

“Most of these kinds of EDI programmes – especially when delivered by private companies or campaigning organisations – are not transparent, and their benefits unproven. If we can’t prove their worth, then they don’t pass the public interest test. So I’m determined to stop it.”

McVey also highlighted that diversity should be more about differences in opinion than other characteristics, and that the service should be about ‘merit’ first and foremost. 

Fair Job UK welcomes these steps to de-politicise the Civil Service, something at the very heart of our mission to help all employers take politics out of the workplace and focus on their core aims. Clearly, the Civil Service is a good example, where there has been significant back-door politicisation’ of the service which now requires a significant shake up. We also welcome the statements regarding the importance of both diversity of opinion and of meritocracy. 

Multiple reports, including the report produced by the Government’s own ‘Inclusion at Work’ panel, have shown that so many EDI initiatives are being run without any evidence base for their content, without evaluation of their impact and which are frequently having negative impact on the workforce. It showed EDI interventions are frequently proving to be polarising, counterproductive and even unlawful, misapplying equalities legislation. 

Fair Job UK particularly welcomes the greater scrutiny of the provision of EDI initiatives and training by external providers, which we believe has had little scrutiny and can cause the most damage. EDI interventions can be incredibly polarising and present unlawful perspectives and ideological dogma as unchallenged fact. We know that both critical race theory and gender ideology have both become ever present core aspects of much EDI training and initiatives in recent years. The application of these theories has been challenged in a number of employment tribunals. These tribunals have found that the detrimental treatment that those who have been brave enough to challenge the theories have been exposed to, has been unlawful

We don’t believe that all EDI is bad. It is hugely important that workplaces are completely free of discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Every possible step should be taken to eradicate these and prevent them from happening in the workplace. People should be confident that they are able to work within their roles free from being bullied, harassed or treated with anything other than trust and respect.

We note that even though the Cabinet Office has declined to reveal the number of non-HR staff in the Civil Service who currently work solely on EDI, the Inclusion at Work report stated that based on Freedom of Information requests to 6,000 public authorities, there are an incredible estimated 10,000 EDI jobs in total across the entire public sector, at a cost of £557 million a year to the UK taxpayer.

It is not currently clear why the Minister’s ban on new EDI roles is only in relation to those which sit outside of HR departments, or why the huge number of existing filled roles is not being tackled. We believe that the majority of existing roles already sit within and report to HR teams. This announcement may therefore have little actual impact on the current status quo.

Though the Government’s message of greater scrutiny on EDI in the Civil Services is certainly welcome, we await to see the actual impact.

The End of Workplace Groupthink?

Groupthink in the workplace has been studied at length, indeed, we have known about it for at least fifty years, have studied it, categorised it and even given it a name: The Abilene Paradox. Management training used to warn CEOs and managers about it and how to identify it and prevent it. So why on earth is it rife in just about every employer in the country?

“Can you help us with our HR team, they are out of control?”

This incident was related to us by a senior HR Consultant. The question was from a CEO of a large public sector employer. The scenario was that the CEO and board in question, was getting increasingly concerned about their HR Department which appeared to be neglecting its primary duties and rather pushing radical ideological agendas on the employees and enforcing compliance by creating a false consensus around those agendas. The situation was causing huge unrest and resentment among the staff, engagement and productivity were at rock bottom and multiple grievances had been raised by Employees holding religious faiths. The brief was to find out what was going on and fix it.

Since the Cass Report was published there has been a slow dawning among senior leaders that the policies and training that exists in their organisations may be contributing to the fractures in employer/employee relations and relations between colleagues, causing serious issues for workplace harmony and productivity. Increasingly. leaders are worried and are looking for solutions to what appears to have been an over reach by their HR Departments. Such concerns are now in the mainstream press with almost daily articles highlighting the problem as in today’s FT

None of us are any stranger to cancellation culture and it’s only the most disingenuous or ignorant who deny it is a problem. We’re very aware of the public figures who have been on the end of various campaigns. Break with the New Orthodoxies, be they Gender Self ID or Public Health Mandates, even if you are already an expert in these fields, and expect to be cancelled as a heretic and beyond contempt. When Nobel Prizewinners are treated in such a way, what chance does a delivery driver for a supermarket have? Or a nurse? Or a teacher? Or a plumber or joiner for that matter?

The thing is, it is one thing to go after a public figure, it is quite another to go after someone without a public platform through which they can defend themselves. There is a general air of disquiet in the corporate world at the moment as Directors, business leaders and CEOs across the private and public sector, are waking up to the fact that their organisation has and is essentially persecuting employees for personal opinions and beliefs.

With the CIPD, the organisation which ostensibly manages HR Professional Qualifications, appearing to be obsessed with every social justice cause to the extent that it has woven them into the fabric of everything it does, it is hardly surprising that HR Departments are enthusiastically inflicting Unconscious Bias training and other highly controversial and divisive ideas onto their workers. Often HR Managers themselves are too afraid to speak out, too afraid to challenge the consensus and to point out that it is not the role of HR to socially engineer their employees. An atmosphere of fear permeates the world of employment, say the wrong thing and you will also be condemned. This even affects the most powerful and is why our CEO clients typically only want to engage in the strictest confidence.

Cancel culture, be it imposed on a public figure or a normal person, requires confirmation bias bubbles to exist. When it happens there is no cool head saying ‘now wait a minute, folks’, just a headlong rush to stone the heretic. Such bubbles develop their own manufactured consensus and then project that onto society, ‘just because we all agree it must be true.’ It’s made worse as when cool heads interject, they find themselves accused of the same heresies. We’re interested in how this impacts the workplace so how does this happen?

A reasonable issue arises – let’s say gay rights and the anti bullying policies of the organisation are initially written to reflect this, legally you cannot discriminate against someone based on sexuality so it is perfectly in order to ensure that employees don’t abuse or discriminate against gay colleagues. Such was the case for a good few years after the Equality Act 2010 went live. Parliament has ruled and as a society we no longer allow such discrimination in law. Settled. But then, around 2015, the idea of ‘allyship’ started to enter the discourse, driven by activists working for (often publicly funded charities) it was no longer sufficient to be merely accepting of gay colleagues, no, you now had to be an active ally, often to the embarrassment of those same colleagues. Allyship, believed by many to be the ‘right thing to do’ gets added to the consensus, confirmed by the bubble of peers, cooler heads are terrified into nodding along.

I can recall working in an HR department in an NHS Trust in 2017. Pride Newcastle was coming up and the Trust was giving staff time off to prepare for it and encouraging employees to attend Pride to show solidarity. I had been out of the corporate HR world for a few years and was quite shocked that it was implied that whilst you were entitled not to attend, if you did not attend then it would be seen as a black mark against you. That such a position by the employer was in direct conflict with their own Bullying and Harassment Policy and also opened them up to religious discrimination claims from Employees, didn’t seem to have crossed the minds of those driving ‘allyship’, including the HR Director herself and the threat was allowed to stand, unchallenged.

Some employers even knit ‘allyship’ with ‘minority groups’ as a ‘corporate behaviour’ that needs to be adopted and demonstrated to gain promotion within an organisation. Again, if any employee can make a link between their not demonstrating ‘allyship’ because it is against their faith and that failure to do this cost them a promotion, the employer has a bit of a problem.

This has been going on for years: MeToo, Corporate Environmentalism, Brexit, BLM, even public health policies surrounding Covid. Employers are increasingly taking the position that it is their role to ensure that their employees are ideologically aligned. Confirmation bias bubbles are also driving false consensus over political issues, like Trump or the Tory government. 

Brexit was a good one. After Brexit, a family member of mine was attending a Global Town Hall via Zoom. Her employer at the time was a large global American corporation with operations around the world. During the Town Hall the CEO expressed hostility towards the Brexit vote, implying that those who voted for Brexit were frightful racists and how fortunate they were that none of them worked for the company. This prompted a bit of a backlash from a disappointingly small number of employees who pointed out to the UK HR Team that as a majority of British voters had voted for Brexit it was not beyond the grounds of imagination to consider that some British employees also voted for Brexit and that the big boss, an American who knew little about the nuances of the arguments around Brexit, effectively accused them all of racism. An embarrassed UK HR Director raised this to the American CEO who was ‘genuinely shocked’ that he may have upset employees and apologised. (There were some who thought that he was actually shocked that he had such people working for his business, but we will leave that for conjecture). My point is that here was an American CEO, so fixed in his confirmation bias thinking that he thought it was appropriate to opine on the Brexit result, not in the legitimate: “how will this impact our business moving forward and what do we need to do to manage any risk or take any opportunities” but to personally attack those who voted for Brexit? This would never have happened even 10 years ago.

The answer is complex but it has a lot to do with groupthink confirmation bias bubbles. “It must be right because 99% of people who agree with me think it is right” is the logic. Those of us in the world of management theory call this The Abilene Paradox, more on that below. So that CEO he was so convinced by his confirmation bias bubble that 1/ Brexit voters were racists and 2/ his business, of course, would never employ anyone like that! That he felt confident enough to consciously add it into his annual speech to his global employees and, here’s the thing: nobody called him out on it before he spoke! And this was because his entire UK management team, who unironically have been inflicting Unconscious Bias training on their staff, either agreed with him. “Oh yes, Your Imperial Highness, those clothes have such a wonderful cut!”. Or were too intimidated to challenge him. 

The thing is that none of this is new. The dangers of ‘groupthink’ have been known to the management world for at least fifty years and were outlined and defined by Jerry B. Hartley in his article: The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement (1974 Organizational Dynamics). The Abilene Paradox is a collective fallacy, in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of most or all individuals in the group, while each individual believes it to be aligned with the preferences of most of the others. It is becoming increasingly obvious that manufactured consensus, driven by what I’ve described above, is creating the conditions for the Abilene Paradox.

In 2008 this was further explored in “The Abilene Paradox After Thirty Years: A Global Perspective” published in IEEE Engineering Management Review; and the conclusions  warned organisational leaders of the dangers of the paradox and how to spot it and identified five components:

  1.  The first component refers to mutual agreement of a group that the current situation is not acceptable. However, on the individual level, the members may be satisfied with the existing setting after they have compared it with proposed alternatives.
  2. The second component stands for ineffective communication within the group when several members express considerable support for a decision because they assume that is the desire of others. This process of communication reinforces assumptions that individual thoughts are a minority in the group.
  3. The third component of the Abilene Paradox is the vocalisation of group sentiment which arose from inaccurate assumptions or incorrect interpretation of the “signals” given by other members.
  4. The fourth component refers to the decision-maker’s reflections on the actions taken, usually in the form of questions as follows: “Why did we do this?”, “How can we justify our decision to others?”.
  5. The fifth component refers to the defeat of the group leader to poor decision making in order to avoid making similar decisions in the future. 

There are several factors that may indicate the presence of the Abilene Paradox in the decision-making process:[4]

  • Leaders who publicly do not fear the unknown. Such arrogance leads them to go along as they do not possess sufficient understanding of complex problems. Rather, they stick to the “that sounds good to me” attitude.
  • A group with no-conflict or no-debate type of decision-making. When such views are supported in the cohort, the lack of diverse opinions becomes the foundation for mismanagement of agreement. This can be visible by the emergence of the “I will go along with that” attitude.
  • Overriding leaders and a strong organisation culture. A strong leader and solid organisation may become a powerful asset, it may also intimidate other members of subordinates to the point of submission. This results in the inclination of supporting more dominant ideas.
  • Lack of diversity and pluralistic perspective in a group. Homogeneous groups tend to be conformal. Such groups tend to achieve consensus rather than searching for the “right” decision.
  • Recognition of a dysfunctional decision-making environment. Management in this environment has lost control, as the directional prerogative of management has succumbed to wanting to be liked by avoiding conflict.
  • The feeling of a “messiah” in the organisation and action anxiety on the part of management. When the group handles complex tasks, there is usually one person or a small cohort within the group who has required expertise to manage in this situation. As a result, there is a tendency to acquiesce to them.
  • The development of a “spiral of silence” in the organisation. The spiral of silence occurs when one’s perception of the majority opinion in the organisation suppresses one’s willingness to express any challenging opinion against the most visible point of view.[4]

There are ample examples of where the Abilene Paradox has played havoc from the Watergate Scandal to the Hillsborough Tragedy and subsequent cover up. Yet there are countless examples playing out in the workplace today. So why, given we know the Abilene Paradox is a real issue, have organisations been ignoring it? Well, firstly it isn’t taught to HR people unless they have been to an excellent business school, therefore, they may be disquieted and have concerns but lack the knowledge to elevate the issue to risk, concerns are easily dismissed, risks – not so much. Secondly, the idea of the Abilene Paradox has been somewhat replaced by the Orwellian idea of ‘Groupthink’ this is because the majority of people pointing out that we have the Paradox in our society are not trained in management theories, they are cultural commentators writing for the general public and therefore apply Orwell’s ‘newspeak’ word to define it. And ‘Groupthink’ is an excellent definition. However, it doesn’t do us any favours in the workplace because all too often those referring to “Groupthink’ as a concept are dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Orwell is possibly both the most over quoted and erroneously appropriated writer and as a result quoting him can be dismissed as hyperbolic, even though his conclusion is valid.

The Abilene Paradox is a far more valuable and powerful definition of the phenomenon as it manifests in organisations because it specifically breaks down how it happens and most importantly, what to watch out for.

This is why CEOs and Directors are asking for direct support, outside their own HR Teams. How do you know your policies and training, implemented by management enthralled to the Abilene Paradox. don’t inadvertently directly or indirectly discriminate against employees? 

This is why FairJob UK has set up its Corporate Services, a confidential support service for boards of large employers, to ensure that their HR Policies and Training courses are both lawful and do not discriminate or isolate any employees. In an era where we all sit in confirmation bias bubbles it has never been more important for business leaders and employers to constantly check that the Abilene Paradox does not exist in their organisational decision making and if it does, remove it. How does the Emperor know he is actually wearing any clothes if there is no one there to tell him, especially if the tailors gaslight him?

Fair Job UK on the Telly

On Andrew Doyle’s Free Speech Nation, GB News on Sunday 28th April 2024, Co Founder of Fair Job UK, Steve Chilcott discusses the devastating impact EDIC (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Climate) training has had on the British Workplace with Andrew Doyle and introduces Fair Job UK’s services.

Steve Chilcott, Co Founder of Fair Job UK discusses how EDI Training is causing huge problems in the UK workplace on Andrew Doyle’s Free Speech Nation 28/4/24

The burden of HR is becoming impossible for the small to medium business sector.

I remember sitting in my father in law’s office. I was a spotty 30 year old executive so this would have been around 2001. We were discussing HR, the bane of his life. He ran an oil and gas Engineering Recruitment Business and was bemoaning that he increasingly had to work with HR teams rather than the managers he used to supply to and there was a serious gap in the technical and market knowledge of the HR recruiters who typically had never even seen an oil rig or well, let alone understood how they worked. This was one of the periods in the industry when corporate procurement teams decide that staffing can be commoditised so they write large contracts with the likes of Capita and…well… we all know what happens. Eventually they realise this doesn’t work before going back to basics only for the same to creep in over the next 5 to 10 years. Over the thirty or so years of my career I have seen this cycle rinse and repeat again and again.

Anyway, at the time, he pointed to a shelf on the wall of his office – there, in all their glory, was a dust covered series of bound volumes of papers from Croners. This was the HR bible for small businesses. If you needed any help or advice, you’d simply reach for Croners and the answer would be there. Every month, Croners would post out update pages and you would swap out the old ones for the new.

My father in law only opened Croners when he was hiring someone or managing sick leave. Mostly they remained closed, only ever opened monthly when his PA would swap out the old for the updates.

Then, around 2010, when the Equality Act came in we started to see an increase in the amount of time, but also the amount of expertise required to navigate HR. Croner’s volumes were no longer sufficient.  A new breed of service provider emerged – the freelance HR Consultant, offering services to small businesses. Since then the burden has continued to increase. The paradox here being that the laws and administrative functions required to comply with them have pretty much all been designed for larger employers with the in house specialists to manage. The paradox being that the majority of British workers work in Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which are under 250 and unlikely to have such expertise in house.

Now none of this is necessarily unusual, anyone running a small business knows that  the lobbying power of big business has seen a huge increase in the burden of bureaucracy, this was a particular feature of the EU. It is in the interest of big business to increase the burden of statutory administration, knowing that smaller competitors cannot afford to implement it. Sadly, Parliament has proven remiss in protecting the Small Business Sector and those entrusted to represent us have been less than on top of this. The culmination being the open favouring of big businesses over small during the lockdowns and the largest transfer of wealth in history.

So back to HR in small businesses. We know that the introduction of Equity/Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policies, driven by activist organisations and ESG policies has backfired on the British Economy. The figures are in supported by the Dynata Survey data from the Free Speech Union  and the Department For Business and Trade report in March 2024 .

However, employers continue to push these policies and demand compliance from their workforce. As I highlighted in my article last week, this is having serious real world consequences to the tune of several hundred thousand losing their jobs for essentially having the ‘wrong opinions’. ESG initiatives have EDI baked into them – if a large business wants funding from somewhere like Blackrock, then they need to agree to implement ESG as a condition of the funding. This inevitably means driving EDI and other ‘initiatives’ down the supply chain. Supply paper clips to a FTSE250? Well you now need to show you have a raft of policies in your business, no matter how small, including EDI and EDI training. It’s the same in the public sector and it is all very well for Kemi Badenoch to highlight the problems with this but NHS trusts and others in the public sector are pushing the same to their suppliers.

This is how EDI is pushed into small businesses. It’s usually done by buying ‘off the shelf’ training or bringing in an EDI consultancy, usually staffed by activists,  which then quickly trains the staff in ideologies like Critical Race Theory and Radical Trans Allyship. As the government report quoted above highlights, training EDI is extremely complex and it is very easy, through lack of time or resources, to get it wrong and for it to backfire horribly on your business leading to the devastating number of sackings and other negative outcomes. This is how 65% of British workers report that they have been trained in EDI despite most British workers working in SMEs.

How on earth are Small Businesses meant to navigate all this without time and resources. Furthermore, if they have inadvertently damaged their business by, with the best intentions, implementing EDI which has destroyed employee and colleague relationships, how on earth can you fix this?

Employment legislation and small businesses – the problem

We hear an increasing volume of complaints from small business owners that the implementation of the vast amount of legislation and statutory processes concerning the employment of workers is taking up more and more time. Furthermore, it is hugely complex and the consequences of an error, even an innocuous one, can have serious implications.

No one wants to go back to the bad old days where job security and employees’ rights were pipe dreams. However, the dominance of big business, NGOs and Corporates in the corridors of power means that the practical application of these laws, and the legal processes once they are initiated, are more aimed for those with the resources of large, specialist HR departments and the legal budgets to match.

The worrying ruling of Nolan vs Fairchild earlier this month, gives a case law that seems to suggest that the interactions between colleagues, employer and employee are to be micromanaged, the consequences of getting this wrong could result in an Employer losing a future Employment Tribunal. A misplaced comment, or angry remark when tired could trigger this. Read Professor David McGrogan’s detailed analysis of this here .

What was interesting about this case was the unspoken attitude of the Judges. There seems to be a blithe assumption that those who employ others are a combination of millionaire exploiter robber baron strawman and have access to vast resources and expertise to defend their corner. Yes, Employee Liability Insurance does provide some of the latter. But it doesn’t provide the cover for the impact of fighting a Tribunal on a very small business. The stress, the very public examination of your character, the time lost from the day job, the disruption in the workplace with other employees; none of this is covered.

We have already discussed that any decision to fight any Employment Tribunal should be carefully considered and professionals consulted. That, although it can gall every nerve in the body, occasionally settlement is the lesser of two evils. We have already recommended that it is a general rule, as it is in all business matters, to nip things in the bud long before they get anywhere near a court of any sort.

The problem is that ensuring you have all the ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed viz Employment Law and the Equality Act and others and ensured that all colleagues and managers understand their obligations, is a serious and taxing task for anyone, let alone someone who is just trying to run a guesthouse or local shop.

It is absurd that a tea room should have to contest an Employment Tribunal under the same terms as an NHS Trust, but that is where we are. Of course employees should have a recourse to justice but the method of that justice must be appropriate for the resources and size of the employer. Dragging Employers halfway across the country to contest a tribunal when the technology exists to do this over video is simply absurd.

There is a gap between how Employment Law is administrated and the actual employment market it is there to administer. As Napoleon said 200 years ago, we are still a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ most people work in SMEs – businesses under 250 people. Yet our machinery of Employment Justice is set up for large employers and the majority of those working within it have little or no experience of running a small business themselves.

Until this matter changes, SMEs will just have to muddle along. We can help with this. Get in touch for more information.

EDI has broken my business

Increasingly we are seeing situations where the implementation of well meaning Equality/Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity policies and training is destroying workplace harmony and the relationships necessary to run any successful employer. This is a particularly serious situation in small businesses (SMEs in the UK so under 250 employees) where a single activist employee can cause huge problems for the business.

We’ve come across situations where employees have refused to work because they disagree politically with the owner. Where demands to fire colleagues have been made because they are deemed to be racists, homophobes, transphobes or ‘far right’. We have seen large employers appease these mobs and terminate staff for simply expressing opinions they have a legal right to hold and express.

In a small business this can be catastrophic, so, how do you make sure that this doesn’t happen to yours, and, if it does, what do you do about it?

Fair Job UK is an accreditation scheme and HR consultancy. Our members agree to a Pledge and a Code. A Pledge that they will treat their employees in a fair way within the law and a Code of Conduct that employees will agree to honour the pledge and in return, stick to the job and keep the politics out of the workplace. We also have suites of policies to allow you to bake this into your workplace paperwork.

But what do you do if relations have completely broken down? Well, we are here to help, our experts have a lot of experience in managing these sorts of situations and depending how far things have gone, it may be a simple matter of advice. However, should you need legal or specialist HR support we can put you in touch.

Another method we would recommend is Dr Dina McMillan’s video courses Dina is a Social Psychologist specialising in rewinding some of the misconceptions your employees may have about EDI. She does this through easy to absorb video sessions but can also provide bespoke remedial sessions when required.

Access to Dina’s material is part of a Fair Job UK Membership and Pledged Members will get access to a suite of quick videos to help you. Higher level support and training is available for Accredited Members and Dina can also provide bespoke support on request. We cannot recommend here enough.

When and when not to fight an Employment Tribunal

It is unfortunate that those running smaller businesses these days are expected to understand employment law and the Equality Act inside out, and have the funds to bankroll long and extensive litigation with former employees.

Unfortunately, there is a misconception in government and in the courts that private businesses are bottomless wells, this is because laws are often formed on the assumption that an employee works for a major global corporate or a large public sector organisation. The reality is that most people in the UK work in small businesses so there is a gap between the law and the people it is there to serve.

If you add the prevalence of no win no fee employment lawyers who will sometimes encourage claimants on ‘fishing’ exercises to see what change they can get out of a threatening letter to an employer and the number of judges in the Employment Tribunal service who appear to think that their job is to debate the nuances of the Equality Act and defend the ‘oppressed’ worker against the nasty, greedy business owner. One of the issues here is that all to often those who make these judgements have no experience of running a small business or employing anyone, certainly recently.

The reality is that it is all too easy to pick up Employment Tribunal complaints these days. I have lost count of the number of claims I have defended clients from where an employee has been say, fired for Gross Misconduct and then, within a few weeks you get a claim letter from a solicitor claiming discrimination. Laws, written for good reasons, sometimes assume that those using them will only do so when they have an actual case, all to often they are abused by bad actors and chancers.

As the consequences of losing an ET can be existential for a small business, not to mention 2 years of stress and hell, of having your character questioned in Tribunal, of having your finances drained to the point that you literally cannot continue to trade, it is imperative that you do what you can to a) not get into an ET scenario and b) if you do, to consider, very carefully, if this is a fight you wish to have.

So let’s look at a) This is why it is imperative to ensure your employees know exactly what is expected of them, have a sound employment contract and also you have a suite of policies that ensure that they behave in a reasonable manner. The Fair Job UK Pledge and Code are designed to ensure that the employer/employee relationship does not collapse to the point of litigation, to encourage all parties to respect each other’s rights, to ensure that employees understand the pressure and reality of running a small business and to give you access to a third party professional who can diffuse any situation.

b) when to fight and when not to fight. It is a common myth that you will get justice in any court or tribunal. You may be fortunate, however, you may equally be unlucky. Unfortunately justice never pans out like on the telly, even when you have the right of it and the evidence is in your favour, you can lose on a technicality. That loss can be catastrophic. Here’s a question: why do large employers rarely lose Employment Tribunals? I’ll let you into a secret, it isn’t because they they don’t pick up claims, all employers do. It isn’t because sometimes they treat worker appallingly, they do. It is because they ensure that the case never gets to Tribunal by agreeing a compromise agreement between the worker and the employer. This usually takes the form of a payment in return for a settlement where both parties agree not to take action against each other.

Whilst it can hurt the soul to make a payment to someone who does not deserve it, sometimes it can be the less painful of options. When you consider the stress and costs of fighting a tribunal as an employer, it’s ten time worse as a small employer, sometimes discretion can be the better part of valour. This can be against every fibre in your body, when you scream at the injustice, and we understand that. However, we also know the odds and the risks and we can help you make this decision and advise and negotiate on your behalf. The most important thing to do is to talk it through with a professional before you make any decision. That’s what we are here for.

HR is becoming a major headache for small businesses

If you run a small business (in the UK that’s any under 250 employees) then the chances are you are spending an inordinate amount of your time addressing HR issues. This seems to be getting worse since 2020. The problem is that it is very difficult to ignore these issues as the consequences can be existential for your business.

The last 10 years have seen an overspill into the workplace of ideas that used to be kept within academia. Black Lives Matter, Trans Rights, Covid, Discrimination at Work, MeToo and legislation like the Equality Act 2010 have all impacted the workplace. Large organisations have been falling over themselves to implement HR policies to reflect these societal issues. This is creating an expectation, not just with employees but with society in general, that small businesses and employers should do the same. The problem is that small businesses do not have the expertise to address these issues.

On top of this, it is not like large employers get this right. Over the last few years we have seem multiple occasions where large employers have broken the Employment Act or the Equality Act in shoehorning ‘woke’ policies onto employees, undermining their Rights as protected by both laws.

The thing is: there is no requirement to have an Equality/Equity Diversity and Inclusion Policy in your business. There’s no legal obligation to train your staff in it either. Yes, some of you will be supplying to NHS Trusts and other organisations that make such policies a pre requisite of supplying, however, there’s no obligation to implement policies that include radical interpretations of EDI.

FairJob UK is here to help small businesses navigate this minefield. It is completely unfair that small businesses are expected to spend inordinate amounts of time on this and we believe that all small businesses should have access to affordable, robust support to help manage this burden. You are not alone.

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