Employment law training can help managers thrive

Out-Law Analysis | 18 Aug 2020 | 2:24 pm | 2 min. read

Developing a basic understanding of employment law and HR issues will help line managers to thrive in their role while creating a great place to work.

Most organisations would agree that the foundation of a great workplace is effective line management that is trusted and respected by employees. It is therefore a little surprising that, when it comes to a line manager's ability to handle people management issues or to influence and develop the culture within their teams, some organisations expect managers to have the confidence, knowledge and skills to do this well already built-in. A recent report by the CIPD found that 60% of surveyed line managers had not received any people management training.

Embley Trish

Trish Embley

Head of Client Training Employment

Managers who know what they will face if they ever find themselves in the witness box facing cross examination at an employment tribunal are more likely to take good, factually-based notes; to reflect on their decision making; and to check themselves for unconscious bias.

Often, a manager has been promoted because of their technical or operational expertise, not because of their ability or experience in managing people. Some are of course happy to supervise and to help develop the skills of those working under them, but others regard decision making relating to under-performance, attendance or behaviours as "HR's job".

Line managers do not need to become experts in the more technical aspects of employment law – that's where HR professionals deliver value. They do, however, need a basic understanding of what they can and can't do in order to operate, or at least start off, their organisation's HR procedures.

Managers' reluctance to get involved in people management issues often stems from a fear of 'getting it wrong'. This is perhaps understandable given the increase, in terms of both volume and complexity, or employment laws in recent years. Add to this the fear of being accused of harassment or bullying and any reluctance to tackle difficult conversations is heightened: in the CIPD report, 40% of surveyed employees who had experienced bullying and harassment at work said their line manager was responsible.

The answer is more training and support for line managers. That training needs to focus on practical application of the relevant laws as opposed to mere sharing of knowledge. Anyone can read a policy, but it is practical application that really tests whether a manager has a clear understanding of the principles of fairness and natural justice.

At the same time, managers who know what they will face if they ever find themselves in the witness box facing cross examination at an employment tribunal are more likely to take good, factually-based notes; to reflect on their decision making; and to check themselves for unconscious bias.

Changes to training methods introduced as part of the 'crisis response' to the coronavirus pandemic are likely to be retained, given the benefits to busy managers. Alternatives to traditional classroom-based training such as bite-size 'virtual' classroom sessions and e-learning followed by group discussions and follow-up 'action' learning sets require less of a time commitment for those whose time is precious, particularly when you consider the loss of travel time.

As the CIPD said in its report: "Managing people is a demanding job which typically comes with a host of other responsibilities ... Performing these on top of one's operational role can be challenging. Failure to provide managers with ongoing support, expertise and guidance makes the task even more daunting".