Hide and Seek

“Hide and seek the general manager” – can’t see it usurping the traditional form of the game, but nevertheless, we have plenty of fun playing it in the Gap HR office.

Here’s how it works:

  1. We hear from a client that they are moving. So far, so straightforward.
  2. Obviously, we hope to continue the relationship with that client, but it also presents an opportunity – who has just left, and where are they going?
  3. The search begins. We look on the new website. LinkedIn. The out-of-office messages from our weekly emails.

Sounds easy, and it should be.

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Cowardy custard?

We’ve had two new clients sign up on retainer this week, both with really meaty staff issues; the kind we really like to get our teeth into.

There’s something else they have in common – both were already paying retainers to other HR companies when they approached us and asked us to help them with their HR.

And as it turned out, it would have been just as effective for them to set the money on fire as it was to send it to the HR companies in question.

Because when tricky staff issues come along, the pretenders get found out.

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The most failed question

We’re recruiting at the moment – a steady stream of new clients over the last few months means we need to grow our team.

Our recruitment process is pretty hardcore: after all, the person we hire will be giving advice to our clients, which means it’s got to be spot on.

As part of the process, we ask a lot of HR questions, and there’s one question that candidates keep failing – when they do, it’s a pretty big red flag.

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Do I have to ask before I pat a woman’s bottom?

I’ll be blunt: we have seen a large increase in sexual harassment in golf clubs in recent months.

Not between employees.  For the most part, they abide by the rules, and when there is an incident, it’s dealt with quickly, effectively and by the book.

So, what’s the problem?

In a word: the members.

I won’t teach you to suck eggs, but we both know that – for the most part – golf club membership is dominated by white males, from a previous generation.

Chances are you’ve had to deal with your fair share of challenges from this demographic – I’ve had plenty of managers tell me about members who felt they owned the club and had the right to be involved in all decisions, despite not stepping up to take any responsibility.

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Talk to your staff!

How about this one.

The scammers targeted a new employee, let’s call her Sarah, less than two weeks in the company.

They sent them an email, allegedly from the managing director, asking Sarah to buy some John Lewis and Apple gift cards to be used as gifts for valued employees. The email asked her to keep it confidential so as not to spoil the surprise for those employees.

As the employee was so new, she somehow did not question why the MD was speaking to her, rather than literally ANYONE else in the office to do this important task. Despite the email address and language of the emails not being at all what the MD would use, because Sarah was so new, she didn’t realise.

They asked her to buy £2000 of gift cards at £500 each. She, and this is so sad, said that she only had £200 in her account, and apologised to the MD/scammers that she could only buy this much.

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Fag packet step-up.

A client emailed this week, wanting to issue a final written warning for the chef at his club.

He’d been drunk at work twice now, and they’d had enough.

On the face of it, that all seems sensible – it’s clearly a disciplinary offence; potentially a dismissal.

There was one teeny little snag, though: this was the first time we’d heard about any sort of disciplinary process for this member of staff.

And generally, this means one thing: it hasn’t been carried out correctly.

So it proved, when I started asking general questions – how long had the chef been there for, could they send over the investigation notes, what did the previous warnings say, and so on.

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My osmosis failure

We learnt plenty about osmosis during “O” level biology; trouble was that by the time it came to the exams, I’d forgotten it all.

Perhaps I thought the process of osmosis would bail me out – just sleep with the textbook under the pillow, and my brain would be magically instilled with everything I needed to know.

Fanciful and bizarre, maybe, but I’ve noticed a similar approach being adopted by plenty of employers, with one recent story springing to mind.

A client got in touch about an employee being off sick.

They’d not followed the absence reporting procedure, so there was a chance they could be dismissed, which was the employer’s preferred outcome.

I just needed to check one tiny little thing – that the handbook containing the absence reporting procedure HAD been given out to all staff.

The answer wasn’t reassuring:

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It IS a word!!!

Words are important. Any serious Scrabble player reaching for the dictionary will tell you that.

And when it comes to employment law, your choice of words couldn’t be more important.

I experienced this recently when a golf club committee member got in touch.

A member of staff at the club had submitted a grievance against the manager, and we’d worked on the response, which was a robust rejection of the grievance claims.

He’d agreed that we should (and must) reject the grievance, but he didn’t like the way the response was worded – too formal, too unemotional.

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The Polar plunge

Of all the things I expected to spot in Antarctica, ice swimmers were not one of them.

But I’ve just returned from ticking pretty much my number one item off the list, and there they were, among the penguins, orcas and icebergs.

They weren’t wild, you understand. As it turns out, there’s a global organisation that organises cold water swims, and several of them were on board the ship with a 1km swim planned.

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Telephone no longer answered

I was trying to get hold of a potential client this week, as he had said that they would discuss HR support at the board meeting end of last week.

I rang his mobile – went to voicemail. Fair enough, might not be answering because he’s in a meeting.

I went through the telephone system options – chose his extension – went to voicemail (American female voice, not even his)

I rang again and chose “sales” – went to voicemail, again the American female voice, no personalisation for the business.

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Employment law changes due in 2024

The government has decided to make a lot of employment law changes this year, so please make sure you are aware of them!

From 1 April 2024:

National minimum wage

The new hourly rates, applicable from 1 April 2024, are as follows:

National living wage (21yrs + ): £11.44 per hour (from £10.42)
18- to 20-year-olds’ rate: £8.60 per hour (from £7.49)
16- to 17-year-olds’ rate: £6.40 per hour (from £5.28)
Apprentice rate: £6.40 per hour (from £5.28)

Rolled-up holiday pay for part-year workers and irregular-hours workers

For those of you that have been around long enough, it will feel like déjà vu. Back before October 2019, we were allowed to pay out zero hours/casual and part year workers their holiday every month. The way we did that was by multiplying the hours worked that month by 12.07% to get the holiday hours to be paid at their normal rate of pay. For leave years from 1 April 2024, we will have gone in a huge circle, and you can now legally go back to using 12.07%.

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How to write an ignorable job ad

I was scrolling through job ads on LinkedIn the other day.

No, I’m not “looking for a new role”.  Perfectly happy where I am, thank you!

Instead, I was checking out an advert one of our clients put up, to advertise their new position of mechanic.

And my word it was dull.

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I save the day (AGAIN)

I’m ticking a seriously big item off my bucket list next week – Antarctica via Buenos Aires; two continents in one fell swoop, and hopefully a (safe) encounter with some killer whales!

As a small business owner, I don’t go anywhere without my laptop, even Antarctica.

I always do my best not to turn it on though, and over the years, I’ve become more and more successful at achieving that aim.

I won’t have much of a choice next week though – during the nine-day Antarctica cruise, there’s NO access to data or WiFi.

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How To Dismiss An Employee For Poor Performance

We get it – managing a team comes with its fair share of challenges. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, an employee may not be meeting the performance standards you’ve set. But can you just fire them? Don’t worry, because we’re here to tell you how you can dismiss an employee for poor performance, all while … Read more

How To Dismiss An Employee Fairly: A Guide for UK Business Owners

Introduction Let’s face it – dismissing an employee fairly is never a walk in the park. But as a business owner, it’s crucial to handle the situation fairly and within the bounds of UK employment law. While the process may seem daunting, breaking it down into manageable steps can make it a bit less overwhelming. … Read more

Blacksmith meet cute

I met a blacksmith at a Christmas party the other day.

Not the usual meet cute, I grant you.

His name was Tom, and he’s not just any old blacksmith – he makes customised armour for battle re-enactments.

I’d assumed the armour used for such purposes was plastic, but no, it’s actual armour, manufactured from steel, and making it and selling it is quite the endeavour.

It takes 2-3 months to prepare most orders (with their biggest order taking 18 months to complete).

There’s more demand than supply in the UK, so they get plenty of work, but I wondered whether there might be competition from overseas.

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1 Month Notice Period UK

Does a 1 month notice period still apply after 8 years?  No, is the quick answer to that. In the first month of employment, notice can be immediate on both sides. Their notice period After the first month, it has to increase to one week on both sides. You can keep the notice period at … Read more

Easter bank holidays 2024 – action required

Some of you need to start thinking about the Easter bank holidays! Keep reading if your holiday year runs from 1 April to 31 March AND you only give the statutory minimum annual leave entitlement (20 days + bank holidays). In 2024, the Easter bank holidays fall on 29 March and 1 April 2024. So, … Read more

The magical 2-year line

The magical 2 year line

Unsurprisingly, we’re still SUPER busy here at Gap HR.

It’s usually when we’re in the middle of discussing staff member issues and that “they need to go”, that the manager pipes up with something along the lines of:

“I don’t need this person anymore. They aren’t performing, their attitude is bad, and frankly, they have been trouble since their first day of employment. Let’s get rid of them now!”.

“How long have they worked for you?”

“2 years and 2 months”

Laying aside the fact that part of a manager’s job is to “manage” poor performance, the most irritating part of this statement is the fact that despite believing that their employee “needs to go”, they’ve allowed them to drag their employment on over the magical 2-year line.

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Must be true

Must be true

A haulage company owner got in touch this week.

I’d say he was calling for advice, but actually, he just wanted the green light on his plans!

He had an employee with three years of service, and he wanted to get rid.

And because “it says it on the internet”, he believed that as he’d never given him an employment contract, he could just give him his marching orders.

I must admit to being a little taken aback by this, which may explain my blunt response:

“No, it does not say that on the internet”.

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Braving the bauble

Braving the bauble

Sure, ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’, but in 2023, the festive season now seems beset with danger, with plenty of employers concerned about the repercussions of celebrating Christmas in any way, shape or form.

So if you’re wondering whether you can brave the bauble, here’s the common-sense guide to decking the halls without ending up in tribunal.

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Burning business health

Burning business health

I look forward to Christmas every year.

For all the normal reasons, but also because of a massive indulgence I allow myself.

Before the children graced me with their presence (!), I could go out and buy pretty stuff, for me, for the house, and occasionally for others.

And it was in that period that I discovered Crabtree & Evelyn’s Noël range.

Which smells exactly like Christmas.  It’s perfection.

Since that moment several years ago, I’ve been as loyal as possible, buying products from the range when I could, and in recent years, I’ve taken to splashing out on candles to burn throughout the entire month of December.

And this year’s been another good one for the business, so I was looking forward to my usual ‘splashing out’ celebration.

Sadly, I was disappointed.

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Flabbergasted by Formula 1

Flabbergasted by Formula 1

I’m no Formula 1 super fan – I was dragged to the Dutch Grand Prix a couple of times as a child, and my only abiding memories?

  • The cars – too loud
  • Free cigarettes being handed out in the pit lane; those were the days!

Despite my lack of fandom, I sat down to watch some GP highlights earlier this week.


My daughter is doing ‘Formula Student’ this year at university, where she’s tasked with designing and building a single-seat racing car, and she wanted to get some tips, so I tagged along on the sofa.

I was immediately blown away.

Not by the cars.  Or the graphics.  Or the colours, noise, cheers from the crowd, or anything like that.

The thing that bowled me over?

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Sky Man, Will

Sky Man Will

A year ago, I finally got the dining room sorted.

It had been in my sights for a while, but there were all sorts of other things that needed time and attention first.

Eventually, though, it was the dining room’s turn, and the decorator came over to transform it.

One thing that was definitely on the list was getting rid of as many ugly cables as possible – Sky box, TV, sound system, they all add up.

During the process, a white TV cable with a connector at the end came apart.

Bizarrely, the TV still worked without it – BBC, ITV, and C4 were all there, meaning the white cable was superfluous, a hangover from the original installation.

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Carry them for 3 months?

Carry them for 3 months?

We started working with a new client this week – a private sector company with nine employees.

They had an employee that’d been there a year who just wasn’t performing despite being spoken to, offered training and so on and so forth.

We asked the critical questions, checked that the employee had no protected characteristics, and then let them know they could dismiss them.

Turns out we weren’t the only HR provider they’d spoken to about this issue.

They were in contract with Bright HR (a budget online HR service with an advice line attached), and they’d given them very different advice:

3-month performance review, and then make a decision.

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Feeling strangely fine

Feeling strangely fine Don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into a song from the 90s band Semisonic (remember them?!). Instead, I’ve got something far less exciting (but no less excruciating) to share with you: What you can and can’t do regarding Covid. We’ve had a lot of questions on the topic again, so I … Read more

Mosquito mistake

Mosquito mistake

I went to Venice last week.

I’d been once before, so I had great expectations.

The City of Water didn’t let me down: sun, wonderful streets, great architecture, boat rides, Italian gelato (three times a day) and wine without compare.

There was one drawback of having been there before, though – I went into the whole affair with an air of complacency and completely forgot something critical:

Canals = mosquitos.

Rabid mosquitos.

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The silent business killer threatening us all

The silent business killer threatening us all I was in Northern Ireland a few weeks ago, giving a presentation. Now, given that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, you might assume that employment law is the same as it is in Great Britain. You’d be dead wrong. Employment law is different in Northern … Read more

Pool car perk

Pool car perk

Got a “pool vehicle”?

Well, it depends on how it’s being used.

I was chatting to a club last week about one of their new employees – a course manager.

He’d decided that the pool vehicle should live at his house during evenings and weekends but charitably agreed that when he was on holiday, he’d leave it at work.

Here’s the problem – through HMRC’s eyes, that transforms the “pool vehicle” into a company car, which the course manager will have to pay tax on, just as if he were the only one using it.

If pool vehicles are taken home and used for anything other than specific work travel, they immediately become a taxable benefit.

Sucks for the course manager, but rules are rules.

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My exorbitant date with Taylor

My exorbitant date with Taylor

Everyone knows that a key part of sales and marketing is making the sales process as easy and frictionless as possible.

Look at Amazon – three buttons, and you can buy anything you want.  No friction, no hoops to jump through equals lots of sales and lots of profits.

But with all that said, there’s something to be said for a sales strategy at precisely the other end of the spectrum.

I experienced exactly this when my daughter asked me to join her at a Taylor Swift concert next year.

(If you’re a parent of a late-stage teenager, you’ll understand why I grabbed this opportunity with both hands!)

Getting the tickets was no mean feat.

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ED (&I)?!

You’ve likely had plenty of emails about “ED” over the years.

Most of them probably ending up in your spam box, thanks to their spurious claims to improve virility.

But what about ED&I?

Thanks to my fascinating career, I’ve no choice but to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world of HR, and recently this “new” acronym has popped up.

I haven’t paid too much attention to it as we’ve been rather busy solving client issues, but a couple of weeks back, I quickly found the time when our competitors started pinging emails at our clients, saying that they all needed an ED&I policy.

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Something unbelievable happened when I placed this advert

Something unbelievable happened when I placed this advert

I placed an advert the other day.

It was in my local newsletter, and the idea was that we’d make the local community around our office a little bit more aware of who we are and what we do.

So I emailed the guys at the local newsletter, explained that I did HR and employment law and asked what space they had in the next issue.

They replied saying, “No problem”, but they had a quick question first:

“Carolyne, what is HR, and what is employment law? What do you actually do?”

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The greenkeeper shot the apprentice…

The greenkeeper shot the apprentice

If one of your greenkeepers decided to shoot an apprentice with an air rifle, you’d assume it’d be okay to give them their marching orders, right?

Not so fast…

One of our clients decided to sign up with us having lost a big tribunal case based on exactly this transgression.

At first glance, it was difficult to see why they’d lost, but when we delved a little deeper, it all became clear.

The greenkeeper in question was out in the woods, with two colleagues and an apprentice, when they stumbled upon an air rifle.

Instead of leaving it where it was and calling the police, they decided to pick it up and use the age old, failsafe method to work out if it was loaded.

Yes, that’s right, by pulling the trigger.

While aiming at the apprentice’s buttocks.

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This ad changed my life

This ad changed my life

We’ve all tried them – the fad diets.

5:2, 2:2, Atkins, Keto, the list goes on and on – if you’re anything like me, you get bombarded with ads and content promising to help you drop a dress size, lose a stone or climb a mountain on a daily basis.

I’m as sceptical as they come, but one of those ads has changed my life.

Granted, it wasn’t one from a snake oil salesman but the well-known Zoe nutrition, partly invented by Professor Tim Spector.

And rather than just trying to sell you some shakes or supplements, Zoe actually tests your body to understand how it responds to food, using a blood glucose monitor to see what happens as each food or drink is consumed.

As well as that, you send them a couple of samples (one being a stool, so don’t say you weren’t warned!) and eat a couple of their standardised muffins to help them understand your metabolism.

A week later, the results were in:

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Blown away by Travelodge

Blown away by Travelodge

I was at Eddie Izzard’s “Great Expectations” show last week (absolutely brilliant, highly recommended).

In days gone by, I’d likely have rushed out of the theatre to catch the last train home, but I’ve got to the age where that feels much more like trial than adventure, so I booked a hotel room close by and decided to make a “mini break” of it.

Having had some pretty lacklustre hotel experiences recently, I decided to go back to basics and plump for a Travelodge.

They’re not glitzy, they’re not glamorous, but you know what you’re getting, the beds are comfortable, and – obviously – they’re at the more affordable end of the spectrum.

Anyway, I got to the reception, gave them my name, and they tapped one key on the computer, pulled up my booking, and handed over the key.

Job done – the process probably took 20 seconds.

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Holiday – wise old soul

With better weather and the holidays hurtling towards us, I was reminded of a saying I read a while ago:

“Take time for quietness, and you will free yourself from being influenced by the wrong things”.

They had a point.  Especially when it comes to the workplace.

You see, it’s that time of year again when the employees pour out, slap on their suntan lotion and head off on holiday, leaving a skeleton staff to run the office.

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Your self-employed shop assistant

Last week I was giving a talk to trainee golf club managers.

And being the fun trainer I am, I decided to put together a quiz to see how employment law proficient they are.

Don’t worry – they’re not meant to be experts; that’s why we exist, after all!

Usually, they manage to get a few questions right, but this time, EVERY single person got one particular question wrong:

Can the shop assistant in the pro shop be self-employed?

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They’re going to die anyway!

They’re going to die anyway!

I saw the other day that Royal Dornoch Golf Club has installed defibrillators and first aid kits on six of its buggies.

Five of them are hired out to golfers with pre-existing conditions; the other is for their “roving ranger”, who can help if someone has a problem.

It seems highly sensible to me, and I was delighted to learn they want to go further and get them into all buggies going forward.

But it did remind me of a regional GCMA meeting a few years back when the British Red Cross came in to demo some defibrillators, offer some training and provide advice on where to station the defibrillators.

Buggies weren’t suggested, which maybe reflects how tech has moved forward in the last few years, but what I found remarkable was the number of managers poo-pooing having them at all.

The Red Cross team were suggesting one in the clubhouse and perhaps one in the halfway hut, but according to plenty of the room, there would be no point:
“If they have a heart attack, they’ll be so far from the clubhouse that we wouldn’t be able to get there in time”.

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No harm, no foul?

No harm, no foul?

We’ve experienced a significant increase in sexual assault and harassment cases recently:

• The member of a golf club committee that asked a waitress who was offering him a lift home if she was offering to give him a “little sex

• The bar manager that complained about female bra straps always falling down employees’ arms and then pushed them up an 18-year-old’s arm and under her t-shirt for her.

• The 18-year-old trainee who was being shown the beer barrels down in the cellar when the bar manager said, “You know, no one would hear you if you screamed in here”.

• The bar manager, who, when asked what time he finished his shift by the new trainee, said, “Are you asking how I get off?

The defence of all of these?

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Zero hours = zero rights?

Zero hours = zero rights?

One of my friends got a new job the other day.

She’s been unemployed since being made redundant last summer and jumped at the chance to do some casual work that used her admin skills.

As you’d expect, I had my HR hat on, asking about her contract, sick pay and holiday and all that jazz.

Her response?

“Oh no, I don’t get any of that stuff because I’m a zero hours worker”.

I pointed out that however wonderful her new employer was, they were also operating illegally and not paying her what she was owed.

I offered to read the contract to check what else they had got wrong.

The employer had correctly worded the contact to make it a “zero hours” one: they did not have to offer work and the worker did not have to accept it.

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