In 2018, the government published a paper known as the Good Work Plan. It set out how it planned to implement the recommendations of the 2017 Taylor Review of modern working practices, focusing particularly on new standards of fairness in dealing with employees.
In April 2020, this legislation comes into force and it contains one requirement that may pose a significant challenge for cleaning contractors, namely that employers must issue a ‘Statement of Main Terms and Conditions’ (SMT) on or before day one of a new employee’s contract, compared with the two month grace period allowed by current legislation.
This SMT must contain not just the current requirements – contract length, notice period, eligibility for sick leave and pay, remuneration, specific days, and times of work – but it must now also contain, amongst other things, details of continuous service, frequency and amount of pay, whether the employee will have to work Sundays, nights or overtime, holiday entitlement, places of work, any collective agreements in place, pension entitlements, and how to pursue a grievance or complaint. Needless to say, the penalties for not complying with the new law will be heavy.
All of this sounds reasonable enough, but it means that some of the workarounds that contractors currently use to maintain a full complement of staff and cover absence in some locations may no longer be possible. There are two points here.
On the one hand, there are situations that require the urgent replacement of staff, often beyond a contractor’s control, where there is little time to carry out anything other than a telephone interview, or recruit based on the recommendation of an existing staff member. This can happen at remote locations, or for a shift starting at unsociable times, making it very difficult to issue either a hard or electronic copy of a contract in time for the new employee’s start on site. No contractor would choose this style of recruitment, but it is sometimes necessary to maintain the service at a client location.
On the other hand, even where there is a face-to-face recruitment process with a chance to collect personal details and RTW documents, it is preferable to be able to take stock of the situation and make sure that the relevant staff in HR or administration have had a chance to verify and review information – potentially including TUPE’d rights – before issuing a formal contract, staff handbook and health and safety instructions to a new member of staff, all as part of a properly supervised onboarding and induction process. At the best of times this can take a few days, but it is a necessary procedure, allowing contractors to discharge their responsibilities correctly, avert potential compliance issues, or quite simply to pick up on human error in processing new starters. It is therefore worrying to think that there may be instances in the future of legally binding employment contracts being issued to new staff, by whatever means, without proper control, solely in order to comply with the new law.
Whether you manage onboarding electronically using software, or whether you still use hard copy, it is likely that many contractors will have to review both their recruitment procedures, in particular the process of information gathering, and their contingency plans for absence cover in order to ensure they do not fall foul of the new legislation.
So, is this another example of where the government has overlooked the needs of our industry when introducing new legislation? I think the answer is that whilst it was not practices in the cleaning industry that prompted the change in employee protection, we are nevertheless part of a wider world of work. The upside is that this may turn out to be a good opportunity for us to reinforce our position as responsible employers in an industry that increasingly needs to attract and retain good staff.