Protecting yourself, your business and your staff: why the industry’s workforce must be a priority *H&H Plus*

  • Horse & Hound reports from the first Equestrian Employers Association conference where employers were reminded they can’t choose whether or not someone is self-employed and risk significant penalties if employment status is wrongly applied...

    The distinction between being employed and self-employed is out of businesses’ hands and the penalties for getting it wrong are huge, the equestrian industry has been reminded.

    The message came as part of a wider discussion on how businesses, employers and the workforce can best protect themselves and thrive in the current climate at the inaugural Equestrian Employers Association (EEA) conference (25 February).

    “This isn’t a question that you and your groom decide between you,” said barrister Victoria von Wachter, of 5 Essex Court, who specialises in equestrian law and employment law among other areas.

    “It is a question of fact and law that a court will decide [should it get to that stage]. That isn’t a court you want to be going into.”

    She explained the test as to what someone’s employment status is can be summed up by saying an employed person is “told what to do, how to do it, where to do it and when to do it”, adding the repercussions of getting it wrong can be extremely costly.

    “Even though you and your so-called self-employed groom are happy with the situation, the revenue may not be,” she said. “I think the equestrian industry at the moment is the focus of these government bodies so beware.”

    She added there are, of course, genuinely self-employed people within the industry, whose working patterns fit the status requirements, but warned employers not to see recording an employee as self-employed as an easy alternative.

    The industry was also reminded of a major impending change to employment law, which will mean from April all new staff — workers, employees or self-employed— must have a section one statement. This is a basic form of contract under the Employment Rights Act, laying out someone’s working terms and conditions, and those who currently work for an employer can also request one of these.

    ‘What are you looking for?’

    Making staff a priority from the recruitment stage is key to a successful business, the conference heard.

    “You are never going to get things out of your employees unless they enjoy their work,” said EEA president Tullis Matson, opening the conference.

    “Our team is everything to us. I wouldn’t survive a day without a really good team behind me. We have a duty of care to our staff and without our team, we wouldn’t be able to prosper.”

    He added while the equestrian industry does not always pay the highest wages, there are other ways to recognise and reward staff and make somewhere a great place to work.

    “It is really important you have a really clear idea of what it is you are looking for — the ‘nice to haves’, the ‘need to haves’ and where you are willing to compromise,” said equestrian recruitment specialist Caroline Carter.

    “A job advert is really important: what I see a lot of is a list of demands. Think almost estate agent — is you were looking at this job, would it attract you? It is a two-way thing.

    “If you are expecting someone to work long, hard days for you, be far from home, six days a week, to offer no riding, no ability to keep a dog or a horse, no weekends off — I think you are going to be looking for a long time.”

    She added it is very important for the employer to take an active part in the recruitment process, involving team members if they wish, but not to fully delegate this task.

    The point was made that equestrian employers are expected to understand and balance all the complexities of running a business, including the legalities of HMRC and health and safety, alongside navigating how to manage staff’s emotional wellbeing — none of which is taught in school.

    The message from the EEA and the specialists who spoke during the day was that help is on hand.

    Ms Carter added understanding what drives a person and what their ambitions are, then dovetailing that with what an employer is looking for in a staff member, is a positive way to help recruit and retain the right people for the business.

    Mental health in the workplace consultant Sylvia Bruce explained how to spot if a member of staff is struggling and, while it is not a substitute for professional help, what you as an employer can do.

    “Like many physical illnesses, poor mental health isn’t visible, but its effect is,” she said.

    She added this can be through someone’s behaviour, language, how they do their job, differences in their usual attention to detail, and changes such as someone loud becoming quiet, or vice versa.

    “This is why it is important to know your team,” she said. “I don’t mean becoming your employees’ best buddy, it is about knowing them and how they do their work.”

    She said issues can be extremely hard to spot, as work might be the very place someone going through a tough time is actually ok.

    She also gave advice as to how to talk to a staff member you believe may be struggling.

    “Hearing someone’s story can be very hard for the listener, especially if you are not a mental health professional,” she said. “Don’t focus on the story, but what you can do for them within the business and the law.

    “[Running a business] sometimes it is very difficult to find the time to speak to someone about their mental health or something that has cropped up. It is better to tackle it sooner rather than later.”

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