Many equestrian businesses with less than 20 staff may be unaware that they must draw up formal discipline and grievance procedures under new employment law brought in on 1 October.
Until now, small firms were exempt from having basic rules for disciplinary matters in place. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) hopes this will stem the tide of cases reaching employment tribunals – where there were 197,365 claims last year.
Failure to comply with the new rules may mean that a dismissal is automatically unfair and that an employee’s compensation at a tribunal could be increased by 50%.
Professional bodies such as the National Trainers Federation (NTF) and the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) have already notified their members about the changes. But businesses without connection to such a body – for example small livery yard owners – may be unaware of the new law.
“We encourage members to have employment contracts for their staff, and have sample [contracts] for their use,” says Duncan Brown, chairman of the ABRS. “We don’t feel this will pose a problem to them.”
Nick Gifford, a racehorse trainer from Findon, West Sussex, has always had formal procedures for his staff.
“I thought it was already law. All my staff are aware of the procedures and it’s written into their contract of employment,” he says. “The racing industry has traditionally been a bit ‘pack your bags and there’s the door’, so the NTF is keen to bring itself in line with other industries. Trainers courses drum it into us to follow procedures by the book.”
“We have a special advisory committee to deal with legal developments, and update members,” continues Brown. “It’s becoming clear that small businesses struggling to keep up with developments are well advised to belong to a professional body.”
Minimum wages have also been increased since 1 October. Now, 18-21-year-olds are entitled to £4.10 an hour and 22-year-olds and over are entitled to £4.85.
For more information, visit www.dti.gov.uk/er/
Meanwhile the final phase of the Disability Discrimination Act also became law on 1 October. In essence, this requires businesses to remove or alter any physical barriers that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use a service.
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) says: “The Act doesn’t expect anything that’s not reasonable, so if you’re a really small business the changes would be far too expensive and you wouldn’t be expected to make them. But there might be smaller things you can do – you don’t have to be accessible to all types of disability, it’s not only about wheelchairs.”
Willow Farm Riding School, Lincs, won DWP’s Access All Areas award last year. The school sent an instructor on a sign language course, built a new mounting block and laid a safe rubber surface in case of any falls.
“The most surprising side- effect is the number of so-called consultants who give the impression that the full weight of this Act will come down on the shoulders of any riding school,” says Duncan Brown. “A couple of members have been approached by these people. My message is be smart, be careful.”