Peter and Betty have a small business and never expected this. But they feel stressed and pressurised from a most unexpected source: their new employee.
They have been in business for 17 years and never had any problems with staff.
Yes, there was the occasional, infrequent dispute or argument but nothing that amounted to anything serious. They were never sued or had to face any claim from an employee-in fact, no threats were made against them, not even in the heat of the moment.
But all that changed when they took John on. John is in the job about 10 months now and his mood swings and changeable humour from one day to the next is worrying.
That’s not the biggest concern, however.
John, from an early stage in his employment, was quick to tell Peter and Betty what his employment rights were and how he could bring claims against them for all types of breach. He told them about working time records, rest breaks, public holidays, the WRC, NERA, the Labour Court, the minimum wage, his entitlement to a written contract-the list seems endless.
Peter and Betty never had to face this before and the frequent mention of the Workplace Relations Commission has them tremendously strained and anxious.
The biggest problem in all this, however, is the uncertainty and not knowing what the true situation is.
Is John right and are they ignorant, law breaking, exploitative employers, what can happen next, is John lying or exaggerating, what is the worst outcome, and most importantly: what can they do now.
Peter and Betty are typical of many small business owners up and down the island of Ireland who have successfully and happily employed many people down through the years without any problems or difficulty. They have never had to concern themselves too much with employment law and stuff like that because there were never any issues.
Their accountant made the necessary returns every month or every year and paid the appropriate tax, prsi, universal social charge, and whatever else the government decided had to be paid.
But this constant, low level hostility and implied sense of threat from an employee who is only in the workplace for 10 months and who they look after well is getting to them. It’s even putting a strain on their relationship.
What Peter and Betty needed was a bit of advice and some clarity about their obligations and entitlements and what options were open to them now. How, or was, the relationship with John going to improve in the years ahead; were they looking at this problem in perpetuity with no say as to who they could and could not employ; could they terminate now; if so, on what grounds; are they open to a claim for redundancy; can John bring a claim for unfair or constructive dismissal.
If you are a small employer in a similar situation you may be surprised to find that your situation is not as bleak or oppressive as you think. But it will depend on the particular circumstances and a large factor in this type of situation is how long the employee has been in the employment.
Other questions to look at: is there a written contract, is there a probation period, has the employee obtained 12 months’ service? These are critical questions.
One of the biggest causes of stress is the fear of the unknown; any small employer can remove this fear by getting advice from a professional.
Getting advice from a professional will cost a few bob.
But not getting advice or getting it from an amateur is likely to cost more.