It’s the time of year when thoughts turn to the 12 months ahead. Sarah Dillon outlines the minefield of issues HR should swerve

1. Failing to realise the importance of tribunal fees being abolished

On 26 July, the Supreme Court abolished fees for employment tribunals. It was one of the most pivotal moments in the 2017 HR landscape.

The introduction of tribunal fees proved to have a huge impact on the number of claims lodged – a 79 per cent decrease in the first year. This allowed HR professionals and legal advisers to take more risks with HR decisions and processes, because the chance of an employee taking a claim to tribunal was relatively small.

Since fees have been abolished, claims to employment tribunals have steadily increased. When HR professionals are giving advice to managers and internal customers, they must tread carefully, and warn against the increased risk of a claim. The danger of not doing so could prove extremely costly to the business.

2. Not preparing for the General Data Protection Regulation

The new data protection rules come into force on 25 May 2018. They will have a very varied scope of influence throughout businesses, and HR will not be immune from the impact.

For instance, the regulations mean that the £10 administration fee to process subject access requests can no longer be charged. This used to be a helpful deterrent to potential employees who were ‘fishing’ for evidence, and requests were often withdrawn when the fee was stated.

The time limit to comply with subject access requests is also set to change, with a reduction from 40 to 30 days. Companies should expect a significant increase in subject access requests, and processes must be put in place so those requests can be handled as quickly and compliantly as possible.

It may also be necessary to amend employment contracts, because of changes to consent rules for the handling of personal data and data subjects. This is because now, for example, employees have the right to object. This may have an impact on systems that use automatic sifting processes during recruitment processes, for instance, and clock in/clock out technologies that use genetic or biometric data such as fingerprints.

3. Not complying with gender pay gap reporting requirements

Large, private sector employers must publish their first gender pay gap report before 4 April 2018. The snapshot date is 4 April 2017, so preparations should have been made throughout 2017 to gather the correct data in readiness.

If such detail has not yet been collated, HR and payroll professionals must work together to gather the metrics required and prepare any narrative that needs to run alongside them.

4. Giving cautious, non-commercial advice to the business

Increasingly, managers and businesses are looking to their HR teams to provide them with sound commercial advice, but what does this mean in reality?

HR’s role is to inform, guide and advise, but responsibility for the final judgement should lie with the senior management team.

HR should comprehensively analyse the situation before any potential solutions can be delivered. The risks and possible costs of each option should also be clearly outlined so that the manager can ultimately make the final – informed – decision.

Employment tribunal awards, for example, can be significant and have a serious financial impact on an organisation, so failure to provide robust, commercial advice could prove incredibly costly for the HR professional.

5. Failing to understand the business that employs you

As an HR professional, you need to understand the company you work for. This may sound obvious, but the type of business can have a significant impact on what is asked of you. This is more than knowing about the products or services provided. It is important to also understand the culture and what drives the organisation, to provide the best advice possible and the level of service the senior management team expects.

For example, is your company large or small, cautious or willing to take risks? HR professionals are a key part of the team that helps deliver the aims of the company, so you should be fully immersed in upholding those objectives.

Sarah Dillon is a director and solicitor at ESP Law