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Employment relations in Cheltenham

Cheltenham born ACAS Arbitrator, solicitor and founding partner of Cheltenhamís own specialist employment law practice, Darren Sherborne of Sherbornes LLP, talks about the employment law landscape in Cheltenham.

Q: How does Cheltenham compare to other areas in terms of employment disputes?
A: We certainly have our share. However, the demography of Cheltenham lends itself to a little less unrest than many other areas. Not only is it due to our geographical position with our road and rail links, but its the quality of life that attracts companies to base their headquarters here. The functions that require a higher level of qualification such as research and development tend to generate less controversy. A feature of these functions is a less combatant approach to employment relations.

Q: Would you say that Cheltenham businesses are less capable of dealing with disputes than other areas with more experience of unrest?
A: Certainly not. One of the consequences of our makeup is that we have a wealth of experience in dealing with employment relations at all levels and a very healthy business environment to attract more skill in this area. Naturally there are times when I question the advice that some business leaders receive in dealing with issues but this would be the same where ever you look in the country. Generally the quality of advice here is excellent.

Q: So what are the most common employment law mistakes you see?
A: From advisors, my own view is that there are times when the advice available to local business is too cautious with too little thought being given to the practical or commercial aspects to any given situation. Business in this area cries out for straight talking, not fence sitting. Business leaders who seek advice need an answer, too often I hear complaints that previous advice just provided more problems or didnít actually help them decide what to do. I must make clear though that this is not always the case.

Q: Does your practice only assist Gloucestershire employers?
A: No. Itís true to say that employers make up the lions share of our client base and that we do act for some of the top businesses in Gloucestershire. However, we do have clients nationally, and we are fortunate that many of these are National Plcs. Sherbornes do also act for employees but this makes up a small proportion of our work, not through any strategic decision, but itís normally only senior employees that can afford us!

Q: What challenges lie ahead in terms of employment law?
A: Itís the little things that will cause problems this year. For example, in April the qualifying period for unfair dismissal will go from one to two years. The confusion will come because this will only apply to new starter after 5th April. From that point employers will have two categories of employee, those with one yearís service that can claim unfair dismissal, and those with a similar amount of service that cannot. Itís also worth pointing out that we will have extra bank holidays this year, and we anticipate lots of questions as to whether or not employees are entitled to that time off. There is no statutory right to take bank holidays off, but some contracts give a contractual right, so it will depend on what the contract says. Employers would be well advised to simply check this now in advance. On a practical note, if the rest of the country is having a day off, employers might consider that itís an ideal day to let staff use a days holiday as demand may be lower.

Q: If there is one piece of advice you could give to business in the area, what would it be?
A: Stop being frightened of employment law. In most situations an employer can achieve anything that is required in terms of employment, they just need to get the right advice. Often a robust approach brings less trouble than tiptoeing around issues that often really need to be taken in hand.

Sherbornes Solicitors LLP, 10 Royal Crescent, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 3DA. Tel: 01242 250039. www.sherbornesllp.co.uk