Jinfo BlogAll tied up? Escaping the Tangle of Red Tape

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By Richard Morris

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'It doesn't affect me.'

'If I ignore it, maybe it will go away.'

'I don't have time for it.'

These are just a few of the claims that I have been treated to whilst working with this most unpopular of topics, handling policy and compliance for a number of organisations. Unfortunately none of this is actually true, regardless of the size, type or purpose of your business.

For those who haven't caught on, I'm talking about one of businesses' least favourite issues: red tape.

But there are three realities you must accept when facing bureaucratic entanglements:

1. Regulations are necessary. You wouldn't intentionally discriminate against an employee because of their sex, disability or race, but sometimes people can feel discriminated against even if no offence was intended. Regulations protect them.

2. Red tape is here to stay. This is the hardest message to get across. The government should be praised for its pledge to reduce red tape, but regulations will never completely disappear. Many pieces of legislation may be simplified but few will be removed.

3. The only way to avoid getting tied up in red tape is to deal with it. Wishing it away, ignoring it or pretending it isn't there will only cause you problems in the future.

Understanding these three points will help you to beat the burden of red tape. However there are two more obstacles to your dealing with legislation.

The first is to be aware of the regulations that affect you. This is crucial. If you don't know that laws exist then how are you supposed to comply with them?

The second is to understand how the regulations affect your business and what you need to do to comply. It is vital to know what laws apply to you, but useless if you don't understand any of them.

Fortunately, free help is at hand. Our mission at Red Tape Team http://www.red-tape.org/ is to provide free, impartial advice and guidance for businesses on issues of red tape.

So what do we do?

We do the work that no one else wants to do. Our aim is to help businesses fight their way through the maze of red tape. What is red tape? Red tape is the form-filling, the changes in law, the requirements put on your back by government and other organisations that take your time away from running your business. Whether it's the new equality law protecting workers from discrimination on the grounds of age, or new regulations putting responsibility on businesses for their own fire safety, red tape is the legislation that must be followed.

We research the legislation that affects businesses and produce free, easy-to-read fact sheets that outline what you need to know.

Here's one anecdote that shows how we help businesses: a small business owner contacted us several months ago and requested fact sheets on discipline and grievance procedures. From this the company made sure that their policies were up to date.

We got a phone call a few weeks ago from the same owner thanking us. He had just had to discipline and ultimately sack a member of staff who had repeatedly stolen from the office. The member of staff had tried to take the company to a tribunal, and if the policies had not been put in place, the dismissal could have been automatically unfair. This would have left the firm having to award the employee compensation, which could easily have been thousands of pounds.

A simple bit of information was all that was required to avoid a possible problem turning into a costly blow to the business.

How do we do it? When a piece of legislation is about to come into force, we read and research it so that we know how it will affect businesses. Instead of writing guidance filled with rhetoric and incomprehensible sentences, we write it in our own words, as we would want to read it.

Tips for avoiding red tape

Different regulations affect you in different ways, but by doing the groundwork from the word 'go,' you can make sure you are complying and save time, hassle and money in the future. Here are a few tips that get you started.

  • Take a step back from your business and look at it as an outsider. You will find you can identify many potential problems before they get serious. Noticing things like possible health and safety risks, potential fire safety risks and stressed employees can help you to stop a risk becoming a problem.

  • Don't do or say anything on impulse - think before you act. It is very easy to react to an explosive situation. Nothing demonstrates your power more than screaming, 'You're fired!' across the yard after Bill from the warehouse is late for the third time this week. But before you do this, think of the implications. Bill could actually take you to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal, not because he didn't deserve it, but because you didn't follow the right procedure. All these procedures that you have to follow take time from the day to day running of your business and this adds up to red tape.

  • Know the law. You would never dream of making a decision on a five- or six-figure contract without all of the available information, so you shouldn't make decisions without knowing what to do when dealing with legislation. Although understanding the law won't make you any money, early preparation and understanding will save you time and money in the future. The costs of failing to know the law can be far higher than you think. When you are making decisions about employees or your company, make sure you know the law behind your decision first. This will protect you if anything goes wrong.

  • Treat employees as you would want to be treated. As a general rule if you treat those who work for you as you would want to be treated, you are likely to find far fewer problems cropping up.

  • No jokes please! Although 'banter' in the office may be an everyday occurrence that you take as part of the daily routine, you could be offending someone. Even if jokes are not meant to cause offence and are not directed at a person, they could be construed as discrimination. People often say 'I didn't mean it to be offensive,' but it is the person who feels discriminated against who decides what is and what is not offensive. The law covers employees against direct and indirect discrimination.

Reinforcements for battle

No matter how prepared you are to deal with red tape, you'll eventually have to face some part of it. But the battle can be more bearable with help. Below is a list of free resources that can give you support conquering it. You can access all of the guides below from <http://www.red-tape.org/initiatives.php?id=2>.

Get a copy of The Acas Model Workplace, which 'provides you with a yardstick against which you can measure the effectiveness of your employment relationships and can help you to identify areas for development.' Ninety per cent of the queries that businesses come to us with surround employment issues such as discrimination, and maternity and paternity rights. The Model Workplace is an excellent reference source if you employ staff.

Download Business Link's "The No-Nonsense Guide to Government Rules and Regulations for Setting Up Your Business". This is a very useful guide when starting out in business. It covers in simple terms those things a business needs to know about taxes, health and safety regulations, data protection and more.

Read HM Revenue & Customs' (HMRC) new guide for employers thinking of taking on a member of staff for the first time, outlining their tax obligations.

  • A tool kit giving guidance and advice on how to avoid online business crime from the Fraud Advisory Panel.

  • Get your hands on "The Lights are On", the free training DVD offered by the Information Commissioners Office (request it here: <http://digbig.com/4rgnb>). The DVD can help you comply with the Data Protection Act and also educate your staff.

  • Companies concerned about computer security can now get free advice on protecting their IT systems. The Fraud Advisory Panel and the Institute for Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW) have launched a guide entitled "Protecting Your IT Systems: A Guide for SMEs" <http://www.fraudadvisorypanel.org/cheker/cheker.php?idmk=30>.

  • Do you have problems with staff taking unauthorized time off? The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), working with HSE and Acas, have launched a free online toolkit to help managers with absence management. Find the Absence Management Toolkit here <http://www.cipd.co.uk/absencemanagementtool/>.

Moving targets

Free support helps deal with red tape, but it is a moving target. Several significant changes in legislation over the past 10 years ensure there are always new issues to deal with. We have made over 60 fact sheets on the most common regulatory problems faced by businesses. We keep records of how many fact sheets people download from our website and request over the phone, which gives an indication of regulatory changes.

The following is a list of the items that have caused the highest number of requests for fact sheets.

  • Changes to fire safety legislation. Major changes have removed the need for fire safety certificates, and put the responsibility on the owner of a company/management to ensure a premises is safe from fire.

  • Age discrimination. This new regulation is there to prevent people getting less favourable treatment because of their age. Thinking of taking your team out to the pub to celebrate a good month - think again if you employ someone under the age of 18!

  • Changes to maternity, paternity and adoption pay. Fathers are now entitled to more paid leave dependent on how long the mother takes off work.

  • Carrying out a risk assessment. Guidance on how to carry out a risk assessment in your premises helps you make sure you comply with health and safety laws and protect your staff from illness and injury.

  • Changes to National Minimum Wage. Are you paying your staff enough? You could be fined if you aren't.

  • Holidays and holiday pay. Just how many holiday days are your staff entitled to, and how much pay should they get? Are you ready for the changes in October? At the moment you only have to give your staff 20 days holiday and this can include bank holidays. From October this goes up to 24 days, with a further rise to 28 days set for October 2008.

  • Discipline and grievance procedures. Claims to employment tribunals are increasing every year. What would you do if you want to discipline a member of staff? What would you do if an employee said that they thought their supervisor was being overly strict on them and not anyone else? This might be a grievance!

  • Disability discrimination. Just how far do you have to go to make your premises accessible for disabled staff and customers? Regulations came into force in 2005 and affect all businesses

  • Changes to asbestos regulations. Did you know that if your building was built before the year 2000 you have to assume that it contains asbestos (unless you know differently)?

  • Employing workers from abroad. Bulgaria and Romania have become the newest additions to the European Union (EU), joining another 24 countries. Citizens from EU countries can apply to work in the UK, but their right to work here depends on whether they joined before or after 1 May 2004.

Here for help

At the start of this article I mentioned three things that you must accept in dealing with red tape: most regulations are necessary, they won't go away and the only way to get round them is to tackle them head on.

We can't cut through the red tape for you, but this article will provide you with some of the tools you need to run your business more efficiently, and you can find more by checking in at <http://www.red-tape.org/>.


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