Xmas highlights on by LPM's people guru, Polly Jeanneret

LPM’s people guru, Polly Jeanneret

LPM’s people guru, Polly Jeanneret, drives us home for the festive season with her selection box of the top HR topics of 2018.

As the final weeks of 2018 are engulfed in tinsel, it strikes me that 2018 has been dominated by one single, terrifying force: a force that is so powerful in the world, it has the potential to wreak havoc for years to come. Yes, you’ve guessed it: it’s the GDPR. The new data protection regime (even its legislative name is too unwieldy to actually use, so we just say ‘regime’) created new obligations, new reporting duties, even new jobs. For HR, it was a headache-to-the-pointof-a-migraine mulling over what constitutes ‘consent’ and this oxymoronic thing called a ‘privacy notice’.

Still on a data theme, at the beginning of the year, law firms Herbert Smith Freehills, CMS and Shoosmiths were the first to publish their gender pay gap data following new rules for businesses with more than 250 staff. Firms did pretty well, broadly paying parity in similar roles, but were criticised for sticking to the letter of the law and only publishing ‘employee’ stats and not publishing partner-level pay gap information. The very public resignation of the BBC’s China editor, Carrie Gracie, over alleged pay inequality, demonstrates that this is a live issue. Thank goodness then for some positive role-modelling from the UK Supreme Court, when a case in September 2018 was heard with the court’s first female majority.

In the wake of yet another #MeToo scandal in 2018, the Sir Philip Green saga develops some interesting HR lines of thought, which have been emerging since Harvey Weinstein. From an HR point of view, the focus in organisations has tended to be: how can we prevent liability in sexual harassment cases, rather than how can we change the culture? Sexual harassment training is a necessary but – I feel – insufficient response.

What about teaching staff to challenge behaviours? Which also brings us to the issue of bystanders. Powerful figures who harass and bully others often rely on the fact that other people don’t stand up to them and don’t show support for victims. So, another of my highlights for 2018 is ‘bystander training’, already used on US campuses and now being considered for businesses. This type of training says sexual harassment is everyone’s problem, with not just a harasser and a victim. It offers real examples of how to intervene, such as saying to a colleague ‘Were you aware of the effect your comment had on X?’, or disrupting a situation that looks like it might escalate.

Staying with Sir Philip Green for my final highlight: banter. Green famously said that everything he allegedly said (or shouted) was just banter. As every good employment lawyer will tell you, that’s not a strong defence. But also let’s be honest, it wasn’t really banter. One of his staff put it well in an interview in the Guardian: “‘Banter’ suggests some kind of exchange, or jocular language, but it isn’t. It’s one-way … you have to keep your mouth shut.” Happy Christmas everyone! 

This article featured in LPM December 2018/January 2019 – Legal watch

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