Take precautions against TUPE regulations

I was pleased to see the article about problems which may be caused to design groups by the new Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations (DW 30 March).

This is not a new problem, as I know a London-based design group which had to deal with two TUPE cases in a similar number of years, eventually relinquishing an entire project team when the client ended a long-standing contract in favour of an in-house team.

It was a clear case of a ‘Big Brother’ client, able to fight to retain the project team versus a small design group with limited resources. When the subject of TUPE was raised, the design company took legal advice and attempted a settlement, but the client was obviously advised that, as TUPE regulations were unclear, they would benefit from drawing out negotiations until legal fees and staff disruption became too much.

The loss of several key personnel with many years’ experience is extremely dispiriting to a small design group and has a knock-on effect on the morale of rest of the staff, as well as the company’s ability to perform. Not only has it lost a key client, but also a highly experienced team which would have moved on to work for other clients of the same calibre.

TUPE regulations were created to minimise the risk to employees of repeated redundancies, when contracts change hands, as is often the case with outsourcing. But the negative effects on small firms can be devastating when one takes recruitment and training costs into account – so the regulations must be taken seriously when considering long-term client contracts.

Make sure your project team stays fluid by changing its make-up on a regular basis; make sure your staff work on other projects at the same time; and plan your exit from a contract by engaging staff on other projects well before the termination date. If it can’t be proven that a ‘dedicated team’ was involved, you minimise the risk of losing out when TUPE is invoked.

Anna-Louise Thomas, ALT PR and Marketing, Pinner, HA5 4JJ

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