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Managing the downturn and discrimination

Guide for small businesses coping with economical crisis 27 January 2009 – The Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched a short tailored guide to the downturn for small businesses. The guide contains advice on flexible working as an alternative to losing staff and understanding the law around redundancy.

The publication, Managing the downturn and preparing for recovery , is the first in a series aimed at small businesses which often do not have in-house access to professional HR advice.

The guide is designed so businesses can approach the challenges they face fairly and ensure they comply with the law. It is unlawful to make an employee redundant because of their gender (including transsexual people), religion, age, sexual orientation or because they are pregnant or disabled.

It contains an outline of the redundancy process in respect of discrimination law and frequently asked questions, based on specific queries and concerns that small business owners have shared with the Commission. It also provides details of organisations such as ACAS which can help with information on redundancy and employment law.

Nicola Brewer, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
‘We start from the premise that the vast majority of businesses want to do the right thing by their staff. They regard their employees as their most valuable asset and they can see the benefit of treating them fairly. But we recognise that the law around equality and discrimination can be confusing and intimidating for people who don’t have a human resource specialist.

‘We have started with a guide to the downturn because of the deteriorating economic climate. We understand that sometimes firms will have no option but to shed staff. When this happens we know business owners will want to do it in a way that is fair to all their staff and avoids the waste of time and energy taken up by grievance and tribunal processes.

Around 13 million people work in 4.7 million small businesses in the UK. The sector has been growing with more than 500,000 people starting their own business every year. Ninety-seven per cent of these businesses employ fewer than 20 people. Recent research on the economic downturn shows that up to 600,000 jobs could be lost during 2009; many of them from small businesses which are closing at a rate of around 85 every day.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.

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