So you want to work in HR (Part Two)


In this post, I will be looking at interns and volunteering as these two subjects come up time and time again when people with no HR experience are looking for a foot in the door. This does mean getting to grips with some employment law, but hey you want to work in HR, right?


Internships are an idea that has come over from the United States and have spread around the world, where they are normally undertaken by university graduates who work unpaid, sometimes for a considerable amount of time, normally the intern has the support of rich parents who support them over this period. However, where their use in the United States is common place, they have only started to become known in the UK over the past few years and they haven’t made an easy transition across the pond because of British/EU employment legislation.

So let’s look at the what you can and can’t do!

There is actually no legal definition of an intern, alternative names could be a work placement or work experience and the status of the person is determined in several ways.

They could be classed as a worker if they receive any payment for the work they do or a benefit in kind (this can mean travel and expenses).

Employers can’t decide that an intern is not a worker by saying or stating that it doesn’t apply or making a written agreement saying someone isn’t a worker or that they’re a volunteer.

A really important point to remember is that if an intern is promised a contract of future work, they will be classed as a worker and the employer will be liable for back pay and employers NI and tax obligations.

The definition of a worker is:

A worker is defined in regulation 2 (1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998 as an individual who works under a contract of employment or “any other contract, whether express or implied…whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract”, provided they are not a client or customer of the individual’s profession or business.

  • The individual will have a contract or other arrangement to do work or provide services personally for reward
  • This contract can be expressed or implied. This means it can either be written down or verbal
  • There is an element of reward, this can either be money or a benefit in kind, this includes the promise of a contract or future work
  • They have to turn up for work even when they don’t want to
  • The employer has to provide work for as long as the contract lasts
  • They are not operating as their own limited company where the employer would be deemed as a customer or client

This then moves into what an employee is and what they are entitled to, so let’s briefly look at the definition:

According to section 230(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employee is someone who works under a contract of employment. This, however, is not defined by statute so the courts have constructed a number of tests to help them decide whether someone is an employee.

Although each case is decided on its own merits, there are some essential elements that must be satisfied:

  • The individual has to have a contract with the employer
  • The individual has to carry out the work personally
  • There has to be “mutuality of obligation” between the two parties
  • The employer has to have “control” over the work that the employee does

So it would seem that if a company suddenly decided to advertise a vacancy for an intern then they will be paid, however, there are a few exceptions.

Students who are enrolled on a further or higher education course which is based in the UK, are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage/National Living Wage if they take part in an internship that is part of their course, this might mean they take a gap year between studies. Normally students wouldn’t be looking for an internship at the end of their course because many employers run graduate training schemes. The most common advice is to arrange these whilst you are in your second year, many students leave it too late.

Briefly work experience students of compulsory school age, ie under 16, aren’t entitled to the minimum wage.

We will now move onto Voluntary workers

Workers aren’t entitled to the minimum wage if both of the following apply:

  • they’re working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund-raising body or a statutory body
  • they don’t get paid, except for limited benefits (eg reasonable travel or lunch expenses)

So you won’t be able to volunteer for a commercial company.

Finally, we can look at work shadowing

The employer doesn’t have to pay the minimum wage if an internship only involves shadowing an employee, ie no work is carried out by the intern and they are only observing. The moment they start undertaking work then the relationship changes.

A lot of the above came about after it emerged interns were being exploited, for example, companies suddenly stopped using temporary worker via a recruitment agency because they could get an intern to do the work for nothing. In these instances, the intern was never a student!

A lot of companies do operate intern schemes and make sure that they pay their interns correctly.

You can find a useful fact sheet and checklist from the CIPD at:

Internships that work – CIPD factsheet



Disclosure and Barring Service checks

If you work for an organisation that is involved in regulated activity with children or vulnerable adults then you will be familiar with the term “Safeguarding”

Safeguarding from an HR perspective starts with recruitment and I’m sure many reading this will be familiar with Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) criminal records checks known as “disclosures”.

Disclosure and Barring Service checks

The purpose of the DBS is preventing unsuitable people from gaining access to work or volunteer with children or vulnerable people. The DBS was formed in 2012 by merging the functions of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. The DBS does not cover Scotland or Northern Ireland where comparable organisations exist but may have different disclosure certifications.

The ISA came into being in England & Wales after a school caretaker named Ian Huntley murdered two 10-year-old school girls in 2002 at Soham in Cambridgeshire. Despite Huntley being known as a sex offender in an another police force area, there was nothing that would alert his employer to his past. In fact, it was only the subsequent police investigation into the murders that uncovered Huntley’s past.

In 2003, the Government ordered an inquiry which was led by Sir Michael Bichard with the brief:

“Urgently to enquire into child protection procedures in Humberside Police and Cambridgeshire Constabulary in the light of the recent trial and conviction of Ian Huntley for the murder of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.
In particular to assess the effectiveness of the relevant intelligence-based record keeping, the vetting practices in those forces since 1995 and information sharing with other agencies, and to report to the Home Secretary on matters of local and national relevance and make recommendations as appropriate.”

The Humberside and Cambridgeshire police forces were heavily criticised for their failings in maintaining intelligence records on Huntley. Humberside, in particular, had been destroying records on sex offenders.

Prior to this, there had been public concern over the safety of children, young people and vulnerable adults, the CRB was established under Part V of the Police Act 1997 and was launched in March 2002.

Types of Disclosure

  • Standard DBS Check

This checks for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings.

  • Enhanced DBS Check

This includes the same as the standard check plus any additional information held by local police that’s reasonably considered relevant to the workforce being applied for (adult, child or ‘other’ workforce).

‘Other’ workforce means those who don’t work with children or adults specifically, but potentially both, eg taxi drivers. In this case, the police will only release information that’s relevant to the post being applied for.

  • Enhanced with list checks

This is like the enhanced check, but includes a check of the DBS barred lists.

This will check whether someone’s included in the two DBS ‘barred lists’ (previously called ISA barred lists) of individuals who are unsuitable for working with children and/or adults.

It can take 8 weeks to get a check processed.

A point to remember is It’s against the law to refuse someone a job because they’ve got a spent conviction or caution, unless it’s because a DBS check shows that they’re unsuitable. That means the conviction or caution should be relevant as a reason to refuse.

It is also illegal to employ someone who is on a barred list (Enhanced with list check).

More information can be found at:

My next post will be looking at why employers in regulated activities are failing to be diligent when employing migrant workers.

Age Discrimination in Recruitment

AGE_POSITIVE1 In July 2014, I wrote a piece that I posted in LinkedIn on how Age Discrimination despite legislation is still a problem in the UK and has been highlighted in the past week by Business In The Community (BITC) in their report “Pathways back into employment”. you can also see the write-up in Personnel Today 

The following is my original LinkedIn post:

Age discrimination during the recruitment process is a growing problem in the UK.

This is despite that since 1 October 2006 the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations make any discrimination on the grounds of age in employment unlawful. This means that employers and their agents cannot discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees on the grounds of age. This was further updated by the Equality Act 2010. There is no defined starting point when Age Discrimination starts and the legislation recognises and caters for this.

Someone who is in their 30’s may be likely to face Age Discrimination as much as someone who is 50 +. I was recently contacted by a recruiter who said they had seen my CV on a job board and would I be interested in a role they were handling for a client. During the conversation, they slipped in the question “What is your date of birth?” and almost immediately said, “I’m going to put that on the top of your CV when I send it over to the client!”

Now my date of birth has never been on my CV, in fact, it is bad practice to have it on a CV, as it is also a bad idea to have a photograph on or attached to your CV. In fact, there is a school of thought about removing dates from qualifications as this can unwittingly lead to bias which manifests itself as discrimination. But just recently I have been hearing more and more complaints about age discrimination, and the worse thing is it has been identified by other HR Professionals!

Despite the risks of heavy fines, there appears to be those who are happy to flout the legislation, HR and Recruitment professionals who should know better. The biggest problem is online application forms which will ask your age and date of birth twice, once in the main body under personal details and second in the monitoring information.

Would an employer include a question about ethnicity in the main body of an application form? No! So why should a date of birth feature so prominently? OK there is an issue that employers have a duty under the Immigration and Asylum act to check the identity of a potential employer although it isn’t unlawful to ask age or date of birth on an application form, it is preferable to separate personal details to ensure that any decisions are objective and not based on age If you have a diversity monitoring form, by moving the age or date of birth on the form, the recruitment process can be seen as fairer – these can then be re-introduced at the end of the recruitment process after a decision has been made. Employers should only ask for information which is relevant to the job, and remove anything which is not relevant and has only been included because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Age is one of the Pillars of Diversity

Smart and informed employers know the benefits of a diverse workforce and reap the rewards. As the baby boomer generation retires, employers are going to need to learn to respect and value the skills and experience of older applicants or face being at a major disadvantage with their competitors. If you are interested in finding out more, then you can find more information at The Age and Employment Network or by following the ACAS link above. Remember legislation does have teeth as one employer found out in this Age Discrimination case to their cost!  An employer that dismissed drivers over 67 after claiming that its insurance provider would not insure them has admitted liability for age discrimination and unfair dismissal midway through the drivers’ case and has been ordered to pay over £700,000 to 20 drivers.

Onboarding – why the basics matter

Just recently I was reading some posts in a LinkedIn group, one, in particular, caught my eye. The poster had left his new job (he wasn’t working in HR) after what he called two miserable days!

On his first day, he was left alone to read through the company handbook, and his second began with being rushed round the company site saying hello to over a 100 employees! The rest of the day he was pretty much ignored and left to find something to do.

This to me is absolutely shocking and shows that no thought had been shown towards a new starter. OK so there may some companies/organisations that have the sink or swim culture but they are very much in the minority.

When you start looking and researching “Onboarding” you soon find horror stories abound.

When you get a new starter you are at risk of losing then over the first so many days (I use markers at 30 – 60 – 90 – 120 days), it’s madness not to onboard new employees, after all, they will have cost the company a great deal of money by the time they walk through the front door on their first day.

What does a good onboarding process look like?

Implement basics prior to the first day on the job
Make the first day on the job special
Design and implement formal orientation programs
Create and use written onboarding plans
Be participatory in nature
Consistently implement onboarding
Monitor progress over time
Utilise technology to facilitate the process
Recognise onboarding takes place over time- use milestones- 30 – 60 – 90 – 120 days on the job up to 1-year post-organizational entry
Engage key stakeholders in planning
Include key stakeholder meetings
Be clear in terms of the who, what, when, where of onboarding
Onboarding isn’t making the new employee spend a day ploughing through a company handbook nor is it sink or swim.

It’s the little things like making sure they have a door pass, computer password (many companies break the law (Data Protection Act/Misuse of Computers Act) by expecting new employees to either use a former employee’s password or borrow one from another employee (perhaps on leave)),

Orientation is important, spending a day in a different department to see what goes on. I know one company that makes all new starters (including if they will be working in an office) complete a week on the factory floor so they understand how the companies products are made.

The Aberdeen Group published a report called Onboarding 2013: A look at New Hires. In this report eBay was used as a case study and the following was discovered. Customer Retention Improved by 15 %; Revenue per Full-Time Employee 17% Higher for Best-in-Class Onboarding Organisations

Challenge: With nearly 30,000 employees in 28 countries around the world and minimal HR resources, eBay recognised their need to improve the new hire experience and create efficiencies through a comprehensive technology solution.
Solution: By using technology, the company has begun to improve the new-hire experience by automating both tasks and socialisation aspects of onboarding.
Results: eBay quickly reduced the administrative cost of onboarding by 25% and saved significant operational costs and improved productivity by reducing its onboarding process steps by 60%.
The report made the link that better onboarding produced better performance. In organisations with best in class onboarding, 91% of first-year employees were retained and 62% met their first performance milestones on time, compared with only 29% in industry average organisations and a poor 17% in the rest.

Aberdeen also found that the best in class organisations using technology to automate payroll forms, benefits enrollment, new employee forms, workflow, tasks management and provision tools to manage permissions/systems access. They also say that there is a strong correlation between onboarding and learning integration as they share similar productivity objectives, as 26% of best in class organisations enrol new starters in L&D programs compared to 11% of others.

In my next post, I will be looking at Strategic Onboarding and how it links to ‘Business Social‘

The report Onboarding 2013: A look at New Hires was sponsored by the Aberdeen Group and may now require a fee to view, please see:

The item was originally posted in the Numbers Game blog on 17 September 2013

The differences between Metrics and Analytics

Recently it seems to be getting more common for people to be confused over what exactly HR Metrics and HR Analytics are! Some people seem to use the terms interchangeably, so in this post, I will try and explain the difference and give some examples.

A simple definition is Talent Metrics looks at Tangible Data (Easy to measure, Low Value) whilst Talent  Analytics looks mainly at Intangible Data (Hard to measure, High Value).

Metrics are Informational

Metrics focus on counting, tracking and presenting past data derived from (for example): web visits, the volume of candidate applications, how many (and what kind of) recruitment campaigns were done in a year and other “low value” data gathering.

Metrics give an inside perspective on a business because they use (tangible) data from in-house sources, such as aggregated HR data. Whilst useful it should be remembered that this type of data can only give basic insights (over functional/operational/systemic areas).

Analytics are strategic

In complete contrast, Analytics looks at both past and present data (using both tangible and intangible information) giving powerful insights, optimisations and predictions. Data can be collected by a diverse range of systems and software which can be worked on, and analysed to find data which is transformational and equally high value. Because Analytics use both external and internal sources they give an “outside-in perspective” on a business.

Here are some examples from Metrics and Analytics which should highlight the differences .

Talent Metrics (HR): How many top sales reps left last quarter?

Talent Analytics (Business): Why do my top performing employees keep leaving?

Talent Metrics (HR): What is the average compensation for engineers across the organization?

Talent Analytics (Business): Why are our top software engineers dissatisfied even after we’ve given everyone a department-wide raise?

Talent Metrics (HR): Who is next in line to become our CEO?

Talent Analytics (Business): Will the CEO candidate align or conflict with the rest of the executive team?

Talent Metrics (HR): How many customer service reps do we have?

Talent Analytics (Business): Is our customer service staff optimized to meet this quarter’s customer service improvement goal?

This was originally posted on 5th March 2014 in the Numbers Game blog

Is the “War for Talent” just smoke and mirrors?

There has been a lot of comment recently about changing demographics in the UK workforce, this is borne out by the fact that the UK has for around 40 years had a declining birth rate going down from 2.4 children in the late 1960’s.

The birth rate has started to increase but it won’t make a major difference to the UK workforce for 15 to 20 years in the future after which the UK should reach what is called the replacement rate.

The other joker in the pack of employment cards is the fact that the majority of the workforce are in a demographic group called baby boomers who were born from 1946 to 1964, and what we are witnessing is the gradual retirement of people in this group (Bear in mind this group is the largest age group in the UK).

Therefore, it is pretty obvious that as the baby boomers continue to retire
en-masse there will be a shortfall of workers to replace them. In an ideal world, there should be zero unemployment but that isn’t as things stand, going to happen.

The first problem is one made by a UK Government and it deals with the strategy to ensure that those available for work are qualified and have the skills for the workplace.

In the late 90’s the British Government wanted every adult to be qualified to Level 3 standard (Equivalent to A level) in vocational subjects if they didn’t have the necessary qualifications. The Government supported this drive by effectively subsidising college courses.

At the time, it was fairly easy to learn new skills and gain new qualifications, especially if you were trying a career change or returning to work. Then for reasons best only known to itself the Government withdrew the funding and effectively downgraded the requirement for every adult to have a Level 3 qualification to Level 2.

This has been disastrous especially as the Level 2 replacement courses amount to nothing more than a multiple choice test whilst sat at a PC and as the UK comes out of a bad recession job seekers who didn’t benefit from  adult training or education 15 years ago haven’t got the skills that employers want.

We can now add a double whammy!

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG are claiming that “Job vacancies have continued to increase but a shortage of candidates is emerging, suggesting a “core group” of long-term unemployed unable to find work, according to a new report”.

The REC goes further and suggests that the problem is being caused by a clamp down on immigration, there also seems to be a suggestion that those unemployed in the UK don’t want to work. The really ironic thing here is that the REC is the industry body for recruiters and it is the practices of some of its members that are adding to the problems.

For example, there are countless times that I have heard of recruiters who will not put forward candidates who have a gap in employment.

This question was posed in a CIPD online group “In the current climate, what is the best way to deal with a career break in your CV?”

My answer was this:

“Why should a gap be that important? If the person is out of work then they should be putting maximum effort into finding a new job, however, that doesn’t just mean constantly pitching your CV into the recruitment black hole.

Just taking someone who has been working in HR as an example (but you could substitute this for most job roles). Are they a member of the CIPD? Do they go along to branch events, have they kept themselves up to date with the what is going on within HR or even business generally?

Questions which never get asked, because recruiters and hiring managers only see a gap and haven’t got the savvy to ask and would rather pitch that application into the black hole rather then realise that the applicant may just be a quality candidate.

Recruitment shortages keep being mentioned in the press, why? There are still plenty of capable people looking for work out there.”

So once again I will ask why should a gap be important?’ When is the absence of an employment gap ever listed as an essential or desirable criterion? Surely professional recruiters are focusing on the relevant personal competencies, technical capabilities, work experience, achievements etc. – a perceived career gap might even be that!

In addition, people’s attitudes to employment are a little different than they used to be. Many choose to change employers more frequently than in the past, and take breaks to achieve additional qualifications and experience, do volunteering for charitable causes etc. We should not make assumptions, rather interrogate what happened in that period and find out how that might be of value.

The shortage of candidates will only get worse if those available to work are not given the choice.

It’s a conversation that HR and the Recruitment Industry need have…. and soon!