LEADING the team

Neil Pattemore looks at the particular challenges of leadership in the workshop. It’s not all point and shout you know…

By Neil Pattermore | Published:  16 April, 2018

Unless you are a one-man business, you will probably have staff to manage. The art of managing your team is one of the most challenging, but ultimately, one of the most rewarding

If you look at a description of what a business needs, it would be something like ‘the team leader is required to put people first and that they need a high degree of emotional intelligence, patience and a working knowledge of human resources, in order to keep both the employee and the company satisfied’. If you subsequently wrote the job description it would highlight at least the following – ‘Manages and leads a team of employees. Communicates company goals, safety practices, and deadlines to the team. Motivates team members and assesses performance. Provides help to senior management, including hiring and training, and keeps senior management updated on team performance. Communicates concerns and policies among management and team members.’ Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Keep in mind that you won’t always get these skills right away and some may always remain difficult. You’ll make mistakes, but that’s OK as long as you keep working at it and resolve that no matter what, you will become a better leader. So, what are the top five skills to focus on to become a good ‘team leader’?

Communication is about much more than the basics of sharing ideas, or conveying information. For leaders, communication is the most fundamental skill they can possess when it comes to leading an individual, or a team. Communicating well is more than the sum of its parts and is also ‘not what you say, but how you say it.’

It’s one thing to say or write something, and another to have people know exactly what you mean. A good communicator will be able to express themselves clearly, without engendering confusion or ambiguity. However, and most importantly, a good communicator also understands that communication goes both ways: being a good listener is as important (or possibly more important) than doing the talking. Equally not all communication is verbal, some is in the ‘non-verbal’ category and being a good communicator means transcending written and verbal communication. Conveying a sense of openness and being non-judgmental, even when you are not directly saying anything is important, as body language and general demeanor can sometimes convey even more than words. Leaders should be intrinsically calm, open, optimistic, and positive. Who wants to work for an eternal pessimist? Managing people means supporting your team. This means not only supporting them to do their jobs well, but also to encourage them to move forward in their careers. Sometimes this means helping them improve their skillsets to enable them to become better at the nitty gritty of their work. At other times, it can mean assisting them in developing their own communication styles or guiding them in their daily work or motivating them to ‘think outside the box’ to develop their competency and skill levels. Whatever their work is, adopting a coaching mindset is an integral part of being a good leader. A coach encourages and supports and should know how best to do a job, even if they are not the best at actually doing it. A coach is part cheerleader and part trainer in the same way that a football manager has different team members playing in different positions, but he knows how to get the best out of each of them, especially in their specific roles.

Leaders must show leadership, so must be able to clearly and effectively formulate directions for others, and then articulate them in such a way as to convey them effectively. Show by example and then support the team member in developing how they can fulfil the task. Don’t ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself, but remember that delegating responsibility can make team members feel responsible and valued. However, ensure that this delegation is clearly communicated and that the team member is both motivated and capable to take on what’s expected of them. Direction often involves more than a simple, “do X by Y date.” Direction can involve guidance, instruction, mentorship, planning, motivation and keeping a positive attitude even if someone is struggling. A good leader will value and actively encourage relationships, working to build one-on-one associations as well as fostering healthy relationships amongst the other team members. Relationship building could be as simple as remembering certain personal details about people and subsequently inquiring about those things every now and again. It can equally be a simple question about how today is going and listening to the answer before offering support – verbally or through actions.

Most of all, building relationships is about authenticity and genuinely connecting with people in a way that creates a familiar feeling and a sense of understanding and appreciation within the team. Don’t just assume that an ‘out of hours’ team activity will suffice – it could even be seen as encroaching on an individual’s private time and be counter-productive.

People want to be heard, really heard, and not patronised. Often, instead of listening to someone in a conversation, people are really just waiting for an opportunity to speak. One trick is to say “OK, I understand you’re saying…”. By repeating what you understand the other person to have said, it helps you to really listen to what they are saying. Equally, it reinforces to the other person that you are truly listening to them and respect what they have to say. Eventually, there will always be the time when you need to criticise or praise, but the surest way to demotivate people is to constantly criticise them or complain about them. Always be firm but fair and explain what the problem is, or equally, why you feel they have done well. If they make a mistake, put it in perspective with the things they constantly do well. Accentuate the positive and utilise mistakes as opportunities for continued improvement. Praising someone is easier, but it still needs to be done correctly. Give honest and sincere praise and appreciation and focus on using positive reinforcement. This is probably one of the greatest motivational methods you can ever employ.

Finally, one of the most important elements of being a successful team leader is being respectful of other people’s ideas and opinions.

Encourage the team to improve themselves and be more open by asking ‘open’ questions –why, when, how and what in relation to the different aspects of their work. Sometimes, even as a team leader, you will make mistakes, but rather than deny and repeat those mistakes, show some humility and admit your failures – but ensure that you learn from the experience. If you’re honest and humble enough to own up to your mistake, apologise to those affected, and work to avoid repeating your mistake, you will gain the respect of those you work with. Set a high bar for your team, believe in them, communicate that to them and you will be amazed at what they can achieve. Good luck!


xenconsultancy.com

Related Articles

  • Managing a winning team 

    Most businesses need staff to operate effectively and this means that those staff need to be managed. However, what does ‘managed’ really mean and how can the ‘business manager’ also be an effective manager of people?

    A good manager of staff should fully understand the roles and responsibilities of all of their team members, but ultimately, each of those team members should be better at doing their own jobs than the manager could. Secondly, the manager should be able to ‘get the best from the team they have and only change it when all other possibilities have failed’. In summary, the manager needs to know how to structure, manage and motivate his team to optimise their performance.

    Critical
    It is a well-known saying that people don’t quit their jobs, but they quit their bosses, but in reality this means that they left their job because it wasn’t enjoyable, or that their strengths weren’t being used or that they weren’t growing in their careers – and who is responsible for this – their manager.
        
    Recent research showed that 31% would swap their manager if they could and 22% felt that they could do a better job themselves if they were given the chance. Ineffective management not only impacts negatively on staff retention, quality of work and morale, but also on customer service and your company’s image. Not good for either your staff or your bottom line.
        
    The best managers know what they are doing, where their businesses are going and ensure that they have the right people in the critical roles to make it all happen. They then communicate and delegate effectively to their staff who have been trained, supported and motivated to fulfil their responsibilities. Businesses with well managed and competent employees are the best performers and frequently handle problems before they escalate to become real issues.

    Guiding principals
    So what are some of the key guiding principles for good people management?

    1. Build solid and respectful relationships
    Don’t aim to be liked, but aim to earn and keep the respect of your team
    Take time to talk to members of your staff. It will show that you are interested, but it will also be both motivational and allow you to better understand their position and any concerns that they may have. Be confident, strong and professional, whilst remaining transparent, approachable and encouraging.

    2. Strengthen your communication skills
    Your ability to listen and communicate is vital to your success as a manger of people. I don’t just mean your ability to listen and speak on a one-to-one basis, but also your ability to capture people’s minds in order to present your ideas, values and visions as well as your ability to listen and soak up the ideas, values and visions of others; that is true communication. Whether you are speaking with one person, or presenting to a whole audience of people, strong communicative skills are a must.

    3. Actively develop your team and be the team leader
    As you build and strengthen relationships throughout your team, you should begin to identify the individual talents, abilities and strengths of your employees. Knowing this detail will help you develop your team so that everyone is positioned within a role in which they can succeed and excel. Take time to communicate with each employee individually, as quite often employees will be forthcoming about what they see as their strengths and where they aim to be; they may also spark ideas to strengthen your team and its performance as a whole. Sometimes low morale and performance can be due to a lack of support and training. Ensure that your whole team are up to date with regular training appropriate to their role.
        
    To establish what your employees really appreciate and value, or to discover their training and support needs, use surveys, one-to-one appraisals or focus groups to talk through each key area to identify the good points, skills gaps or areas that should be improved. Quite simply, support your team.

    4. Be transparent
    Hiding things from your employees is a recipe for disaster. Remember that you have spent time building relationships with these people, relationships based on respect. As part of that mutual respect you also need to engender trust. By remaining transparent, honest and trustworthy with your employees you will further develop their respect and loyalty.

    5. Take responsibility
    This can often be tough, but is a sign of truly exceptional people management. As the manager, leader or head of your company, all responsibility should end with you. You are accountable for the performance of your employees. Remember failure is not a weakness; it’s an opportunity to learn, strengthen and improve. Take responsibility for your team and they will further respect you for it.
        
    All of these people management principles are important internal management skills, but these will also be seen externally by customers in a variety of both obvious, and not so obvious, ways.

    Perception
    When customers experience your business, whether by telephone, e-mail or physically visiting, their perception will be significantly more positive if they feel that they are being looked after by a well run, well managed business with highly motivated and professional staff. Often it is almost imperceptible how this can be picked up, but for sure, if your staff are not working within a well led and motivated environment, it will be reflected in their attitude to their work and frequently, to your customers in a negative way.
        
    The reality is good managers are not born, but learn the skills as part of learning how to understand people as individuals. Most of us work much better if we enjoy what we are doing. It has been said that the best qualification for running a business is not an MBA or a qualification in accountancy, but in psychology. Ultimately, good managers plan, monitor and review before delegating the work, but they can only do this effectively if their team is working well.
        
    As a small business, it may be a difficult to become recognised as one of the Sunday Times ‘Best companies to work for’, but the same good management practices will still apply.  Work hard with your staff and they will work hard for you.
    xenconsultancy.com

  • Hello can we talk? 

    I have been known to say that “Communication is a wonderful thing." Usually the context of this statement is that there has not been good communication and it has resulted in one or both of us missing something or being agitated with one another for not communicating well to the other what was intended.
        
    Probably sounds familiar to many of you, but in the business context it is vitally important that you can communicate with your customers in a way that conveys professionalism and instils both confidence and trust. This is ever-more difficult against a background of increasing vehicle technology and decreasing levels of technical understanding from your customers.
        
    At its most fundamental level, effective communication is the exchange of thoughts, information, ideas, and messages between people. However, it’s not communication unless the transmission is understood. Communication can happen verbally, nonverbally, in writing, and through behaviour as well as by listening and using feedback.
        
    No matter who or what audience you address, the art of communication can be a daunting task – as indeed, it is an art form. The good news is that there are seven steps to clear and effective communication for even the most challenging conversations with customers when trying to explain what is wrong with their vehicle.

    Strategies
    So how can you communicate effectively in this increasing technical environment? One of the best ways is to imagine that you are talking to your grandmother – she may be a little slow to understand, is very non-technical and is going a little deaf!
        
    Keep it simple: Think about how you can make the complicated simple. Do not use highly technical terms or technical abbreviations and explain slowly and clearly. A good example would not be to say: "Sorry, but your EGR valve is blocked by carbon build up on the pintle needle so now it can’t control the correct NOx requirements." Instead, say: "There is a valve on your vehicle’s engine which is required to control exhaust emissions and it is not working correctly." If the customer wants to know more you could always add: "Because it is blocked by carbon build up from the exhaust system, as it recycles exhaust gasses to reduce the exhaust emissions."

    Simples! – as they say.
        
    Does it make sense? Always ask yourself; Does what I’m saying make sense to the person I am speaking to and subsequently does the feedback I’m receiving confirm that they have understood?. When both parties in the conversation are truly able to say they understand or that it is all clear  effective communication has been achieved.
        
    Failure to Communicate – it’s down to you: Remember, as the primary communicator you are 100% responsible for the other person’s understanding of the communication. In other words, if you don’t feel that you are being understood, you have not completed the job of communicating. Don’t try to change what you are trying to communicate, but how you are communicating it.
        
    Stay on Message: Be clear about what ideas you are trying to express or the message you are trying to convey to the other person. What do you most want them to understand?
        
    It takes two: Try to really understand where others are coming from. What are they trying to say? What messages are they trying to get across to you? Pay special attention not just to what they are saying, but to what isn’t being said as well as their body language. Finally, if in doubt – ask!
        
    Sorry, what did you say? Do you really hear what others are saying? To really listen you should stop everything else that you are doing and really listen to what is being said to you. You should then summarise your understanding by being able to feed back to them exactly what you have understood them to have said. Good communication is a two-way thing.
        
    Respect: Recognise that your message is not just about you or what you want. It’s about what’s in it for the listener.  You must mutually understand what is being said and the corresponding implications. After all, they took the time and trouble to hear what you have to say, so it’s equally important to recognise and respect that we each have different perspectives based on our positions, motivations, and needs.
        
    Good communication for technically difficult aspects is a combination of both ‘what you say and how you say it’. In summary, keep it simple, keep it short, be a good listener and be both respectful and empathetic. Above all, avoid being condescending.

    In writing
    When communicating in writing, ensure that you are concise, that you write clearly about the specific point and consider that if you were in the recipient’s position, would they understand what you have written, especially in all the points that they need to know from you. Your audience doesn't want to read six sentences when you could communicate your message in three. Read what you have written and delete any words that are not needed to clearly explain what you need to say. Less is more, as long as you include everything you need to say.
        
    Effective written communication ensures that the audience has everything they need to be informed about, and if applicable, take action. If your message does include a 'call to action', does your audience clearly know what you need them to do?

    Good example
    As an example of good communication, I use a local independent workshop and Keith, the manager, is the epitome of how it should be done. It goes something like: "Hello Neil, your car is in today for a full service, so we will need it until around 2 o’clock. Can I have the key please? Is this mobile number the best to use so we can call you if I have any questions or to let you know when it is ready and finally is there anything else you would like us to know about that we may need to look at today?" Followed by my reply: "Great Keith, no, nothing else, so many thanks and see you later."
        
    Quick, polite and concise. When I pick my car up, he uses similarly simple and clear language to explain what was done, advice on any other issues they noticed before explaining the invoice, asking if everything is clear or are there any questions before requesting payment. Importantly, Keith never tries to baffle his customers with technical terms and avoids being condescending – important points in the key areas of creating professionalism, confidence and trust in this increasingly technical environment. It is a bit like your grandmother saying that the simple things in life are often the best and this applies to good communication when talking technical.  

    xenconsultancy.com

  • Get to the essentials 

    Marketing can be hard to grasp, even for the most experienced business operator. This made it an ideal topic for Andy Savva to cover as part of his 2019 training course schedule. Andy's one-day Marketing Essentials course provides an overview of what marketing actually is, looks at key approaches and how to apply them to a garage business.
        
    Aftermarket sat in on a sold-out session held in Crawley in February. In front of a packed room, filled with garages owners and staff, Andy dispelled some myths and misconceptions surrounding the discipline: "Marketing is one of the most misunderstood functions found in business. Whatever the reasons for any negative image that marketing may have, it is essential to realise that marketing is vital to ensure the survival and growth of any business. Marketing cannot be ignored and needs to be a part of the culture of any successful organisation.
        
    "Marketing affects everyone. We are all consumers. Most businesses depend on marketing to provide an understanding of the marketplace, to ensure their products and services satisfy the needs of customers, and that they are competing effectively."
        
    Despite running great businesses, Andy has found that garage owners often struggle when it comes to marketing: "Understanding customers and anticipating their requirements is a core theme of effective marketing, yet this is somewhat difficult for garages to fully get to grips with. So too is understanding general market trends and developments that may affect both customers views and the activities of businesses in the aftermarket repair sector. You must also be aware that a business does not have the marketplace to itself. There are always direct competitors, new entrants and indirect challengers.”
        
    Andy added: "Marketing should concern everybody in a business as it sets the context in which sales can take place. Whatever your role, you play a part in setting that context."

    Interaction
    As Andy got into the meat of the marketing matter, he led the delegates through what marketing is, and how they need to approach it and enact effective marketing within their businesses. Even the most experienced business owners and managers can get a little confused when asked to distinguish between marketing, advertising and sales. After asking attendees to pick where they would plant the marketing flag, with a few near misses along the way, Andy went through the specifics:
        
    "Marketing is a systematic approach aimed at bringing buyers and sellers together for the benefit of both. Many people confuse selling and advertising with marketing but they are not the same. Marketing is about promoting goods and services that both satisfy customers and also bring profits to the business.
         
    "Selling is the interaction that takes place on a personal level with potential customers. Marketing on the other hand is aimed at generating those potential customers in the first place. Many people confuse selling and advertising with marketing but they are not the same. Advertising is part of the marketing function, but never the other way around."
        
    For marketing to succeed, there needs to  be a goal and a way of achieving it, which Andy went on to cover: "Any marketing campaign needs to have a clear focus and this is why it is so important to make the right choices. Will the business compete across the entire market, or only certain parts? It is also a good idea to ensure all employees know the strategies being adopted, so that everyone works together to achieve the same goals." Andy then asked a question of the group: "Do you know what your garage business is trying to achieve and how it is trying to achieve it? In most cases the answer is no."
        
    The goal influences the method, and vice versa. From this point, Andy covered the classic four Ps of marketing – product, price, place and promotion – and went from there to the more recent extended marketing mix, incorporating people, process and physical evidence. Beyond this he laid out transactional marketing, which is sales-focused, and relationship marketing, which takes a much broader view including customer service, and quality presentation and results.
        
    Next he took on the thorny issue of branding as part of the marketing strategy, and why a strong brand is so important for recognition, financial value, motivation and loyalty. All of that was just the pre-lunch session. After lunch, Andy went into even greater detail on areas such as the marketing triangle, SMART objectives and SWOT analysis. It's heady stuff, but Andy made it approachable and applicable to the sector.

    Inspirational
    Those in attendance found a lot to take away from the day. Dani Comber from Thrussington Garage in East Goscote, near Leicester said: "I find Andy really inspirational. I think he's brilliant. He can come and work at our garage." Commenting on what she was learning about marketing from the day, Dani said it showed the gap between what they were doing at present, and what they should be doing: "I find it demotivating and motivating at the same time. You want to do everything, you've got the intention to do it, but you've not done it. On the other hand you are motivated because you see what you can do."
        
    Elisa Bramall from Scantec Automotive from Hailsham, East Sussex said: "I have attended several training courses with Andy. I only have good things to say about him of course. His passion being the main thing, and that he says it how it is. No beating around the bush. A lot of his values we stand by as well, i.e use of OE parts, tools and genuine equipment. When you attend his training courses, it aligns with what we want to achieve. With all of his experience, if you think you know it all you certainly don't."
        
    Tina Drayson, Operations Manager at CCM Garage, based in West Sussex and Surrey said: "I have done Andy's financial course before. It is phenomenal. I have learned so much from it. It has certainly changed the way we are doing our business. I am hoping that today with the marketing essentials will give us even more direction going forward."
        
    Terry Roberts, owner at  Witham Motor Company in Witham, Essex said: "I have just become a RAC approved garage in the last few weeks, so I am looking at changing my brand. I am really enjoying it. I am learning a lot and have picked up a lot of things."
        
    Commenting on what he was getting from the course, Billy from  Beacon Hill Garage in Hindhead, Surrey said: "It just hammers home that if your standards slip, and your marketing as well, and you take your eye off the ball, things will go wrong. I will be going back to give a few people a kick up the backside to bring standards back up. "
        
    Brothers Mahesh Vekaria and Pravin Patel own a garage each in Harrow. Mahesh, owner of Cardoc said: "What have I learned from Andy today so far? It has refocused and re-energised my enthusiasm for marketing. We do a fair bit of marketing, but coming today, you see a different angle to it."
        
    Pravin, proprietor at Harrow Service Centre, observed: "Today has been interesting. I have learned a lot. In a sense we already do a bit of marketing, but to understand what it really does mean and the ways we are doing it – is it right or wrong? – is really useful. It is something to implement when we go back to work."
        
    In that the pair are brothers and are based just half a mile apart, Aftermarket was curious as to who would get back and implement new marketing initiatives first. "I would say that I would," said Mahesh. Pravin agreed: "Yes  he would, definitely, having said that, he looks after my marketing for my garage as well. So he has double the work really."

    Information
    Edward Cockhill of Uckfield Motor Services in Uckfield East Sussex observed: "It is quite an eye-opener. I saw marketing as just advertising, whereas it is really the whole perception of my company. There is a lot of cogs that are going to be turning when I get home. "
        
    Peter Bedford of GT One Ltd in Chertsey, Surrey said: "We are an independent Porsche specialist. Our business is in need of a bit of a review in its marketing ideas, and we are looking to freshen it up. I have come along to see another angle of it. Some things I think I know and we have applied. Some I know and we have not applied, so you need a kick up the backside. Some things are brand new. On the whole it is brilliant."
        
    Cieran Larkin from Larkin Automotive in Dublin commented: "It is good to get marketing training from a professional who has been in the garage business as opposed to someone who is dealing with generic marketing. Andy's experience is brilliant in that way."
        
    Nick Robinson from Marchwoods in Folkestone had been to Andy's courses previously and was back for more: "I came to Andy's events last year for garage financial understanding and customer excellence. They were real eye-openers so I have come back for another one. I was badgering him earlier to see what is coming up next. I will be at that one as well!"
        
    Meanwhile, for Edward from Swanley Garage in Swanley, it was his first time: "This is the first one I have been to. It is really good. It is about getting all the information and having the guts to go out and do it. We are all guilty of not doing marketing properly, it is about taking that jump to rebrand yourself or say right we are not doing that any more, or we are not doing cut price work, or we are not going to let the customers bargain with us any more, and seeing where it takes you."

  • Would you like to diagnose more vehicles first time? 

    As we reach March, 2019 is well and truly underway. In fact by the time you read this one third of the year will have whizzed by never to be seen again. Now, I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions (they’re so last year), but I am the type of chap that likes constant progress when it comes to developing a technician’s career.
        
    There’s so much to be said for small steps taken everyday that on first look appear don’t appear to make a difference, but when gazed back upon over a 12 month period have a staggering affect on your capability to diagnose a vehicle first time, in a timely manner.

    Pitter-patter of tiny feet
    Small steps are all well and good but where do you start? After all, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you’d like to start your journey to diagnostic success off on the right foot. In this instance I’d start with the end in mind and reverse engineer the outcome you desire. It’s a logical process that works, and can be replicated time and time again in your diagnostic routine.
        
    Your ‘end in mind’ in this instance is a vehicle where the fault no longer exists, that won’t appear back across the threshold of your workshop anytime soon. But how do you guarantee that?

    One test to rule them all
    I love nothing more than when the delegates working through our training programs have a technical epiphany. This happens at many points on their path of learning, but none more than with bypass testing.
        
    Bypass testing is step nine in Johnny’s diagnostic circle of love (our 15 step routine), and often the key element in the first time fix. The good news for you is that it doesn’t require mythical creatures to forge their magical powers into an object that only one technician can possess. It’s something that every tech can learn, and become a diagnostic wizard.

    What is bypass testing?
    Quite simply it’s fixing the vehicle before you fix the vehicle. Let me explain.
        
    Wouldn’t it be great if you suspected that a Mass Air Flow sensor was at fault and you could prove that you were right before you fitted a new part, or spoke to the owner of the vehicle. If you could do that then the positive effect it would have on you and the business you work for would blow you away.
        
    Picture this: Your customer has reported that the vehicle is low on power. You’ve diligently questioned them, experienced the problem with them on a road test, and the bought the vehicle into the workshop.
        
    You’ve pulled codes and found none present, followed by taking a look through serial data to hunt for diagnostic clues. It doesn’t take you long to identify that the MAF sensor frequency looks a little low at 1.5 Khz and your fuel trim data is incorrect and making a positive corrections. You’ve seen a bunch of these before and know that 1.85 Khz is a suitable value for this vehicle.
        
    You’re keen to prove that the serial data is leading you in the right direction so confirm the sensor output with your oscilloscope. The oscilloscope frequency mirrors that of the serial tool and your starting to get that warm fuzzy feeling that an you’re onto something.

    Steady the buffs
    You’ve been close to success before though, only to be thwarted in the final moments so you’re keen not to be caught out twice. You know that documenting the reasons that the MAF output could be incorrect is the way to go, and duly make a list of tests required to confirm your theories.

  • part ONE: ‘You owe me!’ 

    As an employer, have you ever found yourself in a situation where you need to make a deduction from an employee’s wages? Are you confident that you know the legal rules in this area? Andrew Rayment, a Partner in the employment department of law firm Walker Morris, has seen this question arise many times with employers who have made the wrong decision.
        
    He offers an example to illustrate the point. A worker has had to take three weeks off work because of a bad back. He is paid statutory sick pay but there is no company sick pay scheme to top this up. He has three young children to support and the employer knew he was going to struggle to make ends meet. The employer ‘topped him up’ to his full wages for the three weeks as a ‘loan’ to help him out. It was agreed, however, that the loan was to be repaid when the worker was in a better situation. The payment was through payroll so the money was received as ‘wages’.
      
     “The problem in this case was that everything was done on trust, so nothing was written down or confirmed in writing,” and as Andrew continued, “a year later the worker resigned after a disagreement. During the interregnum, the period between handing in his notice and his departure, he didn’t repay the money, so it was simply deducted from his final wages payment.” The agreement for the loan was verbal and there was nothing written into his employment contract for the employer to make deductions from his wages.
        
    As if to inflame the situation, the worker subsequently filed a claim in the Employment Tribunal for unlawful deductions from wages and the employer was ordered to repay the sums deducted.
        
    As Andrew says: “It seems unjust, but these were the actual facts of an Employment Tribunal case. But there is a further sting in the tail. Once an Employment Tribunal has ordered an employer to pay back an amount that has been deducted unlawfully the employer cannot attempt to recover that money later in another way, for example by bringing a civil action in the county court.” This rule, he adds, applies even though the sum may have been properly due from the employee to the employer. The fact that the employer has sought to recover it unlawfully effectively extinguishes the previous debt and the employer does not get a second bite at the cherry.

    What does the law say?
    Section 13 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 sets out the provisions that protect workers from unauthorised deductions (known as unlawful deductions) being made from their wages.
      
     “Quite simply,” says Andrew, “the law says it is unlawful for an employer to make a deduction from a worker's wages unless the deduction is required or authorised by statute or a provision in the worker's contract; or the worker has given their prior written consent to the deduction.”
        
    Worse still for employers, he says that unlike breach of contract claims which can only be brought after the employment has ended, employees can bring unlawful deductions claims in the Employment Tribunal while their employment is ongoing.

    Who is protected?
    The law applies to all workers and includes not only an employee, but an individual who has entered into ‘any other contract... to do or perform personally any work or services’, unless the individual is carrying on a ‘profession or business undertaking’ and the other party to the contract is ‘a client or customer’ of that undertaking. In practice, anyone who is on the payroll regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, casual, direct agency hire or zero-hours will be protected.
        
    Andrew cautions employers that following a raft of recent cases on worker status many self-employed contractors may be deemed in law to be workers regardless of the parties’ intentions or the contractual paperwork.
        
    In essence, workers are protected from having deductions made from their wages except in certain specific circumstances. Says Andrew: “The law puts the onus firmly on employers to obtain authorisation from the worker to any deductions before they are made. The overriding aim is to protect staff from unscrupulous employers, but employers also need to protect themselves against falling victim to the strict legal rules.”



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