HR support doesn’t need to be in the form of an HR department.  Whilst that may suit large organisations that employ lots of staff, with a small company it is just not necessary because there is no need and  it is too costly even to employ an HR Manager.  However, there will be situations that arise whereby even a small company will need HR support or employment law advice from time to time.  These days there are many providers of independent HR support and advice – large independent call centres, call centres linked to chambers of commerce, employment lawyers and independent HR consultants.

Even the internet can be used to source HR advice, but employers must beware of failing to correctly understand the information they obtain and then acting inappropriately.  I recently heard about a business owner who wanted to dismiss a senior member of staff for poor performance.  The business owner had not spoken to the employee about this at all.  Instead he sought a template document off a business related website that informed the employee he was being invited to a meeting in order to be dismissed.   If the business owner had sent that letter then he could have ended up with a costly employment tribunal, however he did actually speak to an HR consultant before doing so and was given correct advice on how to proceed.

The choice of HR support will depend on what type of service a company is looking for.  A call centre HR service provider may be able to offer telephone HR advice but the chances are that different call centre operatives will pick up a call therefore there will be support from different advisors which may not always be good.  By choosing either an independent HR consultant or an employer lawyer a more personal service is provided and by speaking to the same person each time an HR issue arises a relationship is built up.  The advisor will get to know about the business and possibly the more problematic members of staff, therefore the advice will be more tailored.

The budget available for HR support could determine the type of HR support service required.  In general the larger HR advice providers may charge a large annual sum for retained HR support and lock companies into lengthy, inflexible contracts.  This is because they will have much higher overheads eg building and staff costs.  Likewise employment lawyers, whilst having excellent employment law knowledge, traditionally have a high fee structure.  Perhaps the cheapest option could be an HR consultant who has lots of practical HR experience and good employment law knowledge.  If they are CIPD qualified this is a good indicator that they have met the rigorous standards of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and will provide a good standard of advice.

There may be bolt on services that an employer may require in addition to telephone and email HR advice.  For example there may be the requirement for HR documentation such as employment contracts, employee handbooks, job descriptions and scripts.  Large HR service providers may provide online access to template documentation that can be easily downloaded.  However it is important to ensure that back up advice is available on the use of such documents to ensure that they will be used appropriately and legally.  An independent HR consultant or an employment lawyer should be able to provide a similar service on an as required basis, but again the cost should be established.

Whilst a call centre can provide excellent HR advice on the phone and via email in the majority of cases they can not provide any on site HR support.  Sometimes employers may need the back up support of an HR advisor on site to help them with a difficult employee situation eg to provide coaching with a disciplinary hearing and note taking or to assist with recruitment.  Few employment lawyers provide this service, however, a flexible HR consultant would more than likely be able to assist.

So when considering sources of HR support and advice there are key points to consider.  The most important thing for companies to remember is to get HR assistance when they are unsure of how to proceed with an employment problem otherwise it could cost them dear in an employment tribunal.