Conflict Resolution

Beware the gentleman’s agreement

beware gentleman's agreementA man’s handshake and word is his bond, so we like to believe. While most of us would testify to this most honourable of principles, in reality the competitive environs of the modern farming industry dictate that ‘moveable agreements’ will be just that should circumstance change and commitments shift.

Conversely, we must appreciate that staff and colleagues will be as much driven by their own commitments and interests, to that of any loyalty to you as the employer.

Farming is unique in its relationship with employer and employee, and often these relationships can span generations with the farm business evolving through a trusted and long-standing personal and working relationship between both parties.

But that is the key point, farming constantly evolves and therefore, so do working practices and job descriptions. It is absolutely crucial that roles are clearly defined from the outset and regularly reviewed, with written contracts in place. This is to protect both employer and employee.

Clear guidelines should be provided and clarification of what is expected of both employee and employer should be determined to avoid misinterpretation at a later stage. This is true whether taking on new or seasonal staff or formalising contracts with existing and trusted farm workers.

To put the issue in context, a recent case resulted in a successful five-figure claim by a farm worker injured while operating machinery he had been instructed not to use. As this instruction had been conveyed as verbal guidance only, and there had been no written evidence to confirm the advice had been imparted, the claim was successful and the farmer faced with a heavy bill.

It is clear then, failure to provide written contracts with clear job descriptions will leave farmers open to liability claims. But equally, from a general health and safety perspective, clear and agreed role definitions can only help avoid accidents in the workplace, with machinery operation particularly in mind.

Keeping written files up to date and on file, with regular reviews will improve safety on farm. And be sure to be transparent with your insurance broker. As the business evolves and job roles develop, so your insurance may also change. Regular insurance reviews will enable brokers to identify any suggested changes to a standard farm policy.

There should always be a direct point of contact for employees should they wish to raise any concerns. This may be the farm owner, but often an intermediary may be the preferred access point.

The gentleman’s agreement is fast disappearing. With the proliferation of ‘No Win, No Fee’ solicitors, do not be surprised if your trusted employee makes a claim against you in the event of sustaining injury in the workplace.

Remember, you are running a business and all employee relations should be treated as such, regardless of the personal and long-standing relationship you may have with your workforce. Farming is a 21st century industry, and sadly the modern business world does not lend itself to taking a man’s word as his bond.