Mister Meanor gives sound advice on how to deal with a predecessor's rash promises and saving a vulnerable employee from the chop.
Dear Mister Meanor
I have recently taken over as chief executive of a medium-sized business.
While settling into the job, I discovered that my predecessor, in a fit of valedictory largesse, had made a number of rather rash promises to various individuals and institutions. Chief among the outgoing chief's lavish legacies is an offer to provide £5,000 worth of our services to a local charity, gratis. While there is nothing in writing, I have no reason to doubt the charity's word. Moreover, the ex-chief executive was widely regarded as a generous man and I have no wish to be seen as the tight-fisted newcomer. But £5,000 does seem excessive. What should I do?
Left in the Lurch of Letchworth
Dear Left in the Lurch
The charming presents left to you by your predecessor do indeed present a pressing problem. It will certainly be difficult to tread the tight-rope between appearing a skinflint and looking like a soft touch. £5,000, either in cash or in kind, may seem overly generous. But the prospect of local newspaper headlines screaming 'New boss rats on charity' is also less than ideal.
I suggest a compromise. The best course of action is to explain to your contact at the charity that there has been some confusion regarding the commitments made by the previous incumbent. You should ask that the charity pays the normal rate for your services. In return, the company would be quite happy to make a smaller donation - say, £1,500 - to the good cause in question. You should not be bound by another's word, but any charity is also good PR to boot.
Dear Mister Meanor
I manage a smallish department for an engineering company. Times have been bad recently and my boss is looking to make cuts, with an eye to my team. Due to a serious illness, one of my staff, in normal circumstances a strong performer, has been off for several months. This is hardly ideal, but I sympathise with her predicament. My boss, however, does not. It looks as though someone is for the chop and my stricken employee is in his sights. What should I do and what is the legal position?
Disquieted of Dundee
Your boss will ultimately have the whip hand on budgetary issues, but you should do your utmost to protect your vulnerable employee. An obvious first step is to reaffirm the likely speed of her recovery - and estimated date of return. Once you know your time frame, you can assess how realistic your chances of saving her job actually are.
The legal position is fairly cut and dried and can be worked to your employee's advantage. Your boss cannot ask you directly to use the illness as a redundancy criterion - rather, it and the need to downsize should be treated as entirely separate issues. But he could suggest a basket of criteria - including a heavy weighting for attendance - when deciding whether any employee should pay the price. Failing that, he could ask you to look at incapacity - due to long-term illness, your employee has become incapable of doing her job. But here, subterfuge is often far more trouble than it's worth and can leave your company looking shoddy. If an appeal to your boss's sense of fair play fails, then perhaps an appeal to his sense of corporate image may delay thoughts of redundancy until such a point as the employee is much closer to recovery.