Adventures In Micro-Business: Age discrimination and carbon footprints

Professor Russell Smith answers your queries
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The Independent Online

Q. Will the new rules about age discrimination have any real impact on my small business?

A. Any small business that uses age as a factor in hiring, firing and training members of staff will be open to legal action now that age discrimination legislation came into force on 1 October. For example, it is now illegal for you to specify an age when advertising a vacancy. All small businesses should safeguard themselves by updating HR policies and company handbooks. For further information visit www.acas.org.uk and download a copy of the ACAS guide, "Age and the Workplace".

Q. One of my employees has asked to leave early one day per week in order to help look after a parent with a chronic illness. What are the rules as to how I should handle this kind of request?

A. You need to be fair on two fronts: fair in that you treat all employees equally and fair in that you consider each request in an objective and sympathetic manner. The general rule is that employers normally find any flexibility offered in this kind of situation paid back many times over. However, you should also consider the effect of an employee's regular absence on your other employees. Identify all other employees that might be affected and talk to them about any concerns that they might have. A good team will normally "pull together" in a positive way but be prepared to negotiate a workable compromise acceptable to everyone, including yourself.

Q. Recent press coverage has made me recognise how little I know about "diversity at work" issues. Is there a source of general information that you can recommend?

A. The Federation of Small Business recently contributed to a document produced by Stonewall on how small businesses can improve diversity in the workplace. The document can be found online at www.stonewall.org.uk/work. Business Link's website has a section entitled, "Widen your choice of employees to improve competitiveness" - see www.businesslink.gov.uk.

Q. A customer recently asked me about the "carbon footprint" of my business - what is this?

A. The "carbon footprint" is a measure of the impact that human activities have on the environment. Anything that your business can do to reduce energy consumption will reduce its footprint. Not only will this save your business money but it will also reduce global warming.

QUESTIONS PLEASE

Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice. Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers sustainability support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate. For details, see: www.businessboffins.com/ios

Send your questions to Professor Russell Smith at ios@businessboffins.com

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