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CHH CoNeX upholds its strong reputation as a people oriented, quality focused company

After 22 years of unblemished employee relations, CHH CoNeX was suddenly faced with five unfair dismissal and four racial discrimination claims in the same month. The company turned to EEF for legal advice, representation and reassurance. The outcome was vindication of an employer with an open and honest approach and a tightening of internal HR management processes.

“EEF provided strong legal advice throughout the case. What I particularly like is that their advice is not just a regurgitation of all the possible legal options, but it is applied in a practical and accessible way and has helped us to improve our business. From a people perspective, we have moved to a higher level and our processes are now more robust and more clearly understood by everyone in the team.”

Tim Hughes, Managing Director

Overview

CHH CoNeX is a people focused manufacturing company which has maintained excellent employee relations throughout its 22 year history. This, along with the quality of its products, a comprehensive range of value added services and innovative solutions, are major selling points. "Our employee relations are based on simple openness, honesty, listening to each other and working as one team," said managing director Tim Hughes. "We’ve never had a strike, we’ve never had people wanting to set up a union and we’ve never had a tribunal. So it was a shock when we had five people filing tribunal claims at the same time."

In one case a group of four workers, relatively new to the company, were failing to pull their weight or participate in the company ‘one team’ ethic, a key to CHH’s long standing success. When counselling and disciplinary procedures failed, the four were dismissed as they were having an increasingly detrimental effect on the rest of the staff.

The second instance was even more baffling. A previously reliable long term employee chose to disregard company quality standards and procedures and caused significant issues on an important project for a new customer. All five employees lodged a combined appeal for unfair dismissal, the group of four also claimed racial discrimination. Both intended to take their cases to tribunal.

Approach

Initially, EEF advisor Abbas Hussain visited CHH to examine each case in detail, and to take the company through an in-depth review of its disciplinary, appeal and dismissal procedures.

"It was important that we began to understand the situation as soon as possible. The key focus was to find a solution that would ensure CHH had a strong and robust defence" says Abbas. CHH had developed what it believed were good HR policies and procedures, but the analysis revealed there were some gaps in applying the procedures which left the business potentially exposed. These had gone unnoticed, as is frequently the case in many businesses where employee relations are strong. Two EEF advisors, Abbas Hussain and Natalie Spencer, worked closely with CHH on the legal case, beginning by giving guidance and advice on how to bring together the comprehensive portfolio of written and witness evidence.

"The thoroughness with which EEF reviewed what we had done, how we had done it, who had done it and when, in line with the rigours of a tribunal, was both educational and daunting," says managing director Tim Hughes. The company compiled some 60 pages of records, contemporaneous notes from meetings, contracts of employment, production records, quality records and so on, and then collated and arranged them into a format suitable for a tribunal. "It was a time consuming task, but Abbas and Natalie made sure the final bundle of information was as robust as possible, properly indexed and fully crossed referenced. This proved to be essential," Hughes said.

EEF then provided legal advice and representation throughout the case. Abbas sent letters and a copy of the evidence to both groups, as required by law. Faced with such a thoroughly evidenced case, the longstanding employee withdrew his claim. The group, meanwhile, decided to pursue their case to tribunal.

Based on the strength of evidence drawn together by CHH, Abbas advised the company to request a prehearing review, as he believed he could have both the unfair dismissal and racial discrimination charges quashed. "We went into the review secure in the knowledge that Abbas assessed their prospects of winning the case as just 10%." That assessment proved justified as the judge threw both cases out of court. "By vigorously defending and preparing the company thoroughly, the claims were dismissed at the earliest possible stage. This was a very positive outcome" Natalie adds.

Since winning their case, CHH has worked with EEF to tighten its HR policies and procedures. Following a thorough review of the employment contract and company handbook, the employment contract has been aligned with the ACAS code of practice.

From an HR process perspective, the company’s disciplinary and grievance procedures have been improved. Grievance and disciplinary procedure training has also been developed for supervisors and managers, reinforcing the viewpoint that it is a tool for improvement rather than a tool for punishment. "We have changed our induction procedure to make sure all new employees hear the key message about honesty, openness and team working, and we’ve re-inducted all our existing employees so that we can be sure everyone in the business has heard exactly the same message about the behaviours, standards and values that we operate by."

Results

  • Won both cases
  • Avoided a cost of approx. £10,000 in time and expense of going to a full tribunal
  • Maintained reputation as a people oriented, quality focused company
  • Improved HR procedures
  • Greater awareness throughout the workforce of the importance of openness and a one team approach

About the company

Launched in 1990 CHH CoNeX is a leading provider of cable assembly design and manufacture, assembly outsource, managed services and logistics solutions. The company focuses on innovative design, manufacturing excellence, logistics and managed service solutions, creating value and minimising waste by working as a true extension of its customers’ businesses. All of this is achieved from an 85,000ft2 facility at Witton, Birmingham, with a staff of 140.

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