In the modern era, how can farmers be good employers?

Upperchurch Drombane tractor run on this Sunday

In the modern era, how can farmers be good employers?

Mary McDonagh, Head of Employer Services at IFAC writes on farmers as employers

Due to the expansion of farms, the increase in collaborative farming and the demand for a work life balance, farmers taking on employees is a concept that is becoming increasingly more common. However, with the benefit of an increased workforce comes additional responsibility. Maintaining a healthy relationship with your employees is crucial for employers/farmers.

Preparation for and communication with employees will help to avoid trouble further afield. Below we will look at some of key pointers of “How to be a good employer and avoid problems”

Hire the Right Employee
In advance of hiring your employee decide what tasks’ and duties you require your employee to undertake once they will start working with you. Ensure that you are hiring the right person for the job who can undertake tasks that will help alleviate your workload. If references are available, get them. If an employee states they have relevant training, ask them for proof of certificates and if there is training that you feel your future employee will need to undertake then make sure you hire an employee who is willing to do so.

Properly Classify your Employees
Independent contractor or employee? Exempt or non-exempt? It is important to establish firstly whether you have employees or contractors. Once you have established you do in fact have employees it is important to have a Contract of Employment in place, regardless of whether it is for permanent, fixed term or specified purpose employees. All, of the key terms of employment both statutory and additional need to be included in this document. Not providing your employee with a Contract of Employment is illegal and may result in a fine of up to €5,000.00 fixed payment notice and or a custodial sentence of up to 12 months imprisonment.

Employee Handbook & Safety Statement
Your employee handbook does not need to be a huge document, but it should have the necessary policies to protect both you as an employer and your employees. All the policies should follow the law, be reasonable, well explained, and easy to understand. Ensure that you have anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies in place and follow up on any complaints as soon as possible. Following your policies is a great way to avoid future legal problems. Your safety statement is an important document and should be specific to your work environment and is there to protect, you, your employees and your clients and visitors. Make sure your employees have access to and are familiar with your policies and safety statement.

Terms of Employment
Make sure you abide by and follow what you have agreed in the contract of employment. Ensure employees are paid at regular intervals as set out in their Terms of Employment and receive Sunday premiums where applicable. Agricultural employees have exemptions on rest periods, but this means they must receive compensatory rest periods. Employees are entitled to receive all their statutory leave and must not be paid in lieu of leave. If annual leave is an issue, block off two weeks when an employee must take leave and put it in your contract of employment, this way a nice chunk of annual leave is taken at a time of your suiting. It is necessary for the employer to keep records such as hours worked, payment received, and rest breaks provided. If employing a young person (16-18), it is necessary for you to have a copy of their birth certificate. If employing a child >16 you must have written permission from the parents or guardians. It is important to be aware and follow the legislation for the employment of young persons and children.

Work Environment
Every organisation has a work environment regardless of whether it is purposely cultivated. Make sure your attitude reflects that of how you want your employees to behave. Early in the employer-employee relationship make sure to set the standards that you feel are required for the role. A positive and friendly environment is necessary, but you also need to have the balance of boundaries in order to effectively manage employees.

Communicate, and Manage Performance
Giving feedback both positive and constructive in the early stages of the working relationship will allow for the avoidance of doubt. You can articulate what is expected of your employees and your employees will know what they need to do. Too often employers do not provide simple feedback, and this can result in underperformance from the employee. When giving feedback, especially on poor performance and capability issues it is extremely important to ensure you have documented your interactions with employees, additionally it is necessary to ensure your feedback is valid and fair. Following up and evaluating performance will prevent legal issues down the road. Employees should never be surprised by your feedback at a year end review, if they are this usually means that you have not given them regular and honest feedback throughout their employment. When employees do a good job, tell them.

Discipline and Terminate Employees the right way
If you find yourself in a position where you need to discipline an employee, stick to your disciplinary policy, follow procedures and be fair. The same principals are required for ending the employment relationship. An employee should never be surprised by the termination of their employment regardless of how long they have been employed. Not following procedures will most likely result in you receiving a letter for a solicitor or the WRC.

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