Calling for Evidence
07 June 2012
The government’s Call for Evidence: Dealing With Dismissal and ‘Compensated No Fault Dismissal’ for Micro Businesses closes tomorrow.
The odd thing about the Call for Evidence is that much of it reads like a survey. The bulk of the questions about the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance are in the form:
- Before this call for evidence were you aware of the Acas Code? [Yes / No / Not Sure]
- Before this call for evidence were you aware that the statutory (‘three step’) dismissal procedures were abolished in April 2009? [Yes / No / Not Sure]
- Do you find the language of the Code easy to understand? [Very easy / Easy / Neither easy nor difficult / Difficult / Very difficult]
Presumably, these questions are intended to find out whether businesses are aware of the Code and find it useful. A sensible thing to know.
But the Call for Evidence won’t find it out. At best it will find out what businesses who respond to BIS consultations think about the code. I suspect most people who run businesses, especially small businesses, don’t spend a great deal of time reading government websites and filing responses to Calls for Evidence. They’re quite busy trying to run their businesses. People who respond to government consultations are just not normal.1
Since the sample is skewed, the results will be skewed as well. Off the top of my head, for example, I suspect that people who read the BIS website and bother to respond to consultations about employment law are probably more interested in employment issues than average. So they are much more likely to know about the ACAS Code. And people are more likely to respond to consultations where they feel strongly, so people who love or hate the ACAS Code will be overrepresented compared to people who just don’t care very much.
If you really want to know what people in business know and think about the ACAS Code I think are are two good options. First, you can ask people who know about the Code, work with business and will respond to government consultations. For example, I suspect the CBI and similar organisations have a pretty shrewd idea. So will HR consultants and lawyers who do significant amounts of work for employers. This evidence will be anecdotal and second hand. It may also be distorted by the views and agenda of the people you talk to. But it would give you a rough, and probably pretty accurate, picture.
Second, you can commission a proper survey of employers. This would be expensive and take time to do well. You’d need to engage people who understood how to select a representative sample and how to structure survey questions. The result, however, would be clear and reliable evidence of what business knew and believed. 2
The Call for Evidence is neither of these things. Large parts of it are a survey of an atypical – and self selecting – sample, which will not tell us anything very useful.