Octopus Energy boss says HR departments not needed

Julia Fitzsimmons, FBC – Manby Bowdler

Employers failing to pay attention to almost daily changes in guidance for workplaces during the pandemic could be exposing themselves to legal action, according to one of the Midlands’ leading employment experts.

Julia Fitzsimmons said a combination of amendments to the furlough scheme, a moving target of lockdown restrictions and availability of lateral flow testing for all employees means many business owners are facing unprecedented challenges.

Julia spoke out after entrepreneur Greg Jackson, founder and CEO of start-up Octopus Energy, said in an interview that he doesn’t believe in having an HR department, even though his company now employs more than 1,200 people.

Julia, a Partner at law firm FBC Manby Bowdler, said: “Business owners can’t be the player, the linesman and the referee all at the same time. Otherwise, someone is going to drop the ball.

“Employers are currently trying to juggle unprecedented workplace challenges and the collective health and safety of staff has never been as important as it is today.

“At the same time, businesses may be struggling with a number of other issues, from cashflow to operational problems through staff absence and those that are trading internationally have the headache of Brexit logistics to navigate too.

“Mr Jackson may not have human resources in-house, but I suspect like many companies, including fellow utilities giant Cadent, he outsources Octopus’ HR department. It shouldn’t be a source of pride to not have expert help and advice on hand when you’re working with 1,200 people during a pandemic.

“Our advice to businesses is that there is inherent risk to their successful operations if they don’t have a focus on both the constantly changing guidance on Covid-19 and safe working and also the new directive about testing staff in the workplace.

“If they’re not protecting staff and employees fall ill, that could open the door to legal action for failing to look after their people which is really risky business.”

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