Advice on how effective recruitment will ensure you get the right people to grow your business.
If you're running a business and you want to expand, you'll need to consider the best options for meeting your new needs - these could include outsourcing, training existing staff or taking on new staff.
Taking on new employees - whichever way you choose to do it - will always mean some form of investment for your business.
If you decide to take on new staff, or replace someone who has left, this guide will help you understand the different ways of staff recruitment - and how to choose the methods that best meet your needs.
Recruiting new staff and the alternatives
Consider if you need more staff and what alternatives there are
Before spending time and money on employing someone new, you should weigh up whether you really need to recruit new staff. To do this, look at your staffing needs in relation to the wider objectives of the business.
You may need extra help immediately or you may simply be thinking about your future staffing requirements. In both cases it's valuable to plan as far ahead as you can.
What to consider when recruiting staff
You should consider why you're looking for extra help and how long you will need it for.
When considering staff recruitment ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you considering taking on your first employee to help you grow your business or handle an increasing workload?
- Are you replacing an employee who has left? If so, why did the previous employee leave and what skills and experience have you lost? Do you need to control staff turnover?
- Do you need to bring in a new skill or skills to your business that none of your existing employees possess?
- Has your workload increased? If so, is the workload likely to continue or is it just a temporary increase?
- What will be the impact of taking on a new staff member? Do you have somewhere for them to sit? Will you need to buy new equipment for them?
- Do you need cover for yourself in the long term?
Registering as a new employer
If you are taking on your first employee you may be required to register as an employer with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Employing someone for the first time: guidance. This guidance provides information on what you will need to register as an employer and takes you through the registration process. Alternatively, you can call the HMRC New Employer Helpline on Tel 0300 200 3211.
You can register as an employer online with HMRC.
You are also required to check whether any potential employee is eligible to enter, stay and work in the UK. Read more on ensuring your workers are eligible to work in the UK.
Alternatives to taking on new staff
Since recruitment can be expensive and time consuming, other options you could consider include:
- re-organising the company structure
- sharing work among existing employees
- promoting existing staff
- training existing employees so they attain the skills you require to grow your business - see training your staff.
- asking part-time employees if they would consider full-time workor some additional hours
- improving the efficiency of the business, perhaps by rearranging tasks
- offering overtime
- adopting flexible working arrangements, eg allowing some staff to begin earlier/later to provide cover for a longer part of the day
- hiring temporary workers from an employment agency
- offering short-term apprenticeship or school work experience opportunities through Connect to Success NI
Help with recruiting staff
If you need help with recruiting or retaining staff, the Department for Communities' (DfC) range of employer services and provision can offer support. See further information on the support available from DfC on finding staff.
DfC Employer Engagement Services
From multi-national companies to the shop-owner on the corner, DfC operates a tailored recruitment service across Northern Ireland that offers recruitment advice and support to employers.
A team of highly experienced staff can discuss and tailor a level of service to meet your needs from start to finish.
For large and public sector employers, the Strategic Employment Service offers a dedicated client executive account manager to understand your business, and draw together public sector partners and provision into a bespoke support agreement for your organisation.
This service is free to employers, and may include advice and guidance, advertisement and promotion of vacancies, CV sifting and interview facilities, access to a range of employment and disability support provision, bespoke events, and inclusion within employability and skills initiatives.
To access DfC's service:
- See finding staff
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tel 028 9090 9338
Employers Online NI
In addition, Employers Online NI is a free service developed by the Northern Ireland Employment Service that allows you to advertise your jobs online. Employers Online NI - employers guide.
Read more on how to advertise a job using Employers Online NI service.
In addition, in the video below, find out everything you need to know about taking on staff from deciding if you need more staff to choosing the right person, the role they will have in the business and how to recruit them.
Recruiting staff: your options
You have to consider the type of worker you wish to employ, depending on factors such as:
- how constant the work is
- how long the work will last
- the number of hours of work each week
Staff recruitment options
You have a number of options for recruiting staff including:
- Permanent employees - can be full-time or part-time. They have an open-ended employment contract with you. You have obligations to them but they will be an investment in your business. See recruiting full-time or part-time employees.
- Fixed-term contract employees - have an employment contract with you for a predetermined time or until a specific task has been completed. See employment status. You'll still have employer obligations but only for the duration of the contract. See recruiting staff on fixed-term contracts.
- Employment agency - temporary staff are engaged by the agency and supplied to you. Your contract is with the employment agency to supply you with staff, but you still have certain legal responsibilities towards the agency worker. See recruiting agency workers.
- Self-employed freelances, consultants and contractors - this gives you the minimum of employer obligations. But you need to be sure that the people are legally defined as self-employed. See employment status.
- Zero-hours contracts - these allow you to employ people casually ie as and when required, to have people on-call to work whenever necessary and mutually convenient. Generally, you are not obliged to offer work, nor is there a responsibility for the worker to accept any work. Look at the terms of any zero-hours contract carefully as it may affect the employment status of the worker and your responsibility towards them. Read more on zero-hours contracts.
- Children or young people - if you plan to employ children or young people, you should keep in mind that there are restrictions on the hours and types of work that they can legally carry out. See employing children and young people.
You will have to make tax arrangements for all employees and may also have to make tax arrangements for workers directly engaged by you. See employment status.
Recruiting full-time or part-time employees
Regardless of whether your employees are full time or part time you will have responsibilities to them. Some apply straight away, others after a minimum period of continuous employment - see continuous employment and employee rights.
What employers must provide to full time and part time staff
- You must give them a written statement of the main terms and conditions of their contract of employment within two months of starting their employment where the contract of employment is to last more than one month. See the written statement.
- You must give them an itemised pay statement at or before the time of payment. See pay: employer obligations.
- You'll have to make sure the working environment is safe and secure. See safer ways of working.
- You must also have insurance to protect against claims for any illnesses, injuries or diseases your employees may pick up as a result of working for you. See business insurance: the basics.
- You'll need to register as an employer with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to set up a payroll, deducting tax and National Insurance contributions from your employees' pay and forwarding the money to HMRC. See how to register as an employer.
- Your employees will be entitled to a minimum level of paid holiday, a maximum length of a working week (unless they opt out of this) and minimum levels of rest breaks. See hours, rest breaks and the working week. Also see know how much holiday to give your staff.
- They must also be paid at least the national minimum wage. FInd out the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates.
- If members of your staff are off sick for more than three working days, they may be entitled to statutory sick pay. Read more on how to manage absence and sickness.
- If your employee is pregnant, or is about to or has recently become a parent, they may be entitled to maternity, paternity, adoption leave or shared parental leave. Read more on maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave. They may also be entitled to parental leave during the first 18 years of their child's life (longer for a disabled child). You must also seriously consider any requests from employees who are carers of adults who wish to work more flexibly. See flexible working: the law and best practice.
- You must treat your employees fairly and avoid discrimination. If things do go wrong, all employees are entitled to fair treatment, whether you have to dismiss them, make their position redundant or if you're selling your business. Read more on how to prevent discrimination and value diversity.
- If your employee is disabled, you must make 'reasonable' adjustments to reduce or remove the impact of physical features of your premises if they put the employee at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled employees. Read more on disabled access and facilities in business premises.
Recruiting staff on fixed-term contracts
There may be times when it's best for your business to take on somebody on a fixed-term contract.
What is a fixed-term contract?
A fixed-term contract is one which either:
- lasts for a specified time, set in advance
- ends with the completion of a specified task
- ends when a specified event does or does not take place
For example, if you're a shopkeeper you may want to take on someone for just three months to cover the busy run-up to Christmas. Or you may wish to employ someone specifically to cover for another person who is on maternity, paternity or adoption leave.
Advantages and disadvantages of fixed-term contracts
Fixed-term contracts give you the advantage of bringing in specific skills and labour as and when they are needed.
It's important to remember that unless there are special circumstances that can be justified, you must treat fixed-term employees the same as comparable permanent employees. This means you must give them:
- the same pay and conditions
- the same or equivalent benefits package
- the same or equivalent pension scheme
- the same opportunity to apply for vacancies for permanent posts in the business
Fixed-term employees also have access to the same employment rights as their permanent equivalents.
Under the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002, any employee who has been on a fixed-term contract for four or more years (excluding any period before 1 October 2002) will usually be classed in law as a permanent employee if their contract is renewed, or if they are re-engaged on a new fixed-term contract.
The only exemptions to this are when employment on a further fixed-term contract is objectively justified to achieve a legitimate aim, eg a genuine business aim that can be objectively justified, and is also a necessary and an appropriate way to achieve that aim, or the period of four years has been lengthened under a collective or workplace agreement.
These regulations do not apply to apprentices, students on work experience of a year or less or people on certain training courses and temporary work schemes.
You will need to make the same tax arrangements for fixed-term employees that you would for permanent employees.
Recruiting agency workers
Using agency staff can be ideal, especially when you need emergency temporary cover. It can cost more than employing a temporary staff member directly, but a big benefit is that all of the administration is handled by the recruitment agency.
You usually pay the agency and the agency pays the worker. The rate the agency charges you could include elements of National Insurance payments, holiday and sick pay, as well as an administration fee and profit margin.
Rights of agency workers
Under the Agency Workers Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011, which came into force on 5 December 2011, agency workers are entitled to the same basic working and employment conditions as permanent staff, provided that they have been in the same role with the same employer for 12 weeks.
It is the recruitment agency's responsibility to ensure agency workers receive the rights they are entitled to such as those under the Working Time Regulations and national minimum wage law. See hours, rest breaks and the working week and workers' entitlement to the minimum wage.
However, under the Agency Workers Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011, agency workers are also entitled to equal access to their employer's collective facilities and job vacancies from the first day of their assignment. It will be your responsibility to ensure that these rights are met. Agency workers regulations NI guidance.
You must also ensure that you do not discriminate against agency workers who are working on your business premises.
In addition, under the Parental Leave (EU Directive) (Flexible Working) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2013, which came into force on 8 March 2013, employed agency workers who are returning to work from a period of parental leave are now also extended the right to request flexible working. See flexible working: the law and best practice.
Even though agency staff do not work directly for you, you are still responsible for their health and safety. In fact, they are likely to be at greater risk because they don't know the business well. See agency workers' health and safety for more information.
Choosing an employment agency
You should also do some research before using an employment agency to ensure you are happy with the agency's reputation.
By law, employment agencies must comply with the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005. These regulations stop them, for example, from charging workers fees for finding jobs. They must also ensure a worker has any qualifications legally required to do the work. See employment agencies.
Recruiting freelancers and outside contractors
One way your business can take advantage of extra skills and labour without taking on many of the responsibilities of an employer is to use freelancers or outside contractors. These are workers who are self-employed or belong to separate outside companies.
For example, you might use an outside IT contractor to build your business web pages, or hire a freelance PR consultant when you want a promotional push for your business.
Advantages and disadvantages of freelancers and outside contractors
An advantage of using freelancers and outside contractors is that in many cases they look after all their own income tax affairs and National Insurance contributions. But it's always a good idea to check that you won't be responsible for deducting tax and National Insurance from their payments. Read more on IR35 and other special rules.
People who are genuinely self-employed may not be entitled to the same rights afforded to employees. However, depending on the contract under which they are providing services, they may qualify as workers. Under these circumstances they would be entitled to workers' rights such as holidays and holiday pay. If you are in any doubt about a person's employment status, you should seek professional advice.
Freelancers and contractors still have a right to the national minimum wage. But if they are being paid by their own firms, this will not affect you.
As an employer you still have responsibilities for the health and safety of freelancers and contractors. See how to write a health and safety policy for your business. Also, you should check whether your insurance is affected by having non-employees working on your premises.
Remember too that you should avoid discrimination against anyone who carries out work for you, whether they are employed by you or self-employed. See how to prevent discrimination and value diversity.
Zero-hours contracts are becoming increasingly common in Northern Ireland.
There is no legal definition of a zero-hours contract in either Northern Ireland or Great Britain employment law. In general terms, a zero-hours contract is one in which you do not have to guarantee the individual any work and the individual is not obliged to accept any work offered by you.
Employer responsibilities under zero-hours contracts
Zero-hours contracts are legal under domestic law. If you freely enter into a zero-hours contract with an individual, it is a legitimate form of contract between you and the individual.
There are concerns that individuals who work under zero-hours contracts have no protection under domestic employment law, or that they cannot be an employee. This is not a correct assumption - as in any employment relationship, the employment rights which an individual is entitled to will depend on their employment status.
It is likely that the majority of individuals on zero-hours contracts are either workers or employees.
In many cases a zero-hours contract staff member will be legally classified as a 'worker' and thus will have some of the rights that an employee has such as statutory holiday entitlement and National Minimum Wage. However the way the relationship with that worker develops may enhance the employment status to that of an 'employee', who has additional employment rights such as accruing the right to take maternity leave or pay and the right to request flexible working.
Read more on employment status.
Advantages and disadvantages of zero-hours contracts
As an employer, the advantages of zero-hours contracts include:
- Flexibility - Zero-hours contracts allow you to adapt to changes in demand, eg offering more work when new orders arrive and being able to scale back when they do not. Furthermore, you could use zero-hours contracts to increase the range of services offered - such as creating specialist roles or having staff available in different geographical locations.
- Supporting expansion plans - Through this flexibility your business could also grow, with limited risk in terms of recruiting permanent staff if you find that the additional services you planned are not taken up. On the other hand, if expansion is successful, zero-hours contracts provide a rapid pathway to fixed-term, annualised hours, full-time or guaranteed hours work.
- Retention of skills - You could retain the skills and experience of staff who might wish to partially retire or who decide to work part-time.
- Knowledge of the company and its culture - You could also retain a pool of trained and skilled staff, who know the culture of the business and its procedures, rather than agency staff who may not.
However, you should be aware of the welfare of any individual you employ on a zero-hours contract.
For example, not every zero-hours worker will be happy that they are on such a contract because of lack of job security. In addition, the inclusion of exclusivity clauses in some zero hours contracts is banned in GB since 26 May 2015. This was formerly under scrutiny by the Northern Ireland Assembly, prior to its suspension in January 2017, and exclusivity clauses may in the future be banned in Northern Ireland.
It should also be made clear when advertising or interviewing for a job, or in the contract itself, that an individual is hired on a zero-hours contract, or that there is a possibility they could be offered no work or 'zero-hours'.
As an employer, you need to fulfil and understand your responsibilities towards individuals you hire on a zero-hours contract in terms of their employment rights such as the national minimum wage and holiday rights. See who should be paid the minimum wage and know how much holiday to give your staff.
Asking an individual to work at very short notice, which does not allow them to plan ahead, eg to arrange childcare, could be problematic for them, causing tension or upset.
You should note that where there are long term zero-hours contracts in place, where work is regularly offered and accepted, there is the potential for difficulties regarding the actual employment status of the individual on the zero-hours contract.
Recruiting directors and managers
Every limited company must have at least one director. Directors are appointed by the shareholders as the people who can best run the company on their behalf.
Directors have a range of responsibilities in areas such as health and safety, tax and employment law. There are serious penalties for not meeting these responsibilities which makes appointing the right director very important.
There are also restrictions on who can become a director. People who may not become directors include anyone who:
- has been disqualified by the courts from becoming a director
- is an undischarged bankrupt, unless they have permission from the courts
- is under the age of 16
You may wish to take on someone to cover you while you're away so that you can spend more time growing the business. Consider whether it would be a good idea to appoint someone to whom you can delegate day-to-day running of the business.
When preparing the job description, the advert and the interview questions, you will need to keep in mind the additional qualities, experience and skills the candidate will need to take on the managerial role.
Recruiting seasonal staff
You may find your business is subject to seasonal fluctuations in demand. For example, December is a busy time for many businesses, particularly retailers who have to deal with a spike in demand as the Christmas period approaches.
Other areas of work that may be influenced by seasonal differences include farming, construction and gardening.
The simplest strategy is to try to make do with the existing workforce. Increasing overtime and offering weekend or evening work may be enough to bridge the gap. However, if more labour is needed, new people will have to be brought in. See employing staff for seasonal businesses.
There are various options available to deal with this seasonal rush.
Using agency workers is one possibility. Employment agencies take much of the administrative burden of finding appropriate staff, and can respond quickly to fluctuating demand.
However, employers also need to be aware of the Agency Workers Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011, which give workers entitlements to the same employment conditions as permanent employees after a 12-week qualification period.
Read more on recruiting agency workers.
Zero-hours contracts can give great flexibility to employers and workers. Normally these contracts create an employment relationship in which there is no obligation for one side to offer work, nor the other to accept it.
They avoid the cost of agency fees and make it straightforward to take on extra staff when needed. But it's important to point out that zero-hours workers have the same rights and protections as other workers, such as annual leave, the national minimum wage and pay for work-related travel.
Read more on zero-hours contracts.
Short fixed-term contracts
It may be more appropriate or effective to use short fixed-term contracts and buy in labour for a particular project or period.
Fixed-term work terminates after a specified period, but contract workers are entitled to the same pay and conditions as permanent staff, equivalent benefits, information about permanent vacancies, and protection from unfavourable treatment.
It's good practice to make notice provisions in fixed-term contracts in case employment needs to be terminated early.
Read more on understanding fixed-term contracts.
Pensions for seasonal and temporary workers
Like other staff, seasonal and temporary workers must be assessed to see if they qualify for automatic enrolment into a workplace pension. Assessing these types of employees can take more time because of varying hours and earnings.
Employers who know their staff will be working for them for less than three months can use postponement. This postpones the legal duty to assess staff for three months. During this postponement period, employers will not need to put staff into a pension unless they ask to be put into one. See the Pensions Regulator's guidance on employing seasonal or temporary staff.
Recruiting staff and data protection issues
How data protection procedures apply to staff recruitment information
The Data Protection Act covers information gathered during the recruitment and selection process - eg information in application forms or CVs. Staff involved in recruitment should handle any personal information gathered securely. Under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), you must explain to job applicants what you do with their personal data. An applicant privacy notice should cover what you do with job applicants' personal data during an active recruitment process, and what you should do at the end of that process with the personal data of both unsuccessful applicants and successful applicants who do not accept the job they are offered.
See the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) guidance on the Data Protection Act 2018.
You should also make sure that any recruitment advertisements clearly identify your organisation or the employment agency you are using.
Application forms should not ask for irrelevant or unnecessary personal information, such as banking details. See advertising a job and interviewing candidates.
Using recruitment information
If you are going to use information gathered during recruitment processes for other purposes, such as marketing, you must explain this clearly to those involved. Information should not be shared with other organisations without the individual's consent.
Sensitive data recorded for equal opportunities purposes - for example, concerning disabilities, race or sexual orientation - must be used for that purpose only.
Finally, if you are going to check the information supplied by applicants, you should let them know why and how you plan to do so. For example, criminal record checks should always be done through AccessNI. See AccessNI criminal records checks.
If someone asks you for information about a worker's record or for a reference for them, you should always check their identity and whether they are entitled to this information. You should only supply a confidential reference or information about a worker if you are absolutely sure that you have their explicit and unambiguous consent to do so.
Recruiting staff: seven things you should know
If you want to expand your business, one way to do this is to take on new staff. Recruiting new staff means taking a chance and investing in your business so it's essential that you choose the right recruitment methods to suit your individual business needs.
1. Decide if you really need to recruit new staff: You're going to be spending time and money on recruiting someone new, so look at your staffing needs in relation to your business objectives. Consider why you're looking for extra help and how long you will need it for. Could another option be more viable such as sharing work amongst existing employees, reorganising the company structure or rearranging tasks? See recruiting new staff and the alternatives.
2. Register as a new employer: If you are taking on your first employee, you may be required to register as an employer with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Most new employers can register online but some will need to register by email, by telephone or with an HMRC office. See how to register as an employer.
3. Consider the type of worker you wish to employ: The options you have for employing a new worker will depend on factors such as how constant the work is, how long it will last and the number of hours per week. There are a number of options available including permanent employees, fixed-term contract employees, self-employed freelances or contractors and employment agency staff. In addition, do you need someone there on a full-time or part-time basis? See recruiting staff: your options.
4. Write a job description and person specification: Preparing a job description is not a legal requirement but it can help with deciding the scope of the work, advertising the job and clarifying what applicants will have to do in the job. It can also help to identify a new recruit's performance and identify their training needs. If you decide to include a person specification, you should include the essential and desirable knowledge, experience and skills you are looking for. See writing a person specification and job description.
5. Decide how much you should pay: Offering a competitive salary and benefits will help you to attract the best person for the job. However, you should balance this with how low you need to keep your costs. Work out what you can afford and assess whether the job requires specialised skills that should be reflected by the wages. See how to set the right pay rates.
6. Advertise and interview for the position: There are many options available when advertising a job including newspapers, online recruitment sites and employment agencies. Decide on the most appropriate option for your business. When you have the replies to your advertisement, compare the skills and experience against the job description, draw up a list of candidates and invite them to interview. Carry out appropriate preparation for the interview so it will be as easy as possible for you and the candidate. See recruitment forms and templates.
7. Make a job offer: The final stage of the recruitment process involves choosing the successful candidate. You can inform them by telephone or email, followed up by a formal confirmation in a letter which should set out the main terms and conditions of the job. It should also state whether the offer is conditional, ie subject to the outcome of checks, or unconditional, ie not subject to any further checks. Once the offer is accepted, a contract of employment exists between you and the employee. See job offers and staff inductions.
Further information on recruitment can be found in the Invest Northern Ireland Employers' Handbook which outlines both legal essentials and best practice guidelines for effective HR management.
Employing staff for the first time: eight top tips
When you become an employer for the first time and take on a new employee, there are important checks you must make. Here are eight key steps that you should consider when employing staff for the first time.
1. Decide how much to pay your employee: Almost all workers are legally entitled to the National Minimum Wage. The National Living Wage is higher than the National Minimum Wage - workers get it if they are over 25. See National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage - rates and overview.
2. Carry out pre-employment checks: You should carry out an initial identity check on workers and verify their references and qualifications. You may also wish to include health checks as part of your recruitment process. See pre-employment checks.
3. Check if your employee has the right to work in the UK: You must check whether your employee is legally entitled to work in the UK. See ensure your workers are eligible to work in the UK.
4. Check if you need to apply for a criminal records check: Certain types of employment (eg security or working closely with children or adults in vulnerable situations) require an AccessNI criminal records check. See AccessNI criminal records checks.
5. Get employment insurance: You will need employers' liability insurance as soon as you become an employer. This insurance enables businesses to meet the costs of damages and legal fees for employees who are injured or fall ill at work through the fault of the employer. See employers' liability insurance.
6. Send details of the job in writing to your employee: Once you have chosen your new employee, you should send them details of the job in writing. This should set out the main terms and conditions of the job. You also need to give your employee a written statement of employment if you're employing them for more than one month.
7. Tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) you are an employer: If you employ someone, you will need to register as an employer with HMRC. See registering and getting started with PAYE.
8. Check if you need to automatically enrol your employee into a workplace pension scheme: All employers have to provide workers with a qualifying workplace pension. Read more on automatic enrolment into a workplace pension.