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Why did the 'knicker queen' give up her throne?

25th July 2013

The UK’s so-called 'knicker queen' Janie Schaffer has been in the news this week for taking legal action against her former employer Marks & Spencer for over £1 million in compensation after quitting her job after just three months.

Janie, who launched lingerie chain Knickerbox also worked for Victoria’s Secret for four years before joining M&S in 2012. This dispute and subsequent demand for a hefty recompense arises over confusion over Janie’s job description, expectations and the losses she has suffered as a result. It has been reported that she believed that she would not only have full control over the lingerie business unit, but she would also be rolling-out standalone underwear shops. Instead of this autonomous role, it has been reported that Janie found a number of people above her in the chain of command. She is seeking damages for shares and salary she has lost out on as a result of being misled.

This dispute over the job description, amongst other matters, shines a light on the perils employers face in neglecting to draft a clear and accurate job description when a new employee is being recruited.

The dangers of not getting the job description right

For a well-established business, job descriptions may well become well-used, well-worn and over-looked over time. They are rarely the most thrilling documents in a new joiner's welcome pack, full of HR jargon and lengthy and repetitive sentences.

However, there are real dangers in recycling generic job descriptions for roles time after time, and an employee that believes they have been misled over how a job description matches up to the actual role can cause, like in this M&S case, a dispute, court battle and a potentially large settlement, not to mention reputational harm which could affect future recruitment drives. To a lesser extent, a poorly written job description can mean the wrong candidates are recruited into roles projecting the company in a negative and unprofessional light.

Top Tips for job descriptions:

What to include:

  1. An appropriate job title. This should accurately reflect the role and should not show a predetermined bias for the recruitment of those with a particular characteristic (for example, "shop girl" suggests it has been predetermined to recruit a younger woman, and "office boy" suggests an intention to recruit a younger man).
  2. An accurate description of the job. Include the specific duties, responsibilities and line of reporting, that the successful candidate would be expected to routinely carry out so that applicants have a clear picture of what the job entails. There should be sufficient information to enable an applicant to make an informed decision about whether to apply. Do not include tasks or duties that, in practice, are not performed as it may not only put off appropriately qualified people from applying but may result in a discrimination claim if such people believe they have unfairly been denied the opportunity to apply.
  3. Outcome expectations. Where there are different ways of performing a task, rather than specifying how the task should be performed, the job description should state what outcome needs to be achieved.
  4. Avoid specifying unnecessary working patterns. If a job could be done either part-time, full-time, or through job share arrangements, this should be stated in the job description. As well as avoiding discrimination, this approach is likely to widen the pool of potential applicants.

As Marks & Spencer put the matter firmly in the hands of their lawyers and prepare for battle, the exact claims against them remain unknown. Clarity of expectations on both sides could have prevented a dispute arising. Getting it right with some simple housekeeping in the first instance proves yet again to be a cost effective investment; prevention of such claims is always better than having to deal with the cure.

The contents of this update are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this update. © Mundays LLP 2013.

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