SME Agony Uncle: Bobby Kerr answers all your business and work-related questions


Each week broadcaster, entrepreneur and agony uncle Bobby Kerr joins The Hard Shoulder to answer all your employment-related questions.

This week, Bobby and Ivan kicked things off by discussing a recent case from the Workplace Relations Committee (WRC) on unfair dismissal during the probationary period at work.  

Bobby cited an article he read on this week by Derek McKay about what employers need to know when it comes to dismissing people who are on probation and it’s not as much of a scapegoat as some employers or even employees might think.

The article discusses the case of a woman who was dismissed by her employer in April after starting the role in January. In March, she had been informed in writing and in a meeting by her employer that due to poor performance, her trial or probationary person was being extended.

Following a complaint to the WRC, the body ruled that while her poor performance was against company policies that were outlined in the handbook she was given when she commenced her job, the woman had not received oral or written warnings before the dismissal. The WRC also stated that the woman was in turn not given any opportunity to explain her actions and she was awarded €200.

Bobby says that the lesson to employers here is that your staff on probation are not there to be treated differently from your other staff. Yes, the probationary period allows some protection for employers as well but there are still strict rules to follow if someone’s performance during this period isn’t up to scratch or warrants dismissal.

Now onto your questions... 

My bank manager told me when  I presented my accounts to him last month that I should have a mentor. I don’t want to spend time discussing talking strategy with someone who has no skin in the game, am I wrong? 

Bobby’s advice for this man is that if he doesn’t want to have a mentor then he shouldn't have one just because someone else has suggested it, even if that person is the bank manager.

Bobby says that personally, he believes that having a mentor on board is a good idea. So if you were looking for one, Enterprise Ireland have a bank of mentors available to work with entrepreneurs or there is a website called where you can also find one but note this is a paid service. Some will charge a fee and others are free so you just have don’t o shop around and see what works best for you.

Like any relationship, you need to have chemistry with your mentor, they have to have experience and wisdom and preferably not have skin in the game.

Bobby says it is definitely worth considering trialling a mentor and seeing how you get on first.

I’m a publican in a small village in the west of Ireland. I own the building and operate Thursday to Sunday evenings, as well as all day Saturday and Sunday. I can  just about manage myself with two part time staff. All pubs now seem to be doing food and I am tempted. Have you any advice?

Having just returned from an industry event, Bobby is well prepared to answer this. He says that In the Dublin area, the ratio of pubs serving food to those who don’t is approximately 70:30. Outside the capital, this ratio is about 60:40.

Bobby warns that deciding to serve food in your pub is going to increase the complexity of the operation no matter what as there are lots of things to consider - legally and logistically.

That being said, there is an expectation from punters and especially tourists that pubs will serve food so maybe the best thing is to start small with what is manageable for your business and take things from there. 

My daughter is away working in a bank property company in New York for the last year on a graduate visa. They have offered to sponsor her to stay on for another year and she's already been promoted in this time. But she wants to come home and take her chances. She is loving the lifestyle in New York and while I'd love her home too but she seems blind to the opportunity that's being offered to her. 

Bobby's advice here is that it isn't the parents' call, as much as they might want it to be. It will be this person's daughter who will ultimately make the decision to stay in New York or come home so there isn't a point in her dad putting pressure on her to do something he wants her to do. 

However, to make sure she is looking at the bigger picture, Bobby says there is certainly no harm in highlighting to her how well she has done with this company in New York and how highly regarded she must be now that they've offered to sponsor her to stay another year, so perhaps she should consider the extra year and then come home after that.  

But at the end of day, it is still her own decision to make. 

You can listen back to all of Bobby’s employment advice from Tuesday’s The Hard Shoulder here:

If you have a business or SME related query you would like answered - you can get in touch with Bobby each week by simply sending a short mail to [email protected]

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