When you get to the end of a case and a manager says, “Thank you – I couldn’t have managed that issue without your support”, it really brings home the value we add.

Sarah Telford

HR Case Manager within the MoJ Civil Service HR Casework Team, England

How did you get into a career in employee relations?

I qualified as an Employment Law solicitor back in 2010 and I found that the aspect of the role I loved most was building ongoing relationships with my business clients and advising on the HR-type matters such as the ACAS Code, investigations, disciplinary processes, risks of dismissal etc. After almost five years practising law, I began to think that a career which was more ‘in-house’ and client-focussed might be suited to me, and applied for my current role in the Civil Service HR Casework Team, making the move from Employment Law into HR – and I haven’t looked back!

What are the key responsibilities in your role?

My role involves supporting up to 40 different Government Departments in complex HR and policy issues. As HR Case Managers, we are assigned cases (rather than providing ‘general’ advice), and we support the manager ‘from cradle to grave’ in relation to how to manage the issues and problems that have arisen. These can be anything from managing a long term sickness to a complex disciplinary investigation, from assisting in management of poor performance to addressing employee grievances, and from supporting the Government’s Legal Department with gathering information for Employment Tribunal cases to providing witness orientation sessions to witnesses in order to guide them on what might be involved during a Tribunal process.

Describe a typical day.

Typically, I will start the day by reviewing my emails - with emails being the preferred method of communication these days, we provide a lot of advice by email. I might then leave the office to attend a meeting in order to support a manager at a formal hearing, during which I will provide advice to that manager on the benefits, risks and implications of different options available to them and assist the manager in drafting any relevant outcome letter. My afternoon usually involves dealing with phone calls and providing further advice to managers on various issues that arise during the life of a case. As part of this, I might review a department’s policy to check a specific point or provide advice on interpretation. I also undertake some project work – for example, developing and delivering in-house training for new Case Managers in relation to Employment Law. We have a lot of flexibility in how we manage our diaries, which means you can structure your day in a way which works for you.

What skills do you need for this role?

Many Employee Relations issues present themselves as a puzzle or issue which needs to be solved by weighing up the needs of both the business and the employee. As such, problem-solving abilities are definitely required. I’d also say that an ability to draw together and analyse different arguments is a real benefit, as is being able to confidently, coherently and succinctly advise – both in written format and verbally – so as to provide the managers the information they need to make well-informed decisions.

What challenges do you face in this role?

Dealing with Employee Relations often involves a lot of conflict, which can be challenging for both us as Case Managers and the managers we support.

What keeps you motivated to go into work every day?

When you get to the end of a case and a manager says, “Thank you – I couldn’t have managed that issue without your support”, it really brings home the value we add. In addition, the role is incredibly interesting; no two cases are ever the same, and given the areas of Government we work within, some cases can potentially be very high-profile. The inherent challenges these cases raise can give you a real opportunity for professional development.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in employee relations?

I would say that if you are seeking a challenging, varied, and fascinating role in a niche area of HR which looks to make a real difference in addressing issues at an individual level, then Employee Relations is one hundred percent an area worth considering.

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