As a result of COVID-19 and the national lockdown implemented back in March 2020, there has been a lot of upheaval for workplaces across the UK. From businesses trying to implement a homeworking policy for the first time to employers having to make tough decisions regarding furlough and redundancy, the HR issues that have arisen over the last few weeks have been overwhelming for many organisations.
The way that workplaces run will continue to change and adapt over the coming months, even as businesses re-open, whilst we continue to try and prevent the spread of this infectious virus.
Some HR procedures that will need to be adjusted and reviewed across workplaces is how managers and employers handle disciplinaries and grievances.
ACAS recently released some guidance on how to appropriately deal with any ongoing disciplinary situations or any grievances that arise during this coronavirus pandemic to ensure that all parties are treated fairly and that no one’s health is put at risk.
What happens if an employee is on furlough during a disciplinary or grievance?
Disciplinary and grievance investigations can still go ahead whilst an employee(s) is on furlough. This includes anyone chairing the hearing, taking notes during meetings or interviews, acting as a witness or accompanying an employee, as well as those under investigation or those who raised the grievance.
First, however, you must consider if it is fair to continue with the procedure at this time.
If the investigation could put the employee’s, or any other parties involved, health or well-being at risk during this already stressful time, then you should contemplate postponing until a later, safer, date.
If there is uncertainty as to whether you should continue with the investigation at this stage, then talk this through with everyone involved and get their feedback on it too so that you can come to the best, and most fair, decision.
How does social distancing affect disciplinary and grievance procedures?
Social distancing requires contact between people to be as limited as possible, including maintaining a 2-metre distance at all times.
If your workplace is open, or the parties involved in the disciplinary or grievance are key workers so they are still attending work, then you should be practicing social distancing, including during any meetings.
Hence, all disciplinary and grievance meetings should take place in well-ventilated rooms and those in the meeting should keep at least 2-metres apart.
If this is not possible and conducting these meetings could put the health of anyone involved at risk, then you should postpone the entire investigation until it is safe to hold these meetings or look at alternative options to face to face meetings.
If an employee is now working from home, how should disciplinaries or grievances be conducted?
Once again, you should assess whether the disciplinary or grievance is urgent, i.e. does it need to be resolved as soon as possible, like in the case of potential Gross Misconduct or a serious allegation raised as part of the grievance process, or can it wait – if it’s the latter, then you should postpone it until a more suitable time, such as when all parties can safely return to the workplace. However, we would advise that the fact that this is being postponed due to the pandemic is clearly agreed, communicated and documented, so that there is no dispute when picking up matters at a later date.
Alternatively, you can continue with any disciplinary or grievance procedure using virtual video call tools, such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, to conduct meetings, but only once you have evaluated the following:
- Everyone involved has access to this technology
- Any witness statements or evidence can be seen clearly by all parties
- It will be possible to fairly question and assess evidence this way
- It’s possible for the person under investigation to be accompanied during the meeting
You should also note that there is no reason to record these video meetings; they should be conducted as they would if they were being carried out face to face, i.e. with a note-taker present.
Whether you choose to go ahead with any disciplinary or grievance procedures or postpone them to a time that best suits you and those involved, you must ensure that you are following your documented procedures which comply with the ACAS code of Practice.
More details of which can be found here: https://www.acas.org.uk/disciplinary-grievance-procedures-during-coronavirus?mc_cid=c204b8082e&mc_eid=bedc72a0ae
Our Employment Law Consultants are also here to provide further advice and assistance to employers when it comes to handling disciplinaries and grievances in the workplace. We can even chair any meetings, write up notes and support you through any employment tribunal proceedings.
If you would like to speak with one of our experts, then call us today on 0845 2626 260 or email us at [email protected]