Legal

Handling disciplinaries and grievances in the age of coronavirus

28 Aug 2020 By Mary Goldsbrough

Mary Goldsbrough explains what systems businesses should have in place to successfully manage performance management issues remotely

As your business continues to adapt to remote working, disciplinary and grievance procedures may be the last thing on your mind. However, even employees working from home can act inappropriately, which can lead to disciplinaries and grievances. 

Although you may not be able to monitor your employees’ activity at home as well as you would do in the office, it is not impossible to do so. The key is communication – ensure your employees know the standard of performance that is expected and ask them to send you regular work updates via email. 

These updates should include information on how many tasks they have completed, the outcomes of these, as well as their capacity to take on extra work. These updates will allow you to gauge whether the employees are performing their role efficiently at home and should also incentivise them to maintain productivity, as they will have to justify any work that is not completed through an email. Clear lines of communication can help reduce the need for disciplinaries.

Disciplinary proceedings 

Before starting any disciplinary proceedings with unproductive employees working from home you should, as part of an investigation process, check whether their poor performance is due to distractions such as caring responsibilities or to other concerns relating to home working. If this is the case, the employee should be offered support and, as appropriate, training. Disciplinary action should be the last resort – particularly if the employee has previously worked productively when in the office.

Unfortunately, there will be circumstances where it is necessary to go down the disciplinary route. In this case, you should ensure that you follow the correct disciplinary procedures even while working from home. Failure to adhere to a proper disciplinary procedure could lead to an unfair dismissal claim against your company. Luckily, modern technology does mean that the entire disciplinary process can now be conducted remotely. For example, the disciplinary letter can be sent via email and the disciplinary investigation and meetings can be done via video call.  

Grievances 

Employees working from home may also still have grievances they wish to raise, whether in relation to issues with colleagues, or as a result of concerns regarding home working. To reduce the prospect of grievances being raised, you should maintain regular contact with your employees, through emails, phone calls and video meetings. Regular team meetings as well as semi regular one-to-one meetings will also allow employees to raise grievances informally and share any concerns they might have about the company, home working or their colleagues. 

If grievances cannot be resolved informally, grievance processes can also be managed remotely. You should make employees aware of your grievance policy, where they can find the policy and how to raise a formal grievance. If the employee does raise a formal complaint, then you must honour that request and commence a formal grievance process. You should have a formal grievance procedure already in place, which can be adapted for a remote working setting. 

You should also consider whether you need to make any adjustments to the disciplinary or grievance process being conducted remotely. For example, for employees with disabilities, or those whose circumstances might make it difficult for them to participate in such processes from their home.

You will also need to ensure that one-to-one meetings via video call platforms are treated like one-to-one meetings in the office, with everything being discussed in confidence unless your employee gives you permission to share their concerns with others. 

Mary Goldsbrough is an employment lawyer at Capital Law

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