This week, ACAS have released some helpful guidance on how to proceed with disciplinary and grievance procedures during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Be Fair and Reasonable
As always, your people management procedures should be conducted fairly. This means that no one involved in the process should be placed at a disadvantage, and the process should be within the range of reasonabe responses to the offence.
So, in English, if you're taking someone down a disciplinary procedure, make sure you're responding reasonably to the offence. Going down a gross misconduct route for someone coming to work late for the first time in their employment would not be a reasonable response. Then, give the employee the full opportunity to state their case and ensure you conduct an impartial review of the facts.
Observe Social Distancing
Usually a disciplinary or grievance procedure involves a group of people sitting together in a meeting room which, as we all know, is not ideal during a pandemic. We have all grown accustomed to online meetings which have been crucial to business continuity, but they throw up a few challenges when it comes to managing people. First things first, if you are thinking of having a disciplinary or grievance meeting online, make sure everyone has access to and knows how to use the technology. Secondly, think about whether this presents challenges for employees with a disability and make any reaosnable adjustments to support them. Thirdly, consider how you can control the meeting and ensure the tone of the meeting is correct. It's easy to talk over one another and miss body language cues in online meetings, so establish the ground rules. If you don't feel comfortable doing a meeting online, consider asking the participants if they would feel comfortable meeting physically (as long as social distancing can be observed).
Is it Appropriate?
The final consideration should be, do we need to do this and do we need to do it now? A disciplinary to discuss the employee's absence levels can probably wait until everyone is back to working as usual, but a grievance about bullying and harassment will need to be prioritised.
Management Processes and Furlough
Employees on furlough are not exempt from going through any disciplinary or grievance procedures. If a process was ongoing before an employee was furloughed, you can either postpone the process until they return to work or, you can continue with the process as bringing an employee in for a disciplinary hearing should not affect your furlough claim. In making this decision, think about the experiences the employee is having during the furlough. If you are aware of a bereavement, it would be reasonable to postpone the process.
If you have been made aware of an employee's misconduct after they have been furloughed, you should consider how serious the issue is before deciding when to begin the proceedings. Remember, disciplinary and grievance procedures should be resolved as soon as is reasonably practicable so you will need to find the balance between getting things done and responding appropriately to the situation.
Final Two Pennies
Whatever you do with your people management during this time, follow your policies and procedures, be fair and reasonable and repeat my mantra:
Fairness, Consistency & Standards.
Stay safe out there