How can you avoid an employment tribunal?
Quarterly data published in October 2020 shows a 18% increase in tribunal claims between April – June 2020 compared to the previous year. It is anticipated that many of these will be directly COVID related, and could include the following:
- Unemployment / redundancies
- Unfair selection or processes
- Changes to working conditions
- Unauthorised reduction in pay
- Flexible working requests (due to childcare or caring responsibilities)
- DDA claims – particularly from those who have been shielding
- Absence related dismissal claims (possibly arising from Long COVID)
- Health and safety concerns
- Sex discrimination elements (statistically women’s careers are more likely to have been affected by COVID, childcare, home-schooling etc during the pandemic than men’s)
Claim numbers are expected to continue to rise, especially when the furlough scheme comes to an end (as this is likely to result in further redundancies and workplace changes).
This has inevitably created a backlog in the tribunal system, and there are now many steps being taken to address this including virtual hearings, delegation of judges administrative tasks, and deployment of judges from other areas. However, with numbers increasing and restrictions in place around attendance at hearings, this backlog may continue to grow for some time yet.
How can you manage your workforce compliantly and fairly?
As with any aspect of management, it is essential that you implement, and follow fair and legal processes. Many of the areas that businesses are dealing with now are complex situations which may not have been dealt with previously – i.e. redundancies, furlough, absence management, changing conditions. Not following these statutory processes (consultation, fair selection etc) – can amount to substantial claims. Even if you were not aware of the processes, naivety is not an appropriate defence and it is therefore essential that you understand your obligations before you commence any process.
What role do your managers have in this?
At the moment more than ever, managers are likely to be adapting to different ways of working. They may be managing remote, homebased teams, or may be managing staff who are under a great deal of stress themselves (due to illness, bereavement, financial worries, childcare concerns etc). In addition, it is important to remember that your managers may also need help to manage their own concerns and keep their morale high.
Mental ill health is increasing, and for many individuals this is being exacerbated by homeworking and being isolated from colleagues. Regular contact is key between managers and staff to be able to ascertain if individuals need more support or are struggling.
Despite you having all of the policies and procedures in place, if your managers and leaders don’t apply these and demonstrate the values, then your hard work may be unintentionally undone.
It is essential that managers are trained, and understand the company’s policies and procedures, as well as understanding that many of these are determined by law. You should ensure there is a consistent style of management across the organisation, and that notes and documentation are kept to the required standard should you need this later.
Keeping a motivated, committed workforce during this time requires strong and agile management skills – finding new ways to communicate, inspire and measure performance of staff who you may not see in person.
Having these measures in place internally will go a long way to ensuring that you are managing in accordance with the law, and that your decisions and actions are fair and compliant. It will also help you to maintain other aspects of your staff management, i.e. appraisals, recruitment and performance management – which are all essential to enable your workforce to return fully motivated and ready to grow post-COVID.
Good, fair and compliant management in turn reduces the likelihood of somebody making a tribunal claim, and if they do, will help you to defend your actions and decisions.