Best laid plans

Both employer and employee will soon have to show they have followed
statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures. But will they help or hinder
HR? Compiled by Phil Boucher

Sue Griffin
Head of employee relations, Ceridian Centrefile

I think the Employment Act 2002 will help because it brings home the
importance of following procedure. It will help companies to pick up issues at
an early stage and implement a disciplinary policy as a phased approach –
rather than letting things come to a head like many people do now. If a person
or company wants to go down the grievance route, then they will now have to
show a lot more patience.

At the same time, it’s also good that the Act makes disciplinary procedures
a statutory concern. Tribunals will now have very little sympathy for any firm
that fails to follow the right procedure. I think that large companies that
fail to toe the line, and consequently get an automatic unfair dismissal, will
have only themselves to blame.

The Act has to be careful it doesn’t penalise people who have to act swiftly
when a misconduct issue occurs. It shouldn’t penalise those who are trying to
make decisions on the spot and act under pressure. The right balance has to be
struck between common sense and procedures.

Despite this, I think the changes are positive. The big difference is that
it now requires employees to follow the procedure as well. Until now there has
often been an issue that employees don’t think applies to them. In some cases
an individual’s appeal will succeed even if people haven’t followed procedure –
which is unfair. Now it is far more two sided; both employer and employee will
have to show they have tried to solve the problems internally and followed the
correct steps before a dispute gets to tribunal.

This means HR now has to ensure management and employees understand and
remain within the guidelines at all times. One downside is that HR will now be
more hesitant to let managers manage on their own. In the past, HR has given
autonomy by publicising the policy and giving management easy guidelines to handle
the processes. Now we may have to go back to being more hands on.

Much of this may involve hand-holding of managers to make sure they are
managing performance in an exemplary way – and I’m certain HR will want to be involved
earlier in the proceedings. This will mean more work for HR, although many will
want to devolve authority to managers and trust them to manage it as well.

It is because of this that a large part of Ceridian’s company-wide
management development is now focused on employee legislation, performance
management and the law relating to it – in particular, emphasising this new
legislation and pushing it hard so that all managers know their
responsibilities.

Mike Young
HR director UK & Ireland, Avaya

It’s good to have documented
procedures so everyone knows where they stand. But they will have to be
sufficiently flexible so that the merit of the case is given higher priority
than simply following the correct procedure in the first place. Too often firms
find they are on the wrong end of tribunal decisions because of technicalities
in the legal procedure. And unfortunately, experience tells me that’s the way
this Act is likely to go too.

The Act is likely to help staff. We are non-unionised and it
will help employees to know how to pursue a grievance if they have one. It is
also a two-way thing: we want to hear if there are problems for individuals,
and want people to feel they have a way of addressing these without fear.

Len Aspell
Head of employee relations, HSBC

The new regulations will not make
things easier for all employers. Some will have to follow set procedures for
the first time, and account for the consequences for not doing so. Others will
have to spend time and resources reviewing their procedures and training HR to
cope with the impact of the regulations. Tribunals may also lose out. The
regulations’ aim is to enable more disputes to be resolved internally. However,
it is likely more litigation will follow than ever before over failure to
follow the detailed procedures. As a result, tribunal decisions will be heavily
influenced by legal technicalities rather than the actual issues of the case in
hand.

Hopefully, in time, the impact of the regulations will be to
make more employers aware that they must have procedures in place to deal with
disciplinary matters and grievances and it will encourage them to use them.

Rob Barnett
Director of HR, policy and service, B&Q

As with all similar changes, the
Employment Act represents an opportunity as well as a challenge, and we have
taken the opportunity to update our training and review our current grievance
procedure as a result.

But like most employers, we are waiting for the regulations to
be completed before we finalise our arrangements. We believe the improvements
we are making will help us to continue to deal with disciplinary and grievance
matters fairly and reasonably.

Despite this, we are concerned the new proposals could actually
cause more tribunals. The regulations have many grey areas that are open to
interpretation, and these may overshadow the overall merits of cases.

One change will be to employees who have less than six months’
service where, historically, a simpler procedure was applied.

Heather Mayes
Senior HR adviser, Powergen

If the Acas code of conduct had been
more closely applied we wouldn’t need this at all. But it will help to reduce
the numbers of cases that progress to tribunal as it will encourage people to
talk about any issues that arise internally. But like a lot of measures that
have come out recently, it is mainly aimed at small and medium-sized businesses
as larger companies have already got well-established grievance procedures in
place.

For smaller companies, it may be a good way of reducing costs
as it puts the focus on resolution where it needs to be – between employer and
employee. Now the procedure has been given more formality and is easier to
understand, they are likely to think more carefully about the issues involved.

But as the Act is out for consultation, it will be interesting
to see what the final version looks like.

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