Employers need to consider whether it is fair or reasonable to conduct a disciplinary or grievance procedure while staff are working from home, following social distancing guidelines at work, or are on furlough.
This is according to new guidance from Acas, which asks employers to think carefully about starting or continuing disciplinary or grievance processes while the coronavirus disrupts normal working practices.
The guidance says: “Going through a disciplinary or grievance procedure can be stressful in normal times, and employees might be facing other stressful circumstances at this time. Employers should give careful consideration to the health and wellbeing of employees when deciding whether and how to proceed at this time.
“It can be helpful for the employer to talk through the options with everyone involved before making a decision whether or not to proceed.
“Whether the employer decides to go ahead with the procedure or postpone it, they should explain their decision with those involved. This will help everyone to be clear about what has been agreed and why.”
The guidance notes that employees may still raise a grievance, but HR must consider whether its procedures for handling their complaint can be followed fairly.
Although they are not able to work, staff who have been furloughed can take part in a disciplinary investigation or hearing if they are under investigation themselves; have raised a grievance; are chairing the hearing; are taking notes at a hearing or investigation interview; are being interviewed or are a witness; or are accompanying a colleague at a hearing.
However, they must agree to do so voluntarily and hearings and interviews must only take place in line with public health guidance.
Where key workers are still going to the workplace, physical hearings must be held in a place that allows for social distancing and privacy.
Where the staff involved are working from home or on furlough, employers need to think about the circumstances of the case and whether it is urgent, or whether it could be investigated at a later date.
If the employer decided to press ahead and use video software to conduct interviews, it needs to ensure everyone involved has access to the technology needed and make any reasonable adjustments necessary for individuals with disabilities.
During video meetings, HR must ensure everybody involved can see witness statements clearly and can fairly assess and question evidence given by the people interviewed.
Acas states there would be no reason for an employer to record a disciplinary hearing held via a video meeting, but it should comply with data protection law if it wishes to do so.