Why COVID-19 is Causing an Increase in Tribunal Hearings

People Management magazine reported earlier this week that research carried out by law firm GQ Littler found that COVID-related claims to the Employment Tribunal have increased by 27% on the previous year.

On the face of it, this news is hardly surprising.  Companies have been battling with the effect of the pandemic on remotely working teams for almost a year now.  HR processes are being carried out via ‘Teams’ or ‘Zoom’.  Everything from recruitment to termination – is all being carried out through countless virtual sessions.

Last week we wrote about the “best” way of firing someone was.  One of our  top tips was to undertake this task ‘face to face’.  However, the on-going pandemic has meant that for the majority of firms with predominantly office-based staff – this is virtually impossible, and poor practice by some companies means further tribunal claims are likely to be the end result.

Robust HR Process

During these unprecedented and difficult times, it is even more imperative that employers ensure that their employees are treated fairly.  Unfortunately, it is now impossible to wait and deal with performance or disciplinary issues on a face to face basis – nobody is going back to the workplace any time soon – and it is critical to ensure (for both employer and employee) that issues are dealt with promptly.  However, in order for them not to become part of the increasing line of tribunal claims waiting to be heard, companies should ensure that they have good, robust HR processes and procedures in place – and make sure that they follow them.

Acknowledge Stress

Employers should also ensure that they are aware of the increasing stress that could be affecting their staff.  Working remotely, managing teams remotely, maybe dealing with family members who are ill,  and the continued impact of lock-down, increases the likelihood for poor performance.  Work and home life becomes horribly inter-twined and for some, home is no longer a safe refuge from work – home life is opened up for all to see during each Zoom meeting.  The increased stress that puts on employees is bound to have a negative effect.

Employee Engagement

Employers should take care during this pandemic to review their employee engagement:  are they providing their staff with sufficient support and training to perform their job role?  Are they aware of any negative effect of continued remote working on work/life balance?  Do they offer an employee assistance programme (EAP) that allows staff professional external support?  Is good mental health high on the agenda and does the employer offer training for staff in mental health awareness?  And on a very basic level, are managers communicating well and often enough with their teams?

Don’t Become another Statistic

Employers should review HR processes and procedures to ensure that they remain legally compliant well before they need to consider starting a performance management process with an employee.  Take advice and engage with HR or legal professionals.  Not only will this save time and money, but it will also help to avoid making mistakes which could be costly for the company, both in terms of reputation and money.

Written by Jackie Hudson, Chartered FCIPD, Partner at ourHRpeople (Hampshire East)

ourHRpeople can help small businesses to navigate safely and compliantly through any people or HR issues that arise.  For more advice on remote management, EAP provision, or for sound advice on how to avoid being listed on the local employment tribunal’s next schedule of hearings, head to our website ourhrpeople.co.uk  or contact Jackie at jackie@ourhrpeople.co.uk

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