How to manage work-related grievances remotely
Employers have had to respond to the unique challenges brought about by COVID-19. This includes managing workplace grievances remotely.
While your current grievance handling policy provides a clear procedure to adhere to, this poses potential challenges with a workforce based out of an organisation’s premises.
Whether grievances are raised in the office or remotely, it is vital to ensure a fair and consistent process. The process should provide employees a safe channel to raise their grievances without fear of negative repercussion and facilitate the resolution of their grievance. It is also important to keep in mind that the standards of fairness based on the National Employment Standards e.g. conducting proper investigations into complaints and involving unions in the process for unionised companies.
Employers will need to consider whether a full and fair investigation can still be carried out whilst employees are working remotely, before proceeding with grievance handling procedures. For example, if getting hold of important records poses a difficulty due to workplace closures, it may be fairer to delay the outcome of the process until these individuals return to the office.
If the decision is made to pause or delay the process, employers should assure the aggrieved employee that their grievance will be looked into at the appropriate juncture. If necessary, alternative measures should also be taken to prevent co-working relationships from worsening.
In the event that it is both reasonable and practicable to proceed with the process remotely, employers should consider the following:
Going through a grievance procedure can be stressful under normal circumstances, and even more so during COVID period due to additional stressors like a heavier workload. Employers should give extra consideration to the health and well-being of employees when deciding whether to proceed at this time.
Choice of platform for investigation meetings
Use a secure platform to maintain confidentiality and ensure that all relevant parties have access to it. Ideally, employers should use a video conferencing platform to examine body language and monitor that only relevant parties are participating.
Flexibility in time frames
Be prepared to extend any time frames set out in your policy such as response times or the time taken to reach a conclusion due to staff absence and technical issues. Ensure that all parties understand the impact of working remotely on the grievance handling process, and keep them updated.
While working remotely requires organisations to review their policies, it remains important that fairness in the process should not be compromised regardless of work arrangements. Employers should continue to ensure a safe environment for your employees to raise their concerns, and an available channel to explain your decisions to avoid further disputes and negative feelings.