Over the last couple of months, the world of work has undergone significant changes. Thanks to Covid-19, employees across the globe are now working in new, unfamiliar environments. For those employees that are still physically attending work, the pandemic has meant implementing social distancing, stringent hygiene measures and the donning of protective gear such as face masks and gloves. For those employees continuing their employment from home, their new working environments may include young children, partners or non-familial housemates.
Whether your employees are still physically attending work or are now working from home, either situation can be a breeding ground for stress and tension – especially when coupled with the current climate of worry and uncertainty. As a HR professional, you are no doubt aware of how this can affect employee performance and behaviour. You may already be seeing an increase in employee issues that need to be addressed. Some of these might be resolved quickly and efficiently. Other matters however may be more complex, and you could wind up with a workplace investigation on your hands.
Can’t we just wait until we go back to normal?
Back before Ireland went on full lockdown, businesses were voluntarily closing their doors with the unspoken understanding that they would be doing so for no longer than two weeks. However, due to government decisions made in order to safeguard our health, for many businesses two weeks has turned into much longer. At the start, it would have seemed feasible for businesses to put certain tricky matters – such as workplace investigations – on hold until normality resumed. Now though, it is apparent that the working style we were used to may well be a thing of the past.
That is not to prophesy doom and gloom – on the contrary, the business processes that are forever changed are so because we have been forced to find new, more efficient and cost-effective ways of doing things. The world of online has opened new opportunities for us and our businesses, and though our hands may have been forced, it is likely that we will take many positives from our lockdown period.
However, we must also acknowledge the reality of the situation. The lifting of restrictions will be a gradual process, and as long as schools and creches remain closed there will likely be a whole cohort of parents unable to return to work. Businesses that have implemented remote working successfully may well decide, or be encouraged, to remain working remotely until the health risks have dropped or disappeared. Unfortunately, we must also prepare ourselves for the possibility of restrictions tightening again should a second wave of infections hit.
The sudden shock of remote work for certain business functions has proved challenging. Performance reviews have been pushed out in many workplaces, as have promotions and probation reviews – the intention being to continue proceedings once normality resumes. However, while your business may have decided to temporarily freeze these or certain other HR functions – recruitment, for example – there are some employee matters that must be dealt with immediately.
When a complaint is made about an employee’s performance, behaviour or conduct by another employee, member of the public or any other third party, it is in the best interest of all parties for it to be addressed promptly. Inaction may allow the issue to worsen over time, which can cause disruption to your business and considerable upset to the parties involved. Failure to address the issue promptly may also invite external scrutiny. Any resulting litigation will likely be costly and damage the reputation of your business, so acting promptly is strongly advised. In the current climate, that may mean launching a remote workplace investigation.
We know – it is daunting. HR functions require somewhat of a personal touch. As HR professionals, we recognise the importance of meeting with employees in person. Communication is less stunted when we can sit and speak face to face with someone. We also know how important it is to get the process right. A workplace investigation is a serious matter, and it must be conducted with fairness, impartiality, and a good amount of sensitivity. Being in the middle of a pandemic is no excuse for a shoddy investigation. As tricky as these are at the best of times, switching to an online process will present even more challenges. Any legal action taken will result in you being judged on your ability to conduct an investigation in line with accepted standards, so you really do need to get it right.
However, help is at hand! As external HR Investigators, we frequently work on workplace investigations for and with our clients. Lately this has meant doing them remotely. We have therefore put together some information to help support HR teams in similar situations. The first part of our two-part blog series on how to conduct a remote workplace investigation can be accessed here.
We hope that it helps you plan and conduct a remote workplace investigation that will stand external scrutiny. For any further advice, please do not hesitate to contact us.