A Key Element of Any Fair HR Procedure is to Progress Matters in a Timely Manner
Adhering to the normal procedural timeframes at the present is difficult. While some cases have progressed, many have been put “on hold” and the reasonableness of any delays will be judged on a case by case basis. It is essential to therefore review all cases at regular intervals and to consult with the employee about whether, and how, matters can be reasonably progressed.
The Statutory Requirements of a Fair Process Still Apply
This includes a thorough investigation, including, where applicable, interviewing witnesses and the employee(s), formal hearings, right of representation, right to receive and present evidence, right to call witnesses and right of appeal. In the case of probation and capability – there is also a requirement to allow time for improvement, including delivery of appropriate support and training. There will be challenges with this where staff are not able to attend school or are on reduced/different activities. Support and training are less likely to be available.
Procedures Can be Managed Remotely
There is nothing in law preventing HR procedures from being managed remotely (e.g. through video conferencing). As always, it will come down to whether it is reasonable to do so. While generally staff can reasonably be required to be available for work related matters, even when they are not physically in the workplace. There may be specific reasons which prevent staff from engaging such as health or childcare. Other considerations will include:
- Availability and confidence in the use of technology by all parties
- Ability of witnesses to attend
- Practicalities of exchanging and accessing relevant paperwork
- Practicalities in enabling employees to consult confidentially with their representative before during and after the hearing
Whose Decision is it to Proceed?
In normal circumstances, the employer will set meetings in line with its procedures (allowing of course for reasonable re-setting of dates where the employee’s representative is unavailable) and the employee will be expected to make all reasonable effort to attend.
It may be reasonable for the school to decide to progress some elements of procedures such as interviewing witnesses, evidence gathering, probation reviews etc. However, in the case of a proposal to hold a formal meeting, especially one at which a sanction could be applied, employers should secure explicit agreement from the employee to proceed in this manner. This will avoid the risk of claims of procedural unfairness.