Ways to Manage Grievances During COVID-19
How do you manage workplace grievances remotely?
Employers have had to respond to the unique challenges brought about by COVID-19.
While your current grievance handling policy provides a clear procedure and standards to adhere to, this poses potential challenges with a workforce based out of an organisation’s premises.
- Handling all complaints of discrimination seriously
- Conducting proper investigations into complaints
- Responding to the affected person promptly and proactively
- Recording and filing grievances confidentially
- Treating both complainant and respondent fairly
- Involving unions in the process for unionised companies
- Conducting training for all managers and supervisors involved in handling grievances
Whether grievances are raised on-site in the office or remotely, it is vital to ensure a fair and consistent process. Importantly, the process should provide employees a safe channel to raise their grievances without fear of negative repercussion, and facilitate the resolution of their grievance.
Employers will need to consider whether a full and fair investigation can still be carried out whilst employees are working remotely, before proceeding or continuing with grievance handling procedures. For example, if getting hold of important records or documentation poses a difficulty due to workplace closures, or interviewing key witnesses becomes impractical, it may be fairer to delay the outcome of the process until Circuit Breaker measures are relaxed.
If the decision is made to pause or delay the process, assure the aggrieved employee that his/her grievance will be looked into at the appropriate juncture or alternative measures will be taken to prevent co-working relationships from worsening. For example, appointing a different interim manager during this period (if appropriate) if there was an issue between an employee and his/her line manager. In the event that it is both reasonable and practicable to proceed with the process remotely, employers should consider the following:
COVID-19 and its associated Circuit Breaker measures have exacted a toll on the mental health of people in Singapore. Going through a grievance procedure can already be stressful under normal circumstances – your employees may be facing additional stressors during this period such as a heavier workload or difficulties in adjusting.
Employers should give extra consideration to the health and well-being of employees when deciding whether and how to proceed at this time.
Platform that investigation meetings or hearings will take place
Use a secure platform to ensure confidentiality is maintained, and ensure that all relevant parties have access to it. A video conferencing platform is preferred (as opposed to audio) so that the employer can ensure that only relevant parties are participating or listening in to the call. Body language and reactions can also be important for context.
Flexibility in time frames
Be prepared to exercise your discretion to extend any time frames set out in your policy such as response times or the time taken to reach a conclusion. Staff absence and IT issues may also make it challenging to arrange any grievance handling meetings. The importance of communication becomes amplified in this situation. Ensure that all parties understand the impact of working remotely on the process, and keep them updated.
While the Circuit Breaker and working remotely require organisations to review their policies and processes, it remains important that fairness in the process should not be compromised or negatively impacted due to a different work arrangement or routine under these circumstances. Employers should continue to ensure a safe environment for your employees to raise their concerns, and an available channel to explain your policies and rationale for actions or decisions to avoid unnecessary escalation and negative feelings.