HR activity (including case hearings)
As you’ll be aware, from Wednesday 4 November, we have closed both Woodcock Street and the Council House, we expect both buildings will be closed until the New Year. Those of you who have chosen to meet or work in those locations are now asked to work from home instead, using virtual Teams Meetings wherever possible.
Those of you who have chosen to meet or work in those locations are now asked to work from home instead, using virtual Teams Meetings wherever possible.
At this stage, we anticipate both buildings will be closed until the New Year.
We will, however, continue to operate our emergency response services from Lancaster Circus, as we did during the previous lockdown (so there is no change for those of you who have been working from there).
Employee Relations Casework
Given the ongoing challenges associated with the pandemic and related restrictions interim arrangements to progress Employee Relations casework whilst the Council remains in Covid-19 pandemic response have been discussed and agreed with our Trade Unions, and Council Leadership Team.
Due consideration has been given to the volume of open casework to be completed, ongoing delay and importantly the impact this has on our staff and their wellbeing.
A Case Review (Triage) process has been discussed and agreed with Trade Union Colleagues and fully endorsed by the Council Leadership Team in order to address both cases that were placed on hold and new cases arising whilst the Council remains in emergency pandemic response. Everyone should be clear on the Case Review (Triage) approach to resolving cases and their role and responsibilities in progressing casework in line with the agreed interim arrangements.
Summary of the approach
The Case Review (Triage) approach aims to maximise the number of cases where it is appropriate to consider an outcome without the need for a hearing or formal investigation
- This includes cases being progressed under the following policies and procedures:
- Capability, Dignity at Work, Disciplinary, Grievance, Managing Absence (Full Case Hearings, Medical Redeployment), Probation
- All cases are therefore to be reviewed to identify where there is potential for an appropriate outcome to be agreed with the employee, supported by trade union representatives or their chosen workplace colleagues as appropriate
- It is expected that only the most serious cases (primarily Gross Misconduct cases) will progress to a hearing or formal investigation during this period
- Due care must be given to cases where it is considered that a hearing or formal investigation is needed. Hearings/formal meetings may be arranged in different ways e.g. face to face, virtual, using Microsoft Teams, by telephone voice call or via correspondence.
- Where face to face hearings or meetings are necessary it is imperative that an appropriate venue is identified and that a Risk Assessment is completed on a number of levels i.e. building, activity and individual, and that appropriate safety measures are put in place in line with government guidance.
What you need to do or can expect to happen
Managers you need to familiarise yourself with the Case Review (Triage) approach and discuss with your HR Technical Adviser to ensure you understand what this means for you and any cases you may be dealing with.
Employees, where it is considered your case is suitable for Case Review (Triage) an independent manager will contact you to discuss options to conclude your case without the need for a formal hearing. You will have some time to consider this and to discuss with your Trade Union Representative or chosen workplace colleague before responding to the manager to confirm how you want to proceed.
High level process chart
High level process chart text version
Manager with input from HR Technical Advisers considers suitability for Case Review (Triage) and options for case resolution without a hearing or investigation as appropriate.
Manager contacts employee to outline the considerations and options to conclude their case.
Employee confirms they will be supported by a Trade Union representative or chosen work colleague and will discuss with them as appropriate (time given to reflect)
Employee has conversation with their Trade Union representative or work colleague and responds to the manager on the options considered.
Employee confirms in writing to the manager whether they accept the case resolution or not (where) not they may provide mitigation.
Manager confirms the outcome in writing to the employee as appropriate (or considers mitigation provided*)
Manager updates HR Technical Adviser of the outcome, case concluded or progress with hearing or investigation.
*Step 6. Where mitigation is provided, the manager must consider and revert to Step 2.
Progressing case hearings and investigations during the COVID-19 response
Activity risk assessment for hearings and investigations to take place primarily at Woodcock Street has been completed along with a building walk-through and observations with Trade Union colleagues to affirm safety measures are in place.
A small number of additional venues have been scoped and may be used for face to face hearings and meetings provided the relevant Risk Assessments have been completed to ensure they are COVID secure.
Additional safety measures must be put in place for face to face meetings, and reasonable adjustments made to normal logistical arrangements to assist employees and their representatives to adequately prepare for and present a case
The detailed arrangements to support this activity during the COVID-19 response, which are based on ACAS guidelines, can be found below.
These procedures must always be fair and reasonable, with appropriate representation at relevant stages.
Practical arrangements for face to face meetings and hearings
- Workplace risk assessment, Meeting rooms at Woodcock Street have been identified as the primary site for case hearings. A building risk and activity risk assessment has been completed and safety measures put in place for this specific activity
- Individual risk assessment, During the Covid-19 pandemic the government has defined some people as clinically extremely vulnerable (Shielded), some as clinically vulnerable due to underlying health issues or disabilities and those who fall in to the BAME category as also being at higher risk. Age (>70) and pregnancy are other factors that should be considered. These employees are at an increased risk of severe illness from Coronavirus. Managers should talk to employees who have been shielding and those considered to be at increased risk, about their attendance at a meeting or hearing and take steps as necessary to enable them to do so, and if the measures in the general risk assessment are not considered to be adequate, an Individual Risk Assessment must be carried out prior to them attending the meeting or hearing.
- The right to be accompanied, still applies during the Covid-19 pandemic. The employee's chosen representative or work colleague must be able to adequately prepare for and attend the hearing and fully participate in it in line with current guidance.
To facilitate this the following support will be provided:
- Before the hearing takes place two hard copies of the case bundle, including all documentation to be relied upon will be provided, one for the employee and one for their representative/work colleague. Both copies of the bundle will be sent to the employee for them to share with their Trade Union representative or work colleague as appropriate and to arrange their pre-hearing consultation
- Sending paperwork out as early as possible will allow for the employee to determine any documentation they wish to present and plan to submit it in enough time for the hearing
- The Press to Post service should be used wherever possible to send hard copies of paperwork. This is a confidential and completely digital service which enables details for outgoing correspondence and documentation to be sent to an email address and to then be posted out from Dollman Street. There is no human intervention in the process and therefore no physical contact with the paperwork making it a Covid-19 low risk option.
- Meeting correspondence should be posted by recorded delivery to enable receipt tracking. It may be prudent to send recipients an email to let them know correspondence and documentation has been sent via post and to expect it
- Documentation may be sent electronically depending on the circumstances
- Given the current circumstances, including the volume of cases placed on hold that now need to be progressed, a level of flexibility is needed by all parties in arranging meeting dates and confirming room availability. As such, once the case documentation has been sent, contact should then be made with the employee and their representative to scope potential meeting dates. Rooms can then be booked, and meeting arrangements confirmed in writing
- Generally, it is expected that employees and their TU representative or workplace colleague will make their own arrangements to meet in order to prepare for a meeting or hearing. Provision is being made for a dedicated room with IT equipment for Trade Union colleagues to use flexibly for this purpose and to attend a virtual hearing as required e.g. where employees do not have access to IT equipment
- There will be also be scope for them to book a meeting room at Woodcock Street for this purpose using the booking system that has been set up
- On the day of the hearing 3 rooms will be available at Woodcock Street; (G15, G13, G12) for the hearing itself to take place, for the employee and their representative to talk privately at any point, for witnesses to wait until called
- The Chair of a hearing may allow more discretion and accept paperwork that has been submitted late or on the day of the hearing. Where possible, this paperwork should be shared electronically
- Requests for hearings to be postponed for a few days due to accessing paperwork or accessing representation due to the Covid-19 circumstances should be given serious consideration
- The need to adapt and be flexible in the current climate is incumbent on all parties, and importantly to ensure a fair and reasonable process in all the circumstances.
Alternative to face to face hearings
Carrying out a procedure remotely, video meetings may need to be used for any investigation interviews, and other formal meetings and hearings if a procedure is carried out remotely, provided the procedure is still fair and reasonable. It's important to consider if:
- Everyone involved has access to the technology needed for video meetings, for example the necessary equipment and internet connection
- Anyone involved has any disability or other accessibility issues that might affect their ability to use video technology, and whether any reasonable adjustments might be needed
- It's possible to get hold of all the evidence needed for the investigation or hearing, for example records or files that are kept in the office (also applicable for face to face meetings)
- Any witness statements or other evidence can be seen clearly by everyone involved during an interview or hearing and provided in advance where appropriate
- It will be possible to fairly assess, and question evidence given by people interviewed during a video meeting
- It's possible for the employee to be fairly accompanied during the hearing or meeting.
Additional points to consider
Going through a disciplinary or grievance or any other HR or Employee Relations procedure can be stressful in normal times, and employees might be facing other difficult circumstances during this time. The health and wellbeing of employees should be considered when deciding how to proceed.
Where a face to face meeting is to go ahead, it's important that the employee's chosen representative or work colleague can also attend the meeting in person if the employee wishes.
The manager responsible for the procedure should engage with the individual and their representative or work colleague to understand their circumstances and any concerns they may have about the procedure and consider any specific requirements or adjustments.
Employee re-organisation, service redesign and TUPE activity
These activities will be moved forwards to enable the council to improve service effectiveness and efficiency for our citizens, deliver planned changes and stabilise our financial position.