The last 18 months have been a bit of a rollercoaster for employment lawyers with the pandemic bringing periods of intense activity, but also quieter times while workplaces were closed and many employees were simply getting on with working from home.
Correspondingly, the number of claims in the employment tribunal system had risen steadily during the pandemic before dropping off slightly in the final quarter of financial year 2020/21, perhaps driven by lockdown 3.0, businesses having already restructured and a dearth of work Christmas parties.
Was this the calm before the storm?
Time and tribunal statistics will tell, however, there is undoubtedly a feeling this autumn of normal service being resumed which, if you are an employer, brings with it a wave of familiar and some new challenges.
Chief amongst recent enquiries has been how to introduce hybrid working arrangements, with many employers finding that their staff, understandably, want to retain some of the flexibility they have benefited from since the world changed in early 2020.
A dedicated policy is going to be necessary. However, while things are still settling down and with a tricky winter coming, it might be prudent to trial hybrid working in consultation with staff over the next six months before committing to new arrangements.
Not only does this buy some time, but the feedback is more likely to result in something which balance the needs of your employees with those of the business.
Why risk rushing into a regime which proves unworkable and needs to be changed after staff have begun to rely on it?
Then there are disciplinary and grievance issues which had been simmering away but are now bubbling to surface. A disciplinary warning will usually expire after six or 12 months but grievances, it seems, often last far longer.
Investigation is key here as reasonableness, in whichever situation, is underpinned by what the employer does to establish the facts in question.
There have been some notable decisions on disciplinary procedure in recent months so proceed with caution, particularly if it has been a while since you conducted a disciplinary hearing or dealt with a grievance.
Where the allegations involve whistleblowing or discrimination, legal advice is even more important to limit the risk of an employment tribunal claim.
On top of these concerns, many employers’ contracts and staff handbooks will be in need of a review if not an update.
The return to the workplace is likely to herald a rise in flexible working requests while the majority of employers will find themselves managing sickness absence at some point in the coming months.
At the height of the first lockdown, on April 6, 2020, changes were made to the information which employers are legally obliged to provide to individuals from day one of employment. The requirement was also extended from employees to workers, such as casual and seasonal staff.
If your business relies on restrictive covenants to protect its confidential information or business connections, these are likely to benefit from reviewing and, in some cases, renewing, given that the reasonableness of such restrictions is assessed as at the time they were entered into.
Jacksons Shield ensures that your business has these and all other employment matters covered for a fixed, monthly charge.
The service starts with a full audit of your employment documents following which we will work with you to update these, as necessary, and provide a helpline for advice on all employment matters, disputes, and correspondence.
We can also help you to put in place dedicated insurance to cover the cost of representation in employment tribunal claims and other legal proceedings such as enforcing restrictive covenants.
Along with training for staff and regular updates on developments in employment law, Jacksons Shield provides a comprehensive package that delivers expert advice when you need it most, which for many businesses could well be the next few months.
For more information on Jacksons Shield or employment law advice generally, please contact Paul Clark on 0191 206 2926 or email [email protected].
Partner and head of employment, Jacksons Law Firm