New Guidance from Acas: Disciplinary and Grievance
There’s no statutory force for the updated Acas Guidance on disciplinary and grievance procedures, however it’s important as it expands on the points in the Acas code. One of the main changes includes new advice on the impact of grievances and suspensions on employees. The updated guidance also includes advice on when a worker asks to delay a disciplinary hearing due to the absence of a preferred companion. In this blog, we summarise the latest guidance to give employers further clarity.
Suspending an employee
The updated Acas guidance has an increased focus on the impact of a suspension on an employee. Acas recommends that suspension should only be used in exceptional situations, as this can leave employees “feeling prejudged, demotivated and devalued”.
The guidance goes on to say that suspensions should be kept as short as possible, with regular reviews to ensure that the employee is always kept informed. Employees should be paid in full, including any benefits, during the suspended period (unless an employer has a contractual right to suspend without pay).
As an employer, you are not automatically entitled to suspend an employee, even if you believe you have a contractual right to do so. Instead of suspending an employee, you could consider moving a worker to another area of the business. Acas considers suspension to be a serious matter. The updated guidance places a greater emphasis on the risk of breaching the implied duty of trust between employer and employee. Therefore, employers need to follow the relevant guidelines, if they wish to avoid a constructive dismissal claim.
Postponing a hearing
It is important to always consider an employee’s reasons for postponing a hearing. Although it is common for employees to use delay tactics when facing a disciplinary hearing, you must not assume this is the reason behind the worker’s request to postpone proceedings. The updated Acas guide recommends that an employer may have to consider delaying a hearing by more than five days, where there is no companion or trade union representative available.
An employer must always act fairly in order to avoid a finding of unfair dismissal. The employer should consider the facts and decide what is fair and reasonable.
Acas guidance (page 26)
As an employer, you will need to carefully consider the circumstances before you choose to reschedule a disciplinary hearing. This also applies to grievance meetings that relate to possible dismissal.
Keeping everyone up to date on grievance outcomes
The updated Acas guidance gives advice on good practice when it comes to keeping individuals “informed of any aspect of the decision that affects them and the reasons for it”. This applies to every person involved in the grievance process. Should an employee be exonerated following a complaint where they have been implicated, this ensures that the worker is kept aware of any decisions.
As an employer, it is essential that you keep a worker up to date when they have had allegations made against them. Ideally, you should keep an employee informed from the start of the process and to the very end. Confidentiality must always be observed when dealing with a grievance. Employers will need to carefully consider who should be informed of any outcomes. Where a policy has changed as a result of a grievance, employers may be required to inform their wider workforce to ensure compliance with any new procedures.
Stress-related to a grievance process
Acas has included further guidance on how to manage the stress experienced by those involved in a grievance process. This could apply to the subject of the complaint, the complainant, or other people that are involved in the proceedings.
When an employee’s mental health is of concern, especially when disclosed as a disability, Acas recommends taking steps to ensure that the grievance process is adjusted accordingly. This could involve holding off-site grievance meetings away from the normal working environment or taking regular breaks during long meetings. The individual may choose to be accompanied by a family member or a friend who has a greater understanding of their condition.
As an employer, it is important that you give access to professional help and support to lessen the impact of stress on the employee.
If there are clear and repeated signs of distress, the employer should consider signposting the individual to an employee assistance programme, where one is available, or consider suggesting that the individual seeks advice from a GP.
If you need advice on how the updated Acas guidance may affect your business, please call Jude Read HR Consultancy on 01455 231982 or send an enquiry via our contact page.