Can You Carry Out a Successful Disciplinary When Working Remotely?

The pandemic has brought many practical challenges for managers.

It has forced businesses to adapt normal working practices and procedures, and disciplinary procedures are no exception.

Can you carry out a disciplinary when working remotely?

Now that we are returning to workplaces and in many cases working with a hybrid of remote and workplace, it will make life a little easier.

The fact that you and your team are still working remotely is not a reason to put disciplinaries on hold in itself, but you need to consider whether you will be able to investigate the issues fully and fairly under the circumstances, just as you would in the workplace.

For example, are you now able to get into the workplace to access the physical documents you need because the workplace is still temporarily closed? What will the documents add to the case?

And is it practical to speak to all of the key people involved? It might be better to wait if you can’t. If you have access to all the people through virtual video then I would proceed. But that’s a determination that you as manager will have to make.

What I will say is that it is always best to deal with matters as they arise and ensure no surprises.

Let’s look at what you have to consider when you carry out a remote disciplinary.

It must be fair and reasonable

What is the situation of the people who would likely be involved? Are they back in the workplace, working from home, or are they furloughed?

Is there any way to adapt the remote disciplinary to make it as fair and reasonable as an employee would expect from one that took place in the physical workplace?

Could the disciplinary reasonably be delayed, or would this have a detrimental effect on the people involved?

Everyone involved should have access to the necessary technology

Use secure video conferencing platforms that everyone involved has access to and make sure that anything you need to share is password protected where necessary.

Keeping things confidential can be more of a challenge with remote meetings, so remind your employee of the need for confidentiality, and check that no unauthorised people are going to present at the meeting.

Set the scene

Before starting make sure the setting is right for the conversations.  Consider are you and the participant in your respective rooms on your own?  If not can you move to another room or alternatively rearrange for another day? 

Consider whether there will be any interruptions and again rearrange if absolutely necessary.  I would suggest turn off notifications on both sides to stop distractions as these are serious conversations and all parties need to be present mentally.

Remember to consider what is around you in the picture on the screen.  Make sure nothing confidential is showing.  If you are taking notes then tell the participant as there is nothing more off putting then seeing just the top of the head.

Make sure you are demonstrating active listening too, I can recall occasions when I have felt like I’ve been talking to a wall when on the receiving end!

Consider Emotions

Anyone under the threat of a grievance or disciplinary procedure will feel under pressure and anxious.  Aim to be fair and show empathy and compassion regardless of what has happened.  Often we don’t know what is going on in someone’s life behind their closed doors.

Before you start the meeting do make sure you are not acting with unconscious bias or because you have a dislike of the person.  This needs to be a fair meeting and emotions should be put to one side. 

Give them time to articulate their answers and use silence to allow them thinking time.  Don’t rush on regardless.  Appreciate what they are going through.

At the same time, appreciate this is probably a big deal for you and not the best of situations to be in, so don’t beat yourself up if you feel the situation is sliding away from you.  Just suggest a 10 minute break and get a drink, giving yourself time to reframe your thoughts.

Give clear guidance for how employees can interact with their companions

Provide clear guidance on the structure of the disciplinary meeting and how the employee and their companion can speak privately at any point if they need to. It might be a good idea to use the breakout room feature on Zoom or allow easy access back into the meeting via a link you’ve sent beforehand.

Everyone should have access to the necessary documents and evidence before the meeting

Just as in a disciplinary meeting in the physical workplace, people should be given access to the necessary documentation in plenty of time before the meeting. Any documents or evidence should be sent securely, and when the meeting is in progress, ideally you should use the ‘share screen’ function so everyone involved can refer to the documents at the same time.

To record or not record, that is the question

With remote meetings, there is always the chance that participants will attempt to secretly record it. Have a look at your disciplinary procedure, and if you have a ‘no recording’ rule that would amount to misconduct if it was broken, point it out from the start.

Of course, as manager, you could decide to record the meeting for good measure, but you would have to have the employee’s consent to do so.

What about furloughed employees?

ACAS guidance says that furloughed employees can take part in disciplinary meetings as long as  HMRC guidance is followed (i.e. what they are doing doesn’t constitute work). You could consider flexible furlough to cover more bases though.

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