Julian Hoskins considers how HR can best manage change – with strong employee relations

We’re seeing many organisations face change at the moment, whether it’s in the form of team re-structures, downsizing departments or managing furloughed and sick employees. With this comes a greater strain on HR departments, as they need to ensure that processes are being carried out properly and they are able to demonstrate compliance with HR policies.

With the furlough scheme initially coming to an end in October, a lot of organisations are now also realising that they will unfortunately have to make changes to their teams, which could include changes to job roles, structure and perhaps even redundancies after this time period. So how do organisations who are considering re-structuring or reducing their workforce approach this correctly and fairly?

Well, if you’re going to be making changes to the terms and conditions for more than 20 individuals, then you are allowed to collectively and individually consult with employees while they are on furlough. The guidance has made it clear that the act of consulting doesn’t amount to work.

Traditionally consultations take place in a face-to-face setting and are attended by the individual as well as their union and employee representatives. This is where the difficulty lies and the current restrictions are going to put a strain on HR teams because they are going to have to put mechanisms in place that facilitate virtual consultations.

Switching to virtual consultations
The first practical consideration to take onboard is ensuring that the employee concerned has got the ability to carry out that consultation virtually. Where possible, it is much better to carry out consultations via video conferencing as HR professionals are able to gauge reactions, especially when it comes to something as sensitive as re-deployment or redundancy. Additionally, employees need to be made aware of all policy stipulations before participating as in some instances recording these types of meetings is deemed as an act of gross misconduct.

Although there is no statutory requirement, very often employees are allowed or entitled to be accompanied by a work colleague or union representative at a consultation meeting. In some cases, this is going to be very difficult to facilitate for practical purposes. One way to continue facilitating in-person consultations might be to allow a member of the same household to accompany an employee, this is something employers don’t usually permit but could provide an alternative under the current circumstances.

Putting processes in place
With this in mind, HR departments are going to need to act outside of their policies or amend them to reflect these types of scenarios. The implications of the pandemic are here to stay and this is going to put a heavy strain on HR departments, who are going to have to show that processes are being carried out properly and demonstrate compliance with HR policies. For many HR teams the increase in workload has highlighted weaknesses and inefficiencies in current processes. The reality is that the better the systems they have in place, in terms of process and driving efficiencies, the smoother it’s likely to go. By tracking and recording compliant processes, this could, in some cases, even reduce the risk of going to an employment tribunal. As best practice is in place to ensure, as best as possible, all changes are tracked, monitored and time frames adhered to.

One way for HR departments to manage cases and simplify any organisational changes is to adopt a case management system like Selenity ER Tracker. HR cases can be complex and sometimes require more than one person to be involved from start to finish. Technology can play a vital role here, as it gives HR professionals the ability to collaborate on cases, track communication and task completion. Having good processes ‘behind the scenes’ means a better outcome for everyone involved. Although redundancies will happen, those still in employment are likely to still see changes, whether it be to their job role, contract, the size of the department or perhaps being redeployed to another area of the business. Whilst employees are not going to like the fact their role has changed or been made redundant, most people are reasonable and if they are kept informed and treated fairly they will accept that it was necessary.

Remote working in the long term
The pandemic has hugely accelerated the adoption of remote working and now virtual consultations and dealing with employees outside of the workplace is the new normal. From a HR perspective, with a proportion of employees spending more time at home there is a growing need to equip the workforce with the tools, systems and processes they need to be successful.

This means HR teams need to ensure that they have updated policies in place that reflect the different ways in which we are all now working and the changes to the ways in which formal HR processes are going to be conducted. For instance, policies might need to be changed to reflect that disciplinary hearings may need to happen remotely, something that has never happened before.

As we continue to live with the virus and the end of the furlough scheme comes ever closer, there is going to be a need for restructuring. Whether we see that in the form of changes to terms and conditions or redundancies, it’s more important than ever that policies are in place to reflect the fact that employees are not going to be able to come to the workplace. Having streamlined processes and the right technology, such as case management systems, is the best way to facilitate changes and ensure individuals are treated fairly and compassionately.


About the author:

Julian Hoskins is an employment lawyer, a dual qualified barrister, solicitor and Partner at law firm Bevan Brittan LLP.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.