By Sim Clulow-Phillips, Director, HR VECTRO, the HR outsourcing specialist

Covid-19 has changed a lot of working conditions, and how your company handles it could be the difference between having a motivated employee and facing an employment tribunal. If you do not have the correct HR skills in house, then looking externally is the cost-effective solution.

Let me give you a real-life example

An employee, let's call him John, has been furloughed. John's employer wants him to start work again but from home not the office that they have, where they have decided not to renew the lease. John asked if he may go into the office until the end of the lease, maintaining social distance, while he seeks advice on how a suitable work environment can be set up in his very small cottage. John wants to have the correct chair and desk suitable for a small home, has no objections on the face of it of working from home, but he needs reassurance. The employer refuses the right for John to go back into the office, keeping him on furlough and starting redundancy consultation even though they are asking others doing the same role to work overtime.

Seems an over-reaction from the employer don't you think? John is a long-standing employee with a good track record in performance and attendance. John also has a protected medical condition as per the Equalities Act, which doesn't impact on his capability to do the role, but does impact on how he is to be treated.

John raises a grievance about the way he is being treated. The employer's response leads to a second grievance and a threat of employment tribunal. The employer has now lost John's trust and caused a lot of ill feeling, on both sides.

How could this have played out differently?

Furloughing John could have very easily saved his job. The employer has seen the advantages of working from home, but has not realised that it is not so simple for some staff.

Without correct HR expertise in house, instead of doing an assessment of John's needs to work from home, they tried to give a one size fits all approach, and when John pushed back a little to have time to assess his requirements for working from home, the employer didn't want to wait and instead decided redundancy would be better, but that has been more time confusing and potentially a lot more expensive.

If the employer had received and acted on the correct advice promptly, they would have (a) allowed John back into the office to work until the end of the lease; (b) proactively assisted with a review of requirements, even done a [socially distanced] home visit to discuss what would be needed and where it could go without taking over his small home; (c) recognised the increased stress and anxiety that this change would cause John and taken steps to mitigate it.

None of that would have taken too much time and certainly would not cost (real and hidden) as much as the route that they took. If this goes to employment tribunal, the employer may well lose, and, being a protected disability, the pay-out is not capped - an expensive mistake for not treating John properly or having the correct HR advice available.

For more information visit HR VECTRO