Since December, new rules have meant more time is being allowed for early reconciliation. The extension from four to six weeks may only be a way of trying to cope with the serious Employment tribunal backlog – but greater attention to, and opportunities for, informal resolutions has to be a good thing.
Or is it? A longer window of time for early reconciliation is only beneficial, for either side, if employers are making good use of that time. Otherwise, it’s just a longer delay. More weeks of anxiety and uncertainty; time when the people involved in a difficult situation are distracted, de-motivated, maybe looking around for other opportunities. Something that’s going to put off some employees from airing a complaint at all.
The impact of the pandemic on the system has been stark. Official data last year suggested 37,000 outstanding cases ahead of the second and third national lockdowns. It’s reported that some tribunals aren’t listing hearings for discrimination cases until the end of 2021 or even into next year.
Tough situations like these focus the mind on Employee Relations, and that’s hugely valuable in itself. HR need to be asking themselves hard questions about how their organisation is set up to avoid becoming tangled in the tribunal system and its waiting lists.
What professional processes are in place to encourage early and informal reconciliation? Easy access to mediation is important. Employers benefit most of all from having an established service that people can turn to as the standard, informal route. Mediation then becomes part of the culture, commonly used and trusted, with nothing remarkable or uncomfortable about it. Less and less management time is needed; issues are picked up and dealt with early.
Are those processes up to standard? Mediation services need to built on professional standards, trained staff or external support. Similarly, when it comes to investigations into more serious and complex cases there has to be trust in the standards being used and the capability of internal staff involved. In response to a situation where there are no formal standards for investigations, as an accredited BSI 102000 (Provision of Investigative Services) provider, CMP has produced its own best practice standards that go above the beyond the ACAS code to make sure investigations are watertight.
What kind of culture does the organisation have when it comes to having ‘difficult’ conversations? Most simply of all, reconciliation and better employee relations in general, comes from open conversations that lead to understanding. That means higher levels of conversation skills across levels, to mean there are more conversations based on empathy, maturity and self-awareness – the ability to admit when our own manner or behaviour has contributed to a problem.