The impact of COVID-19 on disciplinary matters: The findings of our survey

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Michael Campbell, AdviserPlus

23rd August 2021

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More than half of HR leaders have no visibility through their data of the impact of COVID-19 on disciplinary matters in their organisation. If you’re one of them, what are you going to do about it?

We recently ran a survey looking into the visibility and insight that HR functions have of conduct matters in their organisation. We received a tremendous response, across a range of roles and a range of sectors, and can share with you some intriguing – and in places concerning – results.

We started by examining some basic volumetrics. Reassuringly, nearly 70% of respondents felt that they had visibility of the volume of disciplinaries arising in their organisation over the past 12 months, and the reasons for these matters arising. However, dig a little deeper and over a third of respondents (37%) did not feel they had visibility of themes developing and nearly half of respondents (47%) had no visibility of the duration of disciplinary cases. In our experience, having a handle on process cycle times and end-to-end case durations is key to having reassurance about the effectiveness of case management, proving a valuable barometer of manager capability in managing the process and employee wellbeing as the subject of formal proceedings.

Jane Bradshaw-Jones, one of AdviserPlus’ HR Technical Consultants, shares the following view on this: “It is key to ensure that managers understand how to apply, and feel comfortable in applying, company policies but, more importantly, that this is done in a timely manner. It is crucial for the employee at the centre of the process to know that any formal proceedings will be handled sensitively, in the correct manner and without unnecessary delay. Failure to do so could lead the employee feeling mistrustful and devalued by the organisation which in turn impacts longer term engagement.”

Blind spots in formal investigations

Our look at the formal investigation process highlighted a potential blind spot for many organisations. Whilst over a third of respondents (37%) were clear on the profile of their investigation managers and had sufficient trained investigation managers to cope with demand:

  • Over 1 in 5 respondents (21%) did not know how many trained investigation managers their organisation had;
  • Nearly 1 in 6 respondents (16%) knew how many investigation managers they had, but needed more to cope with demand; and
  • Over 1 in 4 respondents (26%) didn’t deliver any training to investigation managers.

Jane adds: “A good investigation is the foundation of any solid disciplinary process. This is the stage where the manager would establish the facts of the issue and consider any immediate risk to the business. This is also generally the first point that the employee would have to put across their version of events. Although no formal outcome is given at the investigation stage, failure to carry out a thorough investigation could lead to any disciplinary outcome being issued incorrectly and give rise to an unfair dismissal claim. Furthermore, an Employment Tribunal could increase any award by up to 25% if an employer can’t demonstrate that they have followed the ACAS Code of Practice in conducting a reasonable investigation.”

COVID-19 changed the dynamic of misconduct issues in the workplace

As we shared in our recent blog, HR Data And The Pandemic: How Has It Shaped The Way That Disciplinaries Are Handled Within An Organisation?, on reviewing the data we have collected across our range of clients over the past 18 months, there have been material changes in the dynamic of disciplinaries being managed in COVID-19-impacted organisations. The themes arising provide valuable insight for HR leaders on the dynamic of their workforce, how colleagues are behaving and how their behavioural matters are being addressed. And yet more HR functions than not (53%) have no visibility through their data of the changing profile of disciplinaries over the past 12-18 months.

Jane’s view is this: “Understanding what is happening in our workplace informs how we can improve or change current practices. Knowing why employees are behaving in a certain way or having a greater grasp of what issues are being raised, can help an organisation tailor proactive support. This can also inform what support managers need as they themselves are having to adapt to a new way of managing teams and handling different situations as hybrid working is now become the ‘new normal’”.  

Looking into the outcomes of disciplinary matters, a frustration for advocates of effective process management are cases that progress from formal investigation to formal hearing, but conclude with no case to answer. Such cases tie up unnecessary management and HR time, adversely impact the wellbeing of the employee subject of the case, and are often indicative of weak judgment at the investigation stage of proceedings. In our survey, nearly a third (32%) of respondents indicated they had no visibility of how many cases concluded in such a way and nearly 1 in 6 respondents (16%) said that whilst they did have this visibility of the quantitative measure, they did not have the qualitative measure i.e. they did not know why cases were reaching this conclusion. This feedback is not untypical in our experience: many organisations lack the basic data to form a picture, but often those that do have the data are unable to get to the next level of detail and understand what the data is telling them.

Lack of visibility surrounding diversity and inclusion

Finally, we sought to understand the insight that organisations were able to derive by overlaying their disciplinary data with diversity and inclusion (D&I) characteristics. Many organisations are increasingly effective in profiling their workforce by D&I dimensions, but we suspected that few take this to the next level and profile how their workforce is behaving, or being managed, by such characteristics. This was borne out by our survey results, where nearly 3 in 4 respondents (74%) advised that they were unable to analyse disciplinary matters by D&I characteristics.

Jane shares the following insight: “Whilst a protected characteristic should never be relevant in deciding a disciplinary outcome, it’s important to understand whether an unconscious bias is occurring within disciplinary matters and to take steps to prevent this where it appears to the case. Such steps would not only lead to more rounded managers, but also reduce the risk of any future discrimination claims”.

These survey results indicate to us that there is a real mixed capability in corporate organisations to capture, measure, report on and understand key people metrics such as disciplinary data. This is one of the principal reasons why we at AdviserPlus has developed empower®, the HR service management solution that has been designed specifically to support employee relations processes by taking line managers on guided journeys, by providing HR functions with built-for-purpose ER case management capability and by generating management information and insight to inform HR leaders’ decisions. Find out more here, or get in touch to arrange a chat with one of our team:


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