Employment Disputes and Investigations: How to Prepare

Employment Disputes and Investigations: How to Prepare

Employment Disputes and Investigations: How to Prepare

Dealing with employee disputes can be highly challenging for HR departments and business owners, even if they are confident that there hasn’t been any wrongdoing on their part.

Many such cases involve conflicts between employees, but delving into the circumstances and making clear, fair decisions can be highly geared, with the potential for severe repercussions if anything is overlooked.

When a dispute has progressed to legal action or a tribunal, seeking professional legal assistance is imperative.

However, consulting an employment expert from The Law Firm Group may mitigate that progression by following a clear strategy to achieve a satisfactory outcome earlier on.

Let’s look through some of the advice our business solicitors have to offer about preparing for investigations into employee complaints.

Planning Employee Dispute Investigations

Whatever the HR issue, and whether you’re conducting an assessment yourself or organising a visit from an external adviser, the first step is to clarify the purpose of the process.

That means detailing:

    • What objectives the investigation intends to reach.
    • The project’s scope – in terms of timescales, involved parties, locations and other relevant factors.
    • A planned approach showing how the inquiry will proceed, ideally specifying anticipated timescales.

By setting out your expectations in a Terms of Reference document, you can reassure stakeholders that a review is taking place and what outcomes it is expected to deliver.

Understanding Employment Allegations

Next you’ll need to identify the allegations made or issues raised that require investigation and command a decisive outcome.

For example:

    • Are there documents, contracts, correspondence or paperwork involved?
    • Which individuals should be asked to contribute to the assessment?
    • How will you approach those interviews to gain the greatest clarity? Would a discussion away from the workplace be beneficial? Could a written statement be helpful?

If you opt for in-person interviews, particularly if there is a potential criminal aspect to the allegations, you must ensure that individuals called upon understand that they have the right to seek legal advice beforehand.

It may be necessary to notify the police or an industry regulator in serious situations, so it might not be as simple as an internal inquiry.

Should you be dealing with a possible illegal event or an accusation that could constitute a crime having been committed, ensure you speak to a qualified business legal professional before taking things further.

Appointing Senior Managers to Address Staffing Conflicts

Once you have a defined investigatory scope and have assessed all the information gathering exercises required, it’s time to establish which senior manager will conduct interviews and come to decisions.

There are lots of factors involved in choosing the most suitable individual for the appointment:

    • They should not be involved in the allegation or be one of the people identified as a contributor.
    • Any investigator must be impartial and independent without bias against any party involved.
    • The designated person needs to have authorisation levels and permissions to access confidential documents as required to conduct a thorough inquiry.

In some cases, it is preferable to appoint an external investigator to look into serious conflicts or employee allegations. An accomplished solicitor can assist with this.

Supporting Staff and Managers Involved in Employment Allegations

Whether you have been accused of inappropriate actions, need to participate in an investigation, or bear the burden of responsibility for establishing the outcome, an employment dispute can be stressful.

As a business owner or manager, it is essential to ensure everybody has appropriate support throughout the inquiry, including those out of the office or on temporary ‘garden leave’.

We’d also suggest considering the working environment and how tensions or disruption to the normal workday pattern might affect those not involved.

Mental health considerations are key, and acknowledging the difficulty of the scenario is step one.

From there you can signpost support services, such as counselling or workplace assistance programmes, and encourage anybody finding things challenging to speak up and receive the help they require.

Transparency can also help. Pretending nothing untoward is happening can exacerbate tensions – and it’s highly unlikely that a dispute or conflict has gone unnoticed!

Businesses may benefit from reduced staff anxiety simply by offering updates about the formal investigatory process.

Once the investigation concludes, and decisions are reached about the outcomes, it remains vital to think about how those changes might affect individuals, teams, and managers, even those outside the inquiry’s scope.

Ensuring That Workplace Disputes Are Managed Fairly

Parity is crucial, and you must treat each party with equal rights, fairness and consistency.

For example, suppose you’ve offered an employee instigating a complaint time away from the office, legal support, or the option to bring somebody with them to an interview.

In that case, you must afford those same choices to the accused.

Any lack of equality can be seen to assume the outcome or make decisions about the guilt of one party before an investigation has revealed the facts.

Legal Privilege and Its Impact on Employee Conflicts

Legal advice privilege is the protection that applies to correspondence between a solicitor and their client in the process of securing legal guidance.

This classification typically applies to:

    • Client/lawyer communications.
    • Dialogue between the client and lawyer (or third parties) regarding litigation proceedings.

Privilege doesn’t always apply to advice sought in an employment conflict investigation.

However it should still be maintained and protected by avoiding involving too many individuals in confidential legal matters.

Any documentation containing private information should be circulated carefully, in a controlled manner, and never to anybody who doesn’t need access to the details.

Producing a Workplace Dispute Investigation Report

When an investigation has finished and all the information collated, the appointed individual should include this in a report.

That document details their findings and explains why decisions have been taken.

It may be that the investigator does not have the final say in any actions, in which case they draft the report and circulate this to the directly involved parties – accuser, accused and decision-making authorities to begin the next step.

Note that data protection considerations apply, and the investigator should pass the same report to everyone without any changes in tone or guidance about interpreting the statement’s content.

If, for any reason, the investigator decides that one individual should receive a redacted or summarised copy, they need to explain why.

Following each of these steps methodically will stand your business in good stead to tackle a complaint or conflict.

An employee dispute can cause severe disruption, including reputational damage. Investigating correctly may reduce the risk of escalation to a tribunal or lengthy court case.

Please get in touch with The Law Firm Group for any further guidance about employee conflict investigations or for advice about the best way to resolve workplace issues to the benefit of all.

Call or email us to talk about it. 0300 303 3805

Understanding Legal Protection for Tenants in the UK Rental Market

Understanding Legal Protection for Tenants in the UK Rental Market

Understanding Legal Protection for Tenants in the UK Rental Market

The last year or so has been challenging for everybody and has led to much uncertainty in the private rental market.

  • What can landlords do to cope with the financial impact of late rent payments?
  • How are tenants protected from eviction if they are on furlough or have lost a job?
  • Who is responsible for mortgage interest or defaults in a non-payment scenario?

As in any situation, the starting point is always to understand the law, what support is in place, and go from there to find a fair resolution.

This guide collates answers to the most frequently asked questions we have received at The Law Firm Group over the last few months.

If you are having difficulties with your rental accommodation, we’d always recommend getting in touch, as the rules and guidelines do change rapidly.

What Eviction Notice am I Entitled to from a Private Landlord?

One of the significant changes of late has been an extension to the notice periods required.

If a landlord wishes to evict a tenant, under Section 8 due to non-payment of rent, before the pandemic hit our shores in March 2020, they would have needed to give just two weeks notice.

Further changes have increased the minimum notice period from three to six months, and these rules are set to remain in place until at least March 2021.

Landlords can also consider a Section 21 notice, which is called a ‘no-fault’ eviction. The same six-month notice period applies, and landlords need to provide information about how the pandemic has impacted their tenants.

There are some scenarios where these notice periods are not required:

  • Where the tenant is over six months in arrears with their rental payments.
  • There is evidence of illegal activity, or serious scenarios such as a tenant causing damage to the property or domestic abuse reports.

In a Section 8 notice filed due to arrears over six months, the notice period is reduced to four weeks.

Courts have also put in place delays and deferrals for many hearings, as they operate at a reduced capacity.

There are some cases where a remote hearing is available to expedite proceedings where an in-person hearing isn’t possible – please contact The Law Firm Group if you are facing any severe circumstances around an eviction. We will recommend the best steps forward.

Do Tenant Protections Work Against the Rights of Rental Landlords?

It’s a complex scenario. A landlord might be suffering a financial impact due to late rent payments from a tenant, but they cannot evict that tenant without giving a reasonably long notice period.

However, it’s worth considering the options available for landlords and property investors, and what they can do to support tenants struggling in an uncertain climate.

Landlords can:

  • Seek mortgage payment holidays from buy to let lending providers; there are rules about how many holidays you can request in any one year, and for what length of time. Still, most lenders have been understanding and offered non-standard options to help landlords support their tenants without ending up in a mortgage default.
  • Agree on rent holidays. The rent owing isn’t cancelled, but is deferred. This option is ideal where a tenant has suffered an income drop due to furlough scenarios or has been made redundant. In this situation, the tenant has a rent-free period to get their affairs in order and can agree to a repayment schedule with their landlord to bring things back up to date.
  • Ask for independent legal advice where an eviction notice is required, particularly where there is a very long period of non-payment of rent, and if this began before the pandemic. There are options available to protect the rights of landlords as well as tenants, and our property experts can advise.

We’d also recommend thinking about what amicable resolutions there are to protect tenants’ rights, without causing unnecessary suffering for the landlord.

There have been widespread job cuts across the UK. So in many cases, it is preferable to agree to a rent holiday, avoid losing an otherwise good tenant, and offer them some breathing space to find a new role, or apply for eligible benefits.

In any case:

  • Landlords may not evict a tenant without six months notice unless in exceptional circumstances.
  • Tenants have the right to request a payment holiday or a rent negotiation, although landlords do not necessarily have to agree.
  • Bailiffs are not operating during national lockdowns unless in critical cases, so they are unlikely to accept any new contracts until regular business resumes.

How Do the New Rules Impact a Commercial Property Lease?

As well as private tenants, commercial businesses renting their premises also have protection from eviction.

Many companies have been prevented from trading, or have had to scale back operations considerably. In most cases, furlough schemes offer up to 80% of employee’s pay, but some of the discretionary grants only scratch the surface of trading losses.

To help alleviate the pressure, the government announced a moratorium on commercial evictions until 31st December 2020. This has since been extended until 31st March 2021, in line with the new lockdown.

The rules mean that landlords and commercial tenants have a three-month window to discuss any non-payment of rent. That doesn’t mean that businesses can decide not to pay their rent, and they should definitely do so if they are financially able to.

However, it does mean that a company who has not been able to trade normally for the best part of a year cannot be evicted from private rental premises, at least until March 2021.

Alongside new legislation about evictions, the government has also announced that it will thoroughly review commercial landlord and tenancy laws.

We don’t yet have any detail about what that legislation review will look like, but will be sure to let you know when we do!

In both commercial and residential rental markets, the focus here is on facilitating more amicable negotiations, avoiding litigation or evictions, and helping landlords foster better communications with their tenants during challenging times.

If you are concerned about your rental property’s security, or are a landlord and struggling to implement the new rules, please get in touch with The Law Firm Group.

Our Property and Conveyancing Teams have years of experience in resolving such issues quickly, professionally and successfully. We’re here to help both in the coming months as we all adjust to the new laws as they are announced, and for the years to come.

Call or email us to talk about it. 0300 303 3805

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