Difficult conversations: Are you ready for more tribunals?

Vicky Roberts gives managers some advice about tribunals. 

The business landscape has shifted; employment tribunals are once again a very real risk for organisations. There has been a marked increase in cases since the Supreme Court judgment that tribunal fees were unlawful – and the figure is expected to keep rising.

Are your managers best equipped for the increased risks arising from management of employee relations issues? Many managers will have started their careers in an era with a low risk of employment tribunal claims. Anyone who became a manager after 2013 is likely to be in that group.

Your managers may not have a good grounding in what is needed to ensure that, if challenged, their management is not the subject of criticism by an employment judge.

Training and performance management have a direct effect on the outcome of the management of employee relations issues. Playing a pivotal role in the upskilling of managers, L&D can ensure managers feel equipped and well supported to manage their teams successfully, during a period of heightened risk.

Here are three practical ways in which L&D teams can support organisations to be prepared:

Develop managers’ skills to manage under-performance under the formal stages of the policy

Performance management, including objective setting and giving good quality feedback are all part of management learning and development. It’s now important to take this good practice one step further, and train managers to manage under-performance through to the formal stages.

Playing a pivotal role in the upskilling of managers, L&D can ensure managers feel equipped and well supported to manage their teams successfully, during a period of heightened risk.

Organisations should focus on developing managers to be confident in their response when an employee is identified as underperforming. This starts with how to describe underperformance. Managers often face challenges when describing the performance gap – but identifying and defining the difference between the expected standard and the current level of performance will be crucial.

Make sure managers understand how to use their ‘right to manage’

Managers do not tend to doubt the fact that they have the right to set the standards for performance and productivity within their teams. However, they can lack confidence in managing the more ‘subjective’ aspect of people management  – setting the standard for behaviours or ‘how’ performance outputs are to be achieved.

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Ensuring that management development programmes upskill managers in how to set these standards clearly, unequivocally and decisively – drawing ‘lines in the sand’ where necessary – will help to evade situations that can otherwise escalate to become grievances or ‘I can no longer work with them’-type situations.

Know what a good investigation looks like – and how to do it

A good quality investigation will make a fair and robust disciplinary decision more straightforward to achieve. Formal investigations use a lot of skills managers already possess, such as good quality analysis and reasoned decision-making, but they do need to be deployed in a particular context and in a particular way.

Management development on these topics can therefore be extended to ensure managers are equipped to investigate when the need arises.

L&D will be invaluable in protecting their business from an increased likelihood of employment tribunal claims. They can do this by being the catalyst for conversations regarding what managers need to manage their people effectively in a new era for employee relations management.


About the author

Vicky Roberts is head of VLearning at Vista Employer Services


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