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Covid-19 & Conflict
2020 and 2021 have been incredibly challenging for everyone both professionally and personally. And whilst organisational, workplace and employment disputes have always existed, 2022 / 23 will inevitably see an increase the number of workplace disputes ‘coming to the surface’ and an increased requirement for mediation for the following reasons:
Delays in dealing with conflict – Issues between people or between employers and employees that would typically have been dealt with in a timely manner, within the pre-Covid work environment, in many cases have not been addressed. Its now likely that HR Managers, Managers and employees etc will wish to address any such concerns.
Changes in relationships – Despite the wonders, benefits and time savings by using online meetings, some interpersonal relationships will have strained due to people not having seen each other face-to-face for perhaps two years. People are inherently good at protecting their relationships – after all we cant survive on our own. But some people more than others have found their professional relationships have struggled due to changes in how we have had to engage. Also informal ‘water cooler’ communication in the office has effectively disappeared. This may have effected the dynamic of certain relationships between individuals to the extent that it can compromise their ability to work with each other.
Changes in Organisations – Organisations have had to change quickly to satisfy their customers and to survive and as we come out the other end of the pandemic, some people may feel uncomfortable with either the change that happened or the way the change was implemented or communicated. Also some sectors have had to do things differently and redeploy people whilst also having less staff available due to Covid related illnesses.
Changes in Personal Circumstances – An organisations most valuable asset is its people and when peoples personal circumstances change, good organisations and good managers will do their best to be cognisant of this
Changes in Communication – Literally overnight in March 2020, we changed how we communicate & engage in so many ways, with each other, with customers, with everyone. Some individuals will want these changes reverse and other wont.
Remote working & new rules & expectations – There will inevitably be differing expectations amongst some employers and employees on the topic of remote working. Some will prefer a hybrid model and some will want to be workplace or office based all the time. Employers and organisations will have varying views on this subject also as will the Government and representative bodies. Ultimately sense and compromise will prevail in most cases – but where it doesn’t mediation will be the natural next step.
[Updated July 20 2023] … The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 was signed into law on 4 April 2023. Once the sections covering remote working are commenced (or take effect), employees will have a legal right to request remote working if the following conditions are met:
- The employee has 6 months’ continuous service with their employer
- The employee submits the request at least 8 weeks before the date they intend to start the new arrangement
Once the employer receives the request, the employer must:
- Respond with a decision within 4 weeks (can be extended to 8 weeks if they are having problems deciding if the request is viable)
- Consider the employees needs and the business needs when deciding on the request (the WRC will publish a code of practice on this point)
- Provide the employee with reasons if their request is refused
Employer will have the right to end the remote working arrangement if it is having a substantial negative effect on their business.
There are a significant number of new rights and obligations stipulated which employees, employers & HR professionals will need to appreciate. New regulations are needed to commence the different parts of the Act (to bring it into effect).
As the code of practice remains outstanding the actual ‘teeth’ of the rights, duties and obligations, specifically when it comes to dealing with and deciding on requests, remains unclear, both from the employees and the employers perspective. That said, uncommenced legislation does not preclude Employers, HR professionals and employees from engaging on and agreeing to remote working settlement agreements, that work for both parties.
So where does Mediation fit into all of this? When considering the above it is worth remembering that Mediation does not always need to be restorative. Facilitative Mediation is very beneficial in non contentious situations where a dispute has not yet happened, different positions have not yet been taken, and in such circumstances the mediation can help both parties reach an agreement that works for everyone without ever letting things develop to a conflict resolution stage.
Where differences of opinion already exist and a dispute relating to “Remote Working” is imminent, emerging or in fact evident, engaging an independent certified mediation practitioner is the obvious next step to prevent avoid such cases becoming problematic and even potentially being brought before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
Whilst the Act has not yet been commenced, its clear from reading the Bill that the objective of the new regulations is to enshrine in law the right of the employee to be able to request remote working and to place a requirement on employers to maintain a policy on Remote Working as well as a requirement to facilitate requests from employees. As currently drafted, employers can still refuse requests on reasonable grounds so the legislation does not in fact bestow a right to Remote Working. We will update this page as soon as the new Act is commenced.
If you have questions on this topic and on how best to prevent or resolve disputes relating to Remote Working why not set up an initial 30 minute call for free.