Communication, Consultation and COVID-19

Wednesday April 22, 2020

While the situation we find ourselves in may be unprecedented, the need to effectively communicate and consult with employees during a crisis remains the same as ever – especially when their working arrangements may be changing.

Failing to communicate and consult with employees, can quickly lead to sticky and sometimes unfair working situations.

Required by law

Did you know, in certain instances (including under the new JobKeeper provisions), communication and consultation are required by law? In fact, certain changes to working arrangements legally require consultation and written agreement with the employee or their representative (such as a union rep). These situations include:

  • Termination of employment
  • Significant changes to the operation, size or composition of your workforce
  • Alteration of employee hours of work or position description
  • An intention to make substantial changes to the workplace such as changing work locations
  • Workplace health and safety issues
  • Reviewing an employee request for flexible hours
  • Negotiating an enterprise agreement

Best practice

Keeping employees informed on business plans is critical, even more so during a crisis when emotions are running high. Best practice is about developing and implementing effective consultation mechanisms which encourage cooperation and engagement of employees and management.

Fair Work suggests the process should include three stages:

Stage 1:  Provide information on the situation and how a decision will be made.

Stage 2:  Consult with employees by communicating business needs and priorities and then listening to them and considering their feedback.

Stage 3:  Reviewing and implementing decisions made by recording and communicating them to employees. In this step, feedback on the process should also be taken.

Be flexible

Think about what will work best for both your business and your employees. Take into consideration the current environmental changes, such as having difficult discussions when working from home versus hearing bad news in the workplace. The difference is that when sharing bad news in the workplace, employees have a chance to process the news and discuss it with peers before going home.

Effective risk management

Good communication is a risk management tool. Open lines of communication will help protect the mental and physical health of employees. This can alert you to any issues early on so you can provide any supports they may need.

During a crisis, your business needs to react steadily, communicate clearly and follow procedures when making changes. Not doing so could lead to legal action from employees at a later time, if they feel they were unfairly treated or dismissed.

Legal advice and support

Communicating in a crisis may not be everyone’s cup of tea and a robust crisis management process may not yet be in place. The HR Dept is here to help. Contact us for advice and support so together, we can help you communicate and consult effectively during the coronavirus pandemic.

Preventing People Problems

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