The value of the welfare chat

The value of the welfare chat

September 9, 2023

We often get asked as HR Consultants how to approach a given situation where the employer knows that the employee needs to chat with them, except for whatever reason the employee is not asking for this.

The Welfare Meeting as a useful mechanism for the employer and employee to be able to sit down together as adults, and talk about what is happening and what support the employee needs.

We recommend Line Manager’s use Welfare Meetings in all sorts of scenarios, these will undoubtedly include:

  1. When someone has been absent from work long term sick, or is likely to be long term sick and the employee wants to support the individual.
  2. Where the employer knows that the employee is troubled by something and wants to have an open, honest conversation to reassure the employee and offer options.
  3. To discuss an Occupational Health Report or copy of Medical Report received from the employee’s GP.
  4. To review a previously completed risk assessment.
  5. To discuss a proposed phased return to work and to develop a plan.
  6. To discuss plans for a retirement with an individual but only where the employee has made it clear they want to discuss their retirement or where the employer has established an legitimate objective justification for having a retirement age.
  7. Following from a withdrawl from a course or qualification.
  8. As part of a review following return to work after maternity, adoption, or extended leave.
  9. Where an employee has a disability and where it has been agreed to put in place reasonable adjustments that are kept under review.
  10. Following a positive outcome of mediation.

What are the pitfalls to avoid in a Welfare Meeting?

Line Manager’s will often express concern to us that they worry about saying the ‘wrong thing’. It’s a genuine concern, but the risk can be mitigated through effect preparation and the risk of not having a Welfare Meeting can be greater than having one.

Where an employee has more than 2 years service there is always a risk that something said in a Welfare Meeting could lead an employee to resign with immediate effect and claim that they have been constructively unfairly dismissed. Whilst constuctive dismissal cases are a challenge to win, employers have been known to say things to their employees, that we wouldn’t want them to say.

Common things that can be said that result in a problem include where an employer finds themself suggesting that an employee leaves. It can be difficult to way up the risk of being honest with an employee. Good intentions can be miscontrued. We would always counsel an employer against suggesting to an employee with more than 2 years service leaves unless this is part of a protected conversation under s.111 of the Employment Rights Act. Furthermore where an employee has a protected characteristic such as pregnancy, or disability speaking to the employee about their departure could result in a claim of direct discrimination.

If in any doubt of what you should or should not do in a Welfare Meeting we would always advise speaking to a HR Consultant before the meeting and developing a structure or plan.

What can be gained from a Welfare Meeting?

One of the major gains we see in Welfare Meetings is where the parties leave the meeting with greater understanding of where the other party is ‘coming from’. It is normal to assume that everyone knows this already. Sadly this is rarely true and we need an ‘honest conversation’ to trully understand the other party.

Another gain is where a supportive plan is created. Supportive plans are part of what we describe as ‘leading with good intention’, which is an important aspect of manager’s toolkit.

An example of managing with good intention can include asking the employee what support they need, considering what an employer can do to assist with that need, and agreeing a plan. The counter is also true, an employee hearing what the employer needs, for example regular attendance, and finding out what the employee needs to do to enable that to happen for the employer.

Overall, using Welfare Meetings as part of your manager’s toolkit is very advisable.

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