Lachie has started coming to work late looking noticeably tired and not as well-groomed as usual. You have noticed that he has become withdrawn from the team. Colleagues have commented he seems distracted.
As an employer, you have a duty of care to employees. When you notice a change in behavior there is usually a reason. The employer does not need to know everything but you should always check-in. “Are you ok?” is all it takes. Normally the reply will be, “why do you ask?” It is ok to give your observations from a concerned point of view. Lachie tells you that he has recently moved to a safe house as his family has been subjected to domestic violence.
- Invite your employee to a meeting.
- The meeting invite should be 30-45 minutes maximum.
- Briefly explain what the meeting is about when you invite your employee. A “check-in” and “catch up” might be all that is required. Not explaining the purpose of a meeting often makes people jumpy.
- Given you are worried about your employee, ensure the meeting is in a private place not visible to all staff and at a time where not everyone is going to be around.
Let Lachie talk. Allow him to tell you as much as he wants without interrupting. Just listen, don’t feel you need to say anything other than “I can only imagine” or “that must be hard”. Lachie tells you he is in temporary accommodation with very few possessions. In all situations, it is critical that you do not bring your personal opinions to the discussion. At all times you act as an employer supporting an employee regardless of any perceptions you may have around the situation.
- At the start of the meeting make sure you are comfortable that your employee is ok to talk. Simply ask “How are you?”. Avoid phrases like “you look terrible” or “I am concerned”– let them speak first.
- Even if you have been in a similar situation do not say “I understand how you feel” and/or do not offer him advice about how to resolve his personal situation.
In your judgment based on what Lachie has told you, is he ok to attend work? Do you need to offer him some personal leave if he wants it to settle into accommodation? Lachie does not have all his possessions so that might explain the change in appearance. It is ok to offer support such as asking whether there anything that Lachie needs until such time as accommodation is sorted.
- If your employee is taking a few days off, agree on the communication to the business so they feel safe and that their personal life is not being discussed in the business. Example – actually agree on the wording, e.g “Lachie is looking after a few personal things will be back in a few days or Lachie is not coming in for a couple of days and we will see him Thursday”. Less is better in these situations.
In this situation, there is little you can do other than offer support. It seems that there are caseworkers assisting given that he has temporary accommodation. The role of the employer now is to ensure the employee feels safe at work and is not treated any less favorably because of the situation he is in and has disclosed to you.
- At the end of the meeting, if it’s been emotional, make sure you are comfortable that your employee is able to get home safely and that there is someone there with them. If needed, you might arrange a lift home for them.
It is critical to continue to follow up with Lachie to ensure he is still ok. Monitor what is not being said as well as changes in behavior and any further absences or lateness. Document the conversation for future reference.
- Ensure you put in your diary when you agreed to follow up with your employee and make sure you do follow up at the agreed day and time this is not something to be put off – trust will be broken.
- Consider what support your employee might need in the workplace as they go through this time – flexible hours, flexibility with work attire given they do not have all their possessions.