There is no doubt about it, COVID-19 and its subsequent variants are going nowhere in a hurry. Its treacherous path continues to disrupt businesses worldwide and employers are under increasing pressure to reduce their headcount.
The redundancy process can be very complex, not to mention costly, so employers need to be aware of their respective legal obligations across jurisdictions – which vary significantly – to minimise the risk of potential claims and reputational damage.
England – top tips
Often the first port of call for an employer during a period of economic downturn (not to mention a global pandemic) is to reduce overheads. With one of the biggest overheads being resource, a “jump the gun” approach is often taken leading to rushed and somewhat undignified dismissals and consequently, a minefield of costly tribunal claims.
Our advice, especially during such a financially tumultuous time, is to make sure you thoroughly consider the alternatives available to your business before making any rash decisions.
This will not only maintain trust, confidence and faith within your workforce (during a time we all need it) but will also go some way into minimising the added stress and anxiety that your employees may currently already be feeling, and which will only be heightened by undue processes.
So, what are the alternatives?
As a starting point it is important to consider the following:
- Are you receiving your maximum financial entitlement from the Government?
- Are you fully utilising the Government’s furlough scheme?
- Have you considered a recruitment freeze?
- Have you sought applicants for voluntary redundancy or early retirement?
- Have you sought applications from existing staff to work flexibly?
- Have you sought applications for existing staff to consider alternative positions?
- Have you let go any self-employed contractors?
- Have you temporarily reduced or banned overtime?
- Have you filled vacancies elsewhere in the business with existing employees?
- Have you considered short-time working or temporary lay-offs?
If you have exhausted all the above, what do you do next?
It may not always be possible for you to avoid making redundancies, even where alternatives are considered first. It is however possible to make sure that you follow a fair, objective and genuine redundancy procedure so that the whole process can run as smoothly as possible.
A joint statement issued on 24 September 2020 by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service) the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the TUC (Trades Union Congress) reiterates five key principles for employers to follow when considering redundancies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Do it openly. The sooner people understand the situation, the better for everyone.
- Do it thoroughly. People need information and guidance so ensure what you have trained staff representatives in how the redundancy process works.
- Do it genuinely. Listen to people’s views before making a decision, be open to alternatives from individuals and unions and always feed back to them.
- Do it fairly. Any redundancy procedure should be conducted fairly and without any form of discrimination.
- Do it with dignity. Consider ahead how to handle the conversation and whether it will be face-to-face or remote. The way an employer makes redundancies says a lot about the organisation’s values.
The economic stress and uncertainty inflicted by COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented, worldwide disruption and consequently, many problems which are beyond our control.
What employers can always try and control however is the way their employees are treated and the manner and process in which certain decisions are reached.
We believe that by following the above steps, and guidance from ACAS, you will not only minimise the risk of any potential claims, you will create a far more productive workforce in the long run.
If you have any employment law queries or would like to discuss this article further, please contact Jodie Care, Associate Solicitor – firstname.lastname@example.org.