Redundancies during COVID-19: Coronavirus job retention scheme extension provides some relief
UPDATED 18 May – Making redundancies will always be stressful, even more so over recent weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The knock-on effects of the outbreak, including the requirement for mass remote working, has changed the rule book around how employers can communicate with their employees.
In comparison to the US, there is a stricter redundancy process in the UK. For UK businesses faced with the prospect of making 20 or more staff redundant, there is an obligation to undertake a collective consultation process, which should consider ways to avoid or reduce the number of employees to be made redundant and mitigate the consequences of the redundancies. Where businesses propose between 20 to 99 redundancies the collective consultation process is 30 days. For 100 or more redundancies the period of collective consultation increases to 45 days.
Extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
Thankfully, the Government’s decision to allow companies to continue furloughing their employees until the end of October will save many businesses from having to consider starting redundancy processes, which are often painful and tricky to manage.
From August, employees who have been furloughed, will be able to return to work on a part-time basis while still getting support from the Government. Being allowed to have furloughed workers undertake part-time work between August and October means that not only can businesses start gearing back up with staffing levels appropriate to customer demand, but also that the financial hit of furlough contributions is reduced.
Our blog on the coronavirus job retention scheme lays out the commonly asked questions, and answers, about furlough leave, including the latest government guidance.
Although much of the news is good for business owners, one area is causing confusion. The Chancellor mentioned introducing some phasing measures, which put the onus on employers to help shoulder some of the costs through increased contributions, something we have yet to have clarity on.
More information about employer contributions is expected in the coming weeks, but if the contributions are deemed too high, or if the prospect of getting furloughed workers to return full time in the Autumn is still too uncertain, we may yet still see a significant amount of redundancies in future.
What if we still need to make a number of our employees redundant?
It is inevitable that COVID-19 will force some businesses to make a number of their employees redundant, regardless of the furlough leave extension. It is never an easy decision for employers to make, and in a time where many people are under huge financial pressure, the process can be emotionally draining.
However, should it be a necessity, businesses will need to ensure their HR teams have all the resources they require to cope with mass redundancies.
Largescale job cuts may lead to complex redundancy situations requiring collective consultation, designing and training managers on completing selection matrix forms, and assisting in individual consultation or appeal meetings with employees selected for redundancy. Businesses considering largescale redundancies (20 or more) should start planning now.
What are the risks when making largescale redundancies?
Adequate and timely planning is crucial. Businesses who do not recognise trade unions will need to consider electing employee representatives to undertake collective consultation or utilise existing works councils/committees. A failure to undertake collective consultation properly or at all can be costly (up to 90 days’ pay per employee). Businesses will also need to ensure that any pooling and/or selection of employees is undertaken correctly and that at risk employees are consulted individually before any final decision to terminate their employment by reason of redundancy is taken. There must also be an appeal mechanism in place to hear any employee appeals. Businesses will need to consider who will be the most appropriate person (managers/supervisors etc.) to be involved in each stage of the process ensuring that each step of the process is fair to avoid claims for unfair dismissal.
It is not uncommon during largescale redundancies for businesses to experience an increase in the number of grievances received or incur higher levels of sickness absences. Clearly, the nature of making large numbers of redundancies could mean that businesses find themselves exposed to greater numbers of employment tribunal claims, but proper planning, preparation and execution will mitigate against any potential claims.
How to deliver redundancy news while working remotely
As with any redundancy, clear communication and sensitive delivery of the message remains key. If not followed correctly the consequences can be significant, therefore it is important that the process remains fair and reasonable.
Given the current social distancing guidelines, video conferencing is one of the only platforms available to businesses for face-to-face communications and can be a practical and humane method of making general announcements to the workforce.
Can employees be made redundant over a video call?
In principle, there is no issue with businesses using video conferences to deliver bad news about redundancies, however delivering the message that employees have been dismissed en masse can cause significant employee relations issues and is not recommended.
In order to remain fair, the correct processes must be followed which would include both collective consultation (where necessary) and individual consultation (for those with over two years of service) before a notice of termination is issued.
Redundancies should be handled with compassion and sensitivity
Redundancy during such a challenging period will always be difficult news to deliver, but for many businesses it may be unavoidable. For now, companies should ensure they follow the correct processes and communicate to their employees with compassion and sensitivity.
If you are a business concerned about redundancies, particularly during a time when much of the workforce is at home, contact our employment team.
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