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People and Employment – Alternatives to redundancy

At Ward Hadaway we want to play our part by helping UK businesses, organisations and people successfully navigate the current disrupted environment and get us all back to business. To do that we have developed a series of FAQs where we try to provide clear answers to commonly asked questions.

Alternatives to redundancy

How do I reduce employment costs? Are we talking about redundancy?

The obvious option to reduce the cost of your workforce is redundancy. However, that also reduces the number of employees and therefore your capacity.

What other options are there to reduce employment costs?

If you don’t want to make redundancies, or if you can’t reduce employee resource, either in a particular department or across the workforce as a whole, then you need to think about alternatives to redundancy.

Equally, you may want to flex the resource you have available to you – without making drastic changes.  For example you may want to consider:

  • unpaid leave and sabbaticals
  • retraining and redeploying
  • forcing annual leave
  • flexible working
  • capability issues
  • lay off
  • short time working
  • reductions in salary
  • reductions in working hours
  • changing to shift working
Can I force ways of reducing employment costs onto the workforce?

Some of these can be implemented by you, some need agreement or consultation and some depend on the wording of contracts. We’ll explain more in relation to each option.

Flexible working

Many employees require flexible working now more than ever. That could be reduced hours, working from home, reduced days, etc. Be careful to act fairly when considering these requests as they can be a discrimination claim in the waiting.

A flexible working request is a request for a permanent change to the contract of employment however to encourage a greater take up during this difficult time, you can agree this on a temporary basis.

Lay off and short time working

Lay off is a temporary measure where an employee is required not to do any work by their employer in any given week and does not receive any salary for that period. This is sometimes used interchangeably to refer to redundancies; however, this is not correct and lay-off is different to redundancy.

Lay-off may be very useful to achieve short or medium-term cost savings in response to a temporary reduction in demand for products or services. Whether the employer has the right to implement lay-offs and how swiftly they can expect to be able to do so will depend on whether the relevant contracts of employment have specific provisions which deal with lay-off.

Short time working is where an employer temporarily reduces an employee’s working hours, with a corresponding reduction in their pay to less than 50% of their usual salary. This could be through reducing the number of working days, reducing the length of working days or a combination of both.

Short time working provides the employer with the ability to reduce staffing costs whilst providing flexibility in deciding the form of working pattern. As with lay-off, whether the employer has the right to unilaterally impose short-time working and how swiftly they can expect to practically implement this will depend on whether the relevant contracts of employment contain a short time working clause.

Where there is a contractual right to lay off or impose short time working: There is no strict process which has to be followed. We would advise transparent communication and confirmation in writing.

Where there is no contractual right: Imposing these options without a contractual right to do so will be a fundamental breach of the employee’s contract of employment. In these circumstances the employee’s options are: accept the situation and keep working; claim for lost pay; resign and claim constructive dismissal. The best approach for employers in these circumstances is to instead seek to agree lay-off or short-time working arrangements with employees.

Selecting employees for lay-off or short time working: There is no prescribed method for selecting which employees are to be laid-off or placed on short-time working, provided that the employee cannot argue that the method of selection is discriminatory in some way. We would advise selection based on objective business reasons.

Entitlement to pay during lay-off or short time working: Employees must be paid for the time they work. Additionally, while on lay off or short time working, an employee is entitled to receive statutory guarantee pay for the first 5 workless days in any 3-month period. The maximum statutory guarantee pay in any 3-month period is £150 (i.e. £30 for each workless day up to a maximum of 5).

Entitlement to statutory redundancy pay: Once employees have been on lay-off or on short-time working for 4 consecutive weeks or for a combined total of 6 weeks during any 13-week period, they may seek to claim a statutory redundancy payment (provided that they have two years’ service). There is a prescriptive process for this – please seek advice.

Reductions in salary

An obvious cost cutting measure is to reduce salaries, either temporarily or permanently. If you are to seek a reduction in salaries, this should be done fairly – either across the board or by selecting teams/individuals based on objective business reasons.

Note that this cannot be imposed without significant risk. Without agreement, this would need fair selection and consultation.

Reductions in working hours

Another obvious cost cutting measure is to reduce working hours, either temporarily or permanently. Again, it should be done fairly, either across the board or by selecting teams/individuals based on objective business reasons. Imposing without agreement would create significant risk, therefore would require fair selection and consultation.

Changing to shift working

Changing to shift working may give employers the opportunity to change hours / pay whilst also focusing work when it is needed. Like the other provisions, this should be done fairly, either across the board or by selecting teams/individuals based on objective business reasons. Imposing without agreement would create significant risk, therefore would require fair selection and consultation.

Agreeing or imposing changes

A reduction in hours or salary or changes to hours or patterns of work is a contractual change – you can’t just impose it without significant risk. The same applies for lay-off or short-time working where there is no existing contractual right to impose these.

In summary, the process that an employer should follow to implement these measures is as follows:

  1. Communicate the Company’s position clearly and the urgent need to achieve temporary cost-saving to ensure the ongoing financial viability of the organisation
  2. Explain the proposed changes in detail and seek the employee’s agreement, and
  3. Record the agreed changes in a letter which is counter-signed by the employee.

If employees will not agree then employers will be at substantial risk of claims for unlawful deduction of wages, breach of contract and/or constructive unfair dismissal if they seek to impose these changes unilaterally. Employers should be mindful that this approach is likely to cause significant employee relations issues and dissatisfaction if only some employees agree to a reduction in pay. Employers should have a clear strategy for what their approach will be if this is the case – for example, they may wish to instead explore a different measure such as redundancies. This may form part of the employer’s communication when explaining the reason for the changes and seeking the employee’s agreement.

Unions: Employers should also be aware that where there is a recognised trade union in respect of any part of the workforce which is being asked to agree to a change to terms and conditions, the recognition agreement or collective agreement will require the employer to consult and/or negotiate with the trade union in the first instance.

Collective consultation: Where 20 or more dismissals are proposed at one establishment in any 90-day period, there are stringent collective consultation rules which apply (regardless of whether the employees have two years’ service or not). All dismissals count towards this total unless the dismissal is “not related to the individual concerned” – therefore dismissals for things such as conduct or capability do not count, but most other dismissals will count. This will include where you are imposing changes to the contract such as reduced hours or pay.

The rules on collective consultation set out a prescriptive and time-consuming process which must be followed, and minimum timescales before any redundancies can take effect. The cost of any claims relating to failure to follow collective consultation requirements are substantial, and specific advice should therefore always be sought before seeking to implement collective redundancies. We will be publishing further guidance on this on the Hub shortly.

Alternatives to redundancy toolkit

We have developed a Toolkit to help with these issues. The Toolkit contains:

  • LO1 How to Guide: Lay off and short time working
  • LO2 Letter directing employee to take annual leave
  • LO3 Letter confirming lay off (contractual right)
  • LO4 Letter confirming short time working (contractual right)
  • LO5 Letter proposing lay off (no contractual right)
  • LO6 Letter proposing short time working (no contractual right)
  • LO7 Counter notice disputing entitlement to claim redundancy payment
  • LO8 Script for announcing lay off or short time working (contractual right)
  • LO9 Script for announcing lay off or short time working (no contractual right)
  • LO10 Letter proposing reduction in working hours and pay

The cost of this Toolkit is £500 plus vat. If you would like to find out more about the Toolkit, please speak to your usual Ward Hadaway employment contact, or get in touch one of the contacts at the bottom of this page.

Restructuring the Workforce / Changing Terms and Conditions

VIDEO: Redundancy exercises in the new normal – what should we do differently?

Following our webinars on all aspects of furlough and alternatives to redundancy, it is an unfortunate fact that a number of organisations are likely, sooner or later, to be forced to make some employees redundant.

Our employment experts Jamie Gamble and Roisin Patton take you through the key aspects of conducting cost reduction redundancies, but with a focus on aspects that make this exercise different this time. For instance:

  • How are you going to conduct sensitive meetings remotely?
  • How are you going to ensure that dismissing any furloughed staff will be fair? You may have furloughed at speed, but redundancy selection criteria cannot be defined by such factors.
  • Will you use this time to review your selection criteria if you already have some in place?
  • How will you deal with individuals who are shielding, have child care issues or are pregnant?
  • How do you ensure this is all done sensitively and fairly for those roles that are being made redundant, but also for those who continue to work for you but are still isolated on furlough or working from home?
  • And what are the risks for making redundancies in this “new normal”?

Although you may be perfectly familiar with redundancy exercises these are far from normal times and it is therefore worth pausing to think about the impact that Covid-19 might have and what else you need to think about or plan for.

The webinar was recorded on Thursday 2nd July.

 

VIDEO EXPLAINER: Consultation exercises – the why, the who, and the how

This free Getting back to business webinar was held on Thursday 7th May.

On this video, employment partner Edward Nuttman and Graham Vials went through what a consultation exercise is and when you are required to hold one. They then took you step by step through the process, describing all you will need to do to ensure legal compliance whilst at the same time being sensitive to the emotional and motivational impact on your employees and managers.

What is the difference between individual and collective consultation?

Where it is envisaged that 20 or more employees will be dismissed at a relevant establishment within a 90 day period or less, then collective consultation is required (in addition to individual consultation) and the company must inform BEIS (using form HR1).

If there are less than 20 dismissals then you are only required to carry out individual consultation.

What amounts to a dismissal?

For the purposes of collective consultation, making someone redundant and/or changing terms and conditions of employment, by termination and re-engagement, is also classed as a dismissal by reason of redundancy and so has the exact same consultation requirements.

What is defined as a redundancy?

It is where the need for a role at a specific site, or the number of people performing a role, has ceased or diminished or the site closes down.

How is an establishment defined?

The definition of a relevant establishment is a question of fact for an Employment Tribunal. Guidance from case law says that ‘establishment’ should be interpreted very broadly (so as to avoid employers escaping the need to collectively consult), and may consist of:

  • A distinct entity
  • With a certain degree of permanence and stability
  • Which is assigned to perform one or more tasks
  • Which has a workforce, technical means and a certain organisational structure to allow it to do so

However, there is no need for it to have the following:

  • Legal, economic, financial, administrative or technological autonomy
  • A management which can independently effect collective redundancies
  • Geographical separation from the other units and facilities of the undertaking
What are the minimum consultation time limits?

Where an employer is proposing to dismiss:

  • 100 or more employees at one establishment within a 90-day period, consultation must begin at least 45 days before the first dismissal takes effect
  • Between 20 and 99 employees within a 90-day period, consultation must begin at least 30 days before the first dismissal takes effect
  • If you are proposing to dismiss less than 20 employees then there are no minimum time limits but you must adhere to a fair process which will involve individual consultation and providing the employee with a right of an appeal
Do you have to reach agreement during collective consultation?

Although an employer is obliged to conduct consultation “with a view to reaching an agreement”, it is not required to actually agree to any counter proposals made by the employee representatives. Merely to consider them in good faith.

What is the penalty for failing to comply with the individual consultation obligations?

Failure to comply with the individual consultation obligations could render the dismissal unfair and expose you to a financial penalty of the lower of up to 1 years gross pay or the maximum statutory limit (currently £88,519).

What is the penalty for failing to comply with the collective consultation obligations?

Failure to comply with the collective inform and consult obligations could impact on the fairness of any dismissals – see next question. In addition, a Tribunal can award a protective award of up to 90 days gross pay for each affected employee. The purpose is intended punish the employer for not complying with the obligations, not to compensate the employee for their individual financial loss.

What does information and consultation involve?

There are two stages:

  • Stage 1 – The provision of written information to the representatives.
  • Stage 2 – Consultation on the proposed redundancies “with a view to reaching agreement” about certain matters

Stage 1: Provision of information

The first stage in the collective consultation process is to provide the representatives with written information including details of the proposed redundancies (often called a section 188 letter). This information must be given to the appropriate representatives and the time limit before dismissals can take effect does not start to run until they have received it. It is this information which ‘starts the clock’.

It is possible that there will be changes to the proposals during the consultation process: indeed that is part of the reason for the process. The employer’s obligation is not just to provide the appropriate representatives with the relevant information at the start of the process. It is under a continuing obligation to provide them with information in writing about any developments during the consultation process (although later changes do not ‘restart the clock’ before dismissals can take effect).

Stage 2: Consultation on the proposed redundancies “with a view to reaching agreement” about certain matters

The consultation process must include consultation “with a view to reaching agreement with the appropriate representatives” on ways of:

  • Avoiding the dismissals
  • Reducing the number of employees to be dismissed
  • Mitigating the consequences of the dismissals
If you have to undertake collective consultation do you also have to carry out individual consultation?

Once the collective process concludes, an employer can make the decision to proceed with the restructure. They will then have 1-on-1 meetings with employees about the impact of the restructure on them. This will include consideration of alternative employment. There is no need to consult further about the proposal, merely the effect of the restructure on the individual.

Do you have to collectively consult for the minimum period of time before you can issue notice?

These periods are often mistakenly referred to as minimum lengths of consultation (especially by Trade Unions). That is not correct. Consultation can commence, conclude and notices of dismissal be issued within the 30 and 45 day periods. The expiry of the notice would just have to be outside of those restricted periods.

Who do you have to inform and consult?

The duty is to inform and consult appropriate representatives of the “affected employees”.

Note that the term “affected employees” means those who may be “affected by the proposed dismissals or who may be affected by measures taken in connection with those dismissals”. The term extends beyond those immediately at risk of dismissal to include those affected by measures associated with the redundancies.

“Appropriate representatives” can be:

  • The Trade Union (if recognised)
  • (For any roles not covered by collective recognition) any existing standing body of elected or appointed employee representatives (if already in place)
  • Employee representatives, who are elected specifically for redundancy consultation

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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