• Zep Bellavia

Workplaces: The new Covid frontline

As tough as the Covid-19 has been for everyone on a personal and professional level, there is no doubt there are even tougher times to come.

Irrespective of whether there is a second wave of infections – and we must all do everything we can to protect ourselves and others against the prospect – there is now a new ‘frontline’ in the Covid battle.

And this time it is not hospital intensive care units; it is the workplaces of millions of British people.

As the government’s Job Retention Scheme (more commonly know as furlough) comes to an end next month, an increasing number of people are facing redundancy.

A recent survey showed one in three British businesses were planning to cut jobs once furlough ended – a 50% increase on an earlier survey in May.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggests an additional 1.2 million people will be out of work by Christmas.

Workers in the hospitality, retail, transport, and storage sectors are likely to be worst hit, with tens of thousands of redundancies announced already.

As more people lose their jobs, the number of claims for unfair or constructive dismissal is increasing too. Here at Bellavia & Associates, our team is dealing with more employment cases than ever before.

As we are experts in the field of Employment Law, our clients are usually employers defending claims. Our bespoke service ensures employers get the correct advice and the right strategic direction.

Redundancy can be a challenging time for employers as well as employees, but it is vital that employers understand the importance of fairness throughout a redundancy process.

Employees facing redundancy should be treated with appropriate professional respect. This is not only the right thing to do but it also mitigates the possibility that a redundancy will give rise to a potentially lengthy and costly unfair dismissal claim against a business.

Employers should ask themselves three key questions before embarking on a redundancy process:

  • Is the operation of a business for which the employee was employed being closed?

  • Are you closing or relocating the place of business where the employee was employed?

  • Do your business needs require a reduction in the number of employees required to carry out the work of the business?

Employers must be able to answer ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions.

Redundancy should be a ‘last resort’ measure. It cannot be used to address poor employee performance or other employment issues. There is a considerable difference between redundancy (when a job role is no longer required) and dismissal (when an employee leaves but the job role remains).

While the furlough scheme was introduced by the government with the intention of saving jobs, it does not provide any protection from redundancy. It is important that employees on furlough understand they can still be made redundant.

By law, employers must ensure the redundancy process they undertake is fair.

That means businesses must consult with those whose jobs are at risk. And it means there are several circumstances that protect individuals in redundancy situations.

For instance, employees cannot be made redundant because they are pregnant or on maternity leave; or because of their age, sex, race, or religion; or because they have acted as a whistleblower.

The consultation period depends on how many people are at threat of redundancy. During the consultation, an employer must consider alternative employment opportunities for employees whose jobs are at risk. Clearly, this would not be possible if a business is ceasing to trade.

If more than one employee is affected by the redundancy process, then a pool of employees must be identified, and selection criteria agreed to decide which employees are made redundant. Expert HR and legal advice are needed at this stage to ensure selection criteria is not discriminatory.

Those who lose their jobs must receive, as a minimum, the statutory redundancy payment – providing they have been with their employer for at least two years. This is capped at 20 years’ service and depends on both their age and how long they’ve worked for their employer.

Statutory redundancy payments are as follows:

  • Half a week’s pay for each full year you were under 22.

  • One week’s pay for each full year you were 22 or older, but under 41.

  • One and half week’s pay for each full year you were 41 or older.

Unfair dismissal can be claimed within three months of redundancy.

Outside of redundancy, there is another Covid-related issue causing concerns among employers and that is the impact of quarantine on return from a foreign holiday.

Employees who have travelled abroad to a country on the UK’s quarantine list, may find themselves in difficulty with their employer.

Some businesses are taking a hard line with staff who may not be able to work for 14 days after a holiday; others are being more sympathetic.

Whether your business is beginning a redundancy process or considering dismissing staff due to quarantine, getting the right legal advice at the right time has never been more important.

At Bellavia & Associates, we provide down-to-earth, practical advice for employers. It is the very least we can do in a period of crisis.

In uncertain times, you can be certain of Bellavia & Associates.

  • Zep Bellavia is Managing Director of Newport-based solicitors Bellavia & Associates.

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