More hell on the high street (or redundancy again)

Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

The difficult trading conditions on the UK high street don’t seem to be easing with news that Debenhams, one of the country’s biggest retailers, will close 50 of its stores. This will affect about 1,200 employees of Debenhams, many of whom will be facing up to the threat of redundancy.

Debenhams have just announced the names of the first 22 stores which will close in 2020.

Debenhams names 22 stores to close

The struggling department store chain plans to close the shops next year, affecting 1,200 staff.

Redundancy

Redundancy can be potentially fair reason for dismissal… if handled correctly by employers.

Only employees can be made redundant. 

Remember: S230(5) Employment Rights 1996 defines who is an “employee”.

The definition of redundancy can be found in Section 139(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996:

(1) For the purposes of this Act an employee who is dismissed shall be taken to be dismissed by reason of redundancy if the dismissal is wholly or mainly attributable to-

(a) the fact that his employer has ceased or intends to cease-

(i) to carry on the business for the purposes of which the employee was employed by him, or

(ii) to carry on that business in the place where the employee was so employed, or

(b) the fact that the requirements of that business-

(i) for employees to carry out work of a particular kind, or

(ii) for employees to carry out work of a particular kind in the place where the employee was employed by the employer,

The relevant legal provisions governing redundancy are quite extensive and can be found in:

● Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 

● Employment Rights Act 1996

● Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 

● Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006

● Collective Redundancies and Transfer of  Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

The really critical provisions of UK employment law which govern redundancy handling are to be found in the following:

● Sections 188-198 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 

(Section 188 is further supplemented by the Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 1999).

Handling redundancies

Employees should be selected for redundancy in a fair way.

The employees who are at risk for potential redundancy will be part of a group of individuals known as the redundancy pool.

Employers can manage situation in a number of ways. 

How?

● LIFO

● Volunteers 

● Disciplinary records

● Staff appraisal – skills, experience etc (redundancy matrices or re-applying for your job).

What is LIFO? 

Last in, first out – was the most commonly used method, but it could fall foul be regarded as indirect discrimination e.g. too many young people are made redundant. So there are limitations to this approach.

Redundancy selection criteria must be objective. 

Many employers will have contractual redundancy policies. Must stick with this: see John Anderson v Pringle of Scotland [1998] IRLR 64.

Appeals should be permitted.

Individuals will still be an employee until effective date of redundancy.

Avoiding redundancies

Redundancy could be avoided by:

● Short-time working

● Lay-offs

The employer needs to consult with employees or their representatives.

Both sides may not reach agreement, but consultation has occurred. 

 It has to be a meaningful exercise – not a paper one.  

Additional rights

Employees have additional rights in redundancy situations:

● Consultation with employer

● Notice period

● Suitable, alternative employment 

● Time off to find new employment

Selection for redundancy

Selection for redundancy is automatically unfair in relation to:

● Protected characteristics e.g. age, disability, gender, maternity and pregnancy etc

● Trade Union participation or acting as employee representatives

● Jury service

● Whistle-blowing & health and safety cases

● Asserting statutory rights

● Occupational pension trustees

Statutory redundancy pay

Statutory redundancy pay is most common payment. Only those employees who have 2 years or more continuous service are entitled to claim statutory redundancy pay.

It is worked out according to the following formula:

● half a week’s pay for each full year employees were under 22

● 1 week’s pay for each full year employees were 22 or older, but under 41

● 1 and half week’s pay for each full year employees were 41 or older

Length of service which can be used to calculate the amount of redundancy pay is capped at 20 years and the amount of weekly pay is capped at £525 (the maximum statutory amount claimable is £15,750) from 6 April 2019.

Employers can be more generous with redundancy pay or they can include employees with less than 2 years’ continuous service.

No tax is payable on redundancy pay less than £30,000.

Employees can calculate their entitlement to statutory redundancy pay by clicking on the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/calculate-employee-redundancy-pay

Notice of redundancy

Proper notice of redundancy must be given. Section 86 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 contains the relevant notice periods for termination of the employment contract.

The maximum period of notice for those employees with 12 years or more continuous service is 12 weeks.

Sometimes contractual periods of notice can be longer, but not shorter than the those laid down by the Employment Rights Act 1996.

That said, notice can be shorter if the employment contract permits employer to make a payment in lieu of notice. 

Employees will receive full entitlement to redundancy pay, notice pay, holiday pay & other entitlements.

Collective redundancies?

This situation arise where more than 20 employees are going to be  made redundant in a 90 day period. Fixed term contract employees do not need to be included in collective consultation, except if contract ending early because of redundancy.

The Debenhams’ situation is likely to be classified as a case of collective redundancy.

There must be consultation with with Trade Union or employee representatives.

Consultations must cover:

● ways to avoid redundancies

● the reasons for redundancies

● how to keep the number of dismissals to a minimum

● how to limit the effects for employees involved, e.g. by offering retraining

Length of consultation period?

No time limit for how long this period should be, but the minimum is:

● 20 to 99 redundancies – the consultation must start at least 30 days before any dismissals take effect

● 100 + redundancies – the consultation must start at least 45 days before any dismissals take effect

These minimum periods apply if employers are contemplating making collective redundancies within a 90 day period. 

The UK Coalition Government (2010-15) substantially reduced redundancy consultation periods.

Failure to consult employees?

Dismissals will almost certainly be unfair. 

In a collective redundancy situation, employers should notify the Redundancy Payments Service (RPS) by filling out form HR1. It is a (strict liability) criminal offence not to complete the HR1.

A link to a template HR1 form can be found below:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/782487/NEW_HR1.pdf

Failure to pay redundancy payments or payment of the wrong amount?

Affected employees have 6 months (minus 1 day) to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim.

Insolvent employers?

The State will ultimately pay out from the National Insurance Fund (employee’s should complete and submit an RP1 Form).

Employees can find out if their employer is insolvent by going to the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company

A short film from ACAS about the core employments rights in relation to redundancy can be found below:

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 28 April 2019