PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION
JOBS LOSSES AND THE INCREASING RISE OF EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNALS
Jade Linton, Associate Director of Employment Law at Thursfields Solicitors talks about the impact of the on-going pandemic and of the various restrictions and regional lockdowns are being felt across all sectors.
One of the biggest indicators of the pain being felt by business both locally and nationally is the increasing number of job-losses and people out of work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has led to a sizeable increase in the number of Employment Tribunal claims being issued.
In fact, the number of individual claims issued between April and June 2020 rose by nearly 20% as compared with the same period last year.
It seems fairly logical to assume that the vast majority of this increase is attributable to the increased number of redundancies and changes to employment contracts which occurred during the first three months of lockdown.
The result of this increase means that many more businesses struggling to get through the pandemic in one piece will find themselves having to invest time and expense in the defence of Tribunal claims at a time when they can least afford to do so.
But at least some of these claims could have been easily avoided. Unfortunately, it seems that many businesses panicked when the full impact of the lockdown became apparent and dismissed people without following due process.
However, what many employers appear to have forgotten is that although things felt anything but normal when the pandemic first struck, the normal principles of employment law did not simply vanish because of the virus.
Accordingly, while the reason for many of these dismissals may well have been perfectly fair (from a legal perspective), the employer failed to follow a proper process. Failure to do so can render an otherwise perfectly fair and reasonable dismissal instantly unfair, leading to exposure to legal proceedings and a liability to pay damages.
Even more worryingly, we have heard of cases where employers are using discriminatory means by which to select people for redundancy, whether blatantly or inadvertently.
Some employers have been dismissing older staff, which of course is clear age discrimination, as is using the “last in, first out” approach.
Selecting those who have not yet returned to the workplace because they may be clinically vulnerable or because they have childcare issues is also potentially discriminatory on the grounds of disability and/or sex.
Not realising that your selection method is unlawful or discriminatory is simply not a valid defence.
So, remember that normal rules apply when it comes to employment law. Businesses contemplating redundancies would therefore be well advised to make sure that their proposed approach is lawful and that they have explored all possible alternatives before proceeding.
Failure to spend a bit of time up-front getting it right and taking short-cuts can backfire badly and lead to many months of paying the price both in terms of time and expense.
Thursfields Solicitors is offering a free initial consultation to any members of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce considering redundancies or a restructuring of their workforce.