How to approach remote redundancies

How to approach remote redundancies

Q. I need to make a number of my staff who are home-working redundant. What is the best way to perform the redundancy process remotely? 

A. Given the global economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, companies who are considering making redundancies are exploring the different options for doing so remotely.

However, employers must be careful of the risks associated with not following a full redundancy process.

Various steps will need to be considered in any redundancy exercise.

These include careful initial planning and preparation, considering if there are alternatives to redundancies (and allowing employees to suggest these too), collective consultation where necessary, and individual consultation required in all cases.

Holding consultancy meetings, whether an individual or collective, is crucial to the redundancy process, which begs the question of whether it would be fair and legal to hold these meetings remotely.

The simple answer is yes. Given that this is uncharted territory, the law does not expressly outline that a redundancy process cannot be conducted remotely. However, there may still be some disadvantages, as well as advantages, to doing this.

While there are pros and cons to a remote redundancy process, there are at least three different methods of remote communications that employers may be inclined to explore – email, telephone or video link.

The last option, using a video link, according to reports, is the best method of the three.

Although it can be daunting to conduct a redundancy process this way – it can also force employers to be blunter, and may be taken less seriously than with a face-to-face meeting – it is still the most personable of the three options as it can help to reduce the anxiety that could build up from the process for both parties.

While face-to-face consultations may always be the go-to approach, where possible, it is safe to assume that remote redundancies might become commonplace for the foreseeable future.

Some employers may still be able to hold face-to-face consultations, as long as the proper social distancing measures are observed, and the environment where the consultation meetings are taking place is Covid-secure.

The bottom line is that the pandemic has created a lot of grey areas, affecting our day-to-day lives as well as employers’ businesses.

Still, employers need to ensure that contravening laws on redundancy does not result from any such grey areas caused by the pandemic.

To reiterate, a proper redundancy procedure should always be followed regardless of the current coronavirus situation – or whether the employee is on furlough, annual leave, or working from home.

As already mentioned, employers should always explore alternative options to redundancy and allow employees to contribute suggestions.

These could include introducing a freeze on recruitment, reducing overtime, reducing the use of temporary workers being hired, re-training employees into other areas (redeployment), reducing sub-contracting, or changing terms and conditions to reflect a wage cut.

Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula