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Employers facing down coronavirus redundancies

8 Jul 2020
by Sharma Solicitors
coronavirus redundancy

The BBC reported  on 1 July 2020 that  employers had announced over 12,000 coronavirus redundancies.  Redundancies driven by a coronavirus downturn in business are fraught with legal danger.

Recently, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published advice for employers about coronavirus redundancies resulting from the withdrawal of the government’s salary subsidy scheme.

Government’s  coronavirus advice

Government employment law advice states that a redundancy happens when there is no need for an organisation to retain  a particular job. This can happen because a business: changes what it does, does things differently, or  changes location or closes down a workplace. Yet, redundancy done incorrectly turns into an  unlawful unfair dismissal. Employers have to demonstrate that the job will no longer exist.  Employment lawyers  advise that employee rights include: redundancy pay, time off to look for jobs or training, and not to be unfairly selected for redundancy.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wants redundancies that do not breach the Equality Act and decisions based on business need rather than prejudice. EHRC warns against prejudice based on ‘protected characteristics’, which are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

The EHRC also warns employers of  decisions that  appear to be common sense but are actually discriminatory. Direct discrimination happens,  for example, if an employer  decides male employees can work from home but women cannot because they could be distracted by their children. It would also be discriminatory if an employer decides not to recruit black people or people over 60 because they are more vulnerable than others to coronavirus.

Coronavirus and individual needs

EHRC recommends that employers should take into account individual needs when making decisions about coronavirus redundancies. This would include decisions about:

• setting up home working stations

• risk assessments for groups particularly affected by  coronavirus such as racial minorities, and pregnant women

• expanding flexible working to accommodate employees with childcare responsibilities.

Employers need to be aware of employment law when applying a rule to address coronavirus that also disproportionately affects people with protected characteristics. This could be indirect discrimination under the Equality Act, for example older or ethnic minority workers.

So, if an employer requires all employees to work on the frontline with customers or carry out key worker roles, this may impact on groups that need self-isolation because they are vulnerable.

Another problem may be deciding to make redundant those people with the lowest sales figures over the past two years may be unfair to women who have been on maternity leave. Employers should consider when taking over rooms to enable social distancing whether those rooms are used for religious observance. Such rooms should only be requisitioned  if there is no other option.

EHRC also recommends preserving detailed records of decisions such as who has been made redundant, who is on furlough, and who has been asked to return to the workplace.

Photo credit:  FolsomNatural


coronavirus COVID-19 discrimination employers employment law equality

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