Over the first five months of the COVID-19 pandemic, figures show that employers planned almost half a million redundancies in the UK. HRreview asks the professionals about how employers and HR can deal with the looming redundancies. 

Figures obtained by the BBC show the large-scale levels of redundancies in the UK as it is claimed that almost half a million people were planned to lose their jobs.

In August alone, 966 separate employers told the Government of their plans to make redundancies of 20 or more jobs. Compared to the figures last year, this is over a four-fold increase as only 214 companies stated they were planning to make job cuts in August 2019.

June and July 2020 were the worst months for redundancies as 1900 companies in June and 1800 companies in July submitted HR1 forms to the Insolvency Service.

Figures also show that there were almost 160,000 proposed dismissals submitted in June and just over 140,000 proposed dismissals submitted in July 2020.

Experts have suggested that this peak was due to the length of the redundancy processes which would need to be submitted over the summer months in order to cut staff numbers before the end of the furlough scheme and the start of the new Job Support Scheme which sees employers paying a significant amount more.

HRreview have reached out to professionals to ask how best to deal with making redundancies, considering the legal implications and emotional impact on all involved.

Kate Palmer,  Associate Director of HR advice and consultancy at Peninsula, said:

The main principle that underpins a fair redundancy procedure is employee consultation where the employer involves affected employees in ongoing discussions about the process, including the opportunity for them to identify ways that redundancies mays be avoided.

Employers should acknowledge that a redundancy process can take its toll on HR staff who are leading it, as well as the affected employees. Offering appropriate management support is key, and employers should consider offering, to all staff, access to an Employee Assistance Programme which provides telephone counselling services.

Kirsty Rogers, employment partner at law firm, DWF, adds:

The redundancy process is covered by a strict legal framework. Employees with two or more years’ service can claim unfair dismissal if their role is made redundant. A fair redundancy programme involves: (1) identifying the statutory redundancy situation; (2) considering the alternatives to redundancies; (3) following a fair and objective selection process (if applicable); (4) consultation with individuals and, if applicable, their representatives; and (5) considering the availability of alternative work opportunities for those at risk of redundancy as well as a general obligation to act fairly and consistently.

As well as the strict legal requirements, the emotional impact on both those making redundancies and those being made redundant must not be underestimated.  With the combination of lockdown, financial worries and health concerns, many individuals are struggling to cope.  Employers should therefore be prioritising the mental well-being of their workforce and offering as much support as possible as current circumstances are more severe than ever.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), Confederation of Business Industry  (CBI) and Trades Union Congress released a joint statement concerning redundancies, stating:

Faced with making quick decisions in a fragile economic environment, it can feel as if there are no good answers. No one wants to deliver bad news; and losing people or being made redundant is traumatic, especially for workers and their families.

We know that times are tough, and that as a last resort, employers may make redundancies. But our message is that employers should exhaust all possible alternatives before making redundancies. These often emerge from effective consultation with workers and trade unions.

We call on all employers considering redundancies to work with your trade unions and employees and get the process right.