The Institute of Personnel and Development's Angela Baron on dealing with redundancy.
The ever-accelerating pace of change makes it difficult for firms to get their planning right all the time. Mergers, business restructuring, economic changes and the drive for competitiveness can wreck the most careful business strategies and result in surplus labour. Just ask any Laing Construction employee.

Luckily, companies are becoming much more apologetic about having to lay people off and are concerned to do it as painlessly as possible. So, what are your options if your firm is considering compulsory redundancies?

What rights do I have?

The Employment Rights Act 1996 demands that employers offer suitable alternative work if it is available, and hold meaningful discussions to review ways of avoiding compulsory redundancy. These should include retraining the people affected, redeploying them to other areas of the business, stopping or reducing overtime, early retirement or voluntary redundancy.

If more than 100 people are to be made redundant, consultation with trade unions or employee representatives must begin 90 days before the first dismissal. If 20-100 people are being let go, discussions must start 30 days in advance. Although there is no legal requirement to consult with staff if fewer than 20 people are to be made redundant, case law makes it clear that it is always desirable.

Redundancy is a form of dismissal, and employees who have been with their firm for more than a year can go to an employment tribunal if they feel that alternatives were not considered or that they have been selected unfairly.

How should I handle the discussion?

Approach it with an open mind and do some homework beforehand to identify possible openings that might be viable with a bit of training. Remember, case law dictates that employers have to consider alternative work right across their organisation and not just in one business unit or division. Be flexible and be prepared to consider a relocation if necessary.

If compulsory redundancy goes ahead, what can I expect from my employer?

First, compensation. Employers must give staff one week's wages for each year of service. This rises to a week-and-a-half's wages for workers over 40, although the weekly rate is capped at £220 for up to 30 weeks – a maximum of £6600. Most firms offer enhanced compensation.

What about counselling?

Many firms also offer outplacement counselling. Some set up job shops on their premises to help employees find new jobs. Counselling may also provide financial information and advice for those wishing to set up their own businesses.

When counselling is not on offer, astute employees should bargain for it as part of their redundancy package. It might be tempting to forego counselling in favour of more money but counselling could help you get back to work quicker and develop a positive outlook.

Any more advice?

Even if redundancy is not on the cards, do not be complacent about your job. A positive approach, flexible skills and an open mind are the best defences against unemployment and against being selected for redundancy in the first place.

The Institute of Personnel and Development's Guide on Redundancy costs £5.50 and is available from Plymbridge on 01752-202301.

Redundancy rights

  • Employers are legally obliged to consider measures to prevent compulsory redundancies
  • Firms must discuss redundancies with trade union or employee representatives well in advance of dismissals if more than 20 people are being laid off
  • If staff feel they have been treated unfairly, they can go to an employment tribunal
  • Firms must pay workers aged 40 and under compensation of one week’s wages for each year of service
  • Employees should also push for counselling as part of their redundancy package