With the announcement of a second lockdown in England and the furlough scheme now ending on December 2, concerns about how to navigate redundancy during COVID are rising. Since March, the UK government has been covering 80% of wages for employees on temporary leave (furlough) due to the coronavirus. Once this ends, many jobs will be left unprotected and may result in a reduced need for workers or unemployment.
Officially, redundancy is a term used when you lose your job due to your employer reducing "their workforce because a job or jobs are no longer needed," according to jobs site Totaljobs. Due to the ongoing pandemic and strict lockdown measures, many companies and their employees are being faced with an uncertain future.
Workplace expert Acas (the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has reported that redundancy related calls to their helpline have increased by over 160% in June and July. "At the moment nearly a third of calls to our helpline are redundancy related," Acas chief executive Susan Clews said in a press statement sent to Bustle. "The economic impact of coronavirus, alongside fears around the furlough scheme tapering off, has left many employers and their staff concerned about their future livelihoods."
And now that the furlough scheme has been extended, the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and Capital Economics consultancy estimate, via the Guardian, that the number of furloughed workers are set to double through November.
On Sep. 24, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the Job Support Scheme to take over from furlough, which will see the government "continue to top up wages who have not been able to return to the workplace full time," per BBC News. This scheme will now begin when furlough ends in December and run for six months. Those working "fewer than normal hours due to low demand" will have their wages subsided by the government, applying to staff "who can work at least a third of their usual hours." A similar measure will also be made available to self-employed workers. On Nov. 2, Sunak announced that they will also be able to claim state aid of up to 80%, and businesses can apply for government-backed support loans until January 31, 2021.
This only covers "viable businesses" however, meaning that it won't apply to jobs "that only exist because the government is continuing to subsidise the wages."
Another scheme, called Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS), has also been launched to help those out of work because of COVID-19. Aimed primarily at over-25s, the scheme plans to help job seekers learn how their skills "can be used in different parts of the economy," Work and Pensions secretary Therese Coffey told the BBC. Sunak has also said that it will "provide fresh opportunities to those that have sadly lost their jobs, to ensure that nobody is left without hope."
While these schemes may provide relief for some people, others may still have concerns and queries about dealing with redundancy during this unprecedented time. If you find yourself in this situation, here are five tips from employment experts.
1. Check that you qualify for statutory redundancy pay
According to Acas, the amount of statutory pay you receive depends on your age, how long you've worked for your employer, and is based on your earnings before tax (gross pay). Weekly pay should also include regular overtime if stated in your contract and any bonuses or commission.
Consumer site Which? states that to qualify for statutory redundancy pay, "you must have worked continuously for your employer for at least two years and have lost your job because your employer genuinely needs to make redundancies." This rule also applies if you're on a fixed-term contract. Hayat Rafique-Fayez, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon tells Bustle that certain "contracts or employee handbooks may also entitle staff to enhanced redundancy pay."
You won't receive this payout if you've worked in the job for less than two years or are self-employed, though. If you work for the police, armed forces, parliament, public office, as domestic staff for your immediate family or a foreign government, you won't be eligible for statutory redundancy pay, but "your contract may still include a right to receive a [different type of] redundancy payment."
Leaving before the end of your notice period, being fired for misconduct before the end of your job, or turning down a suitable alternative job offered by your employer can result in a loss of your right to statutory redundancy pay.
If you have been furloughed, the government changed the law in July "to ensure employees made redundant receive a payment according to their normal rate, rather than reduced furlough pay," Rafique-Fayez says. To calculate your redundancy pay, you can use the redundancy pay calculator on the government website.
2. Check your legal coverage
You may be entitled to legal coverage for redundancy if you have home insurance. As Citizens Advice explains in a press statement, many people are given ‘legal expenses cover’ “as part of their home insurance package, but many don’t realise they can get free legal help to challenge redundancy if they think it’s discriminatory or unfair.” It’s worth checking the terms and conditions of your insurance or speaking to your insurer directly to see if you’re entitled to this.
Citizens Advice also mention that if you have or are part of a trade union at work, they “can help you work out if you’ve got a claim and support you through the process, for example by going to meetings with you or negotiating on your behalf.”
3. Know your rights
Despite the furlough scheme adding an extra layer to the redundancy process, the rules haven't changed so if your employer happens to state otherwise, you need to know your rights. "Redundancy legislation is complex and is covered by statute and case law, with both determining employers' obligations and employees' rights," CIPD (the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) writes in a press statement sent to Bustle.
A good place to start is by finding out whether your employer has "explored other options to avoid redundancy, such as redeployment or a cut in working hours," Rachel Suff, CIPD Senior Policy Advisor tells Bustle. They are also "legally obliged to provide a range of important information including the reason for redundancy, the number of proposed redundancies, the selection methods, and how redundancy pay will be calculated."
Suff also emphasises that employers "must comply with the rules in how it identifies the people who will be in the pool from which employees will be selected for redundancy." Basically, your employer's reason for selecting you must be fair and within your rights. As Citizens Advice notes, examples of "unfair reasons for redundancy can include being picked because you work part-time or because you made a complaint about health and safety." The advice network uses pregnancy and maternity leave as another example, stating that while you can be made redundant if they apply to you, "you cannot be made redundant because you're pregnant or on maternity leave."
As Phil Richardson, partner and head of employment law at Stephensons Solicitors LLP adds, the employer "should be able to justify its decision for redundancy and also follow a fair process." This process includes consulting with employees at all stages, and giving ample opportunity for employees "to ask about the business reason for redundancy and their selection for redundancy if they disagree with it." Richardson also tells Bustle that if you are made redundant, your employer should notify you in writing giving you "an opportunity to appeal that decision" should you wish.
In terms of where you stand after the second lockdown, if you’ve already been made redundant it’s “unlikely you will be able to access the furlough scheme,” HuffPost writes. There may be some exceptions, however. For example, if “you were on your company’s payroll by October 30 and HMRC have not been notified of your redundancy”, government guidelines currently state you can be furloughed.
4.You may be entitled to paid time off to look for work
If you start looking for another job once you've been made redundant, there's a possibility you may "be entitled to 'reasonable' time off," according to Citizens Advice. Depending on your employer and your contract, you may be able to "take time off at any time in normal working hours" without having to "rearrange your work hours to make up for the time off."
You may also be paid "at your normal hourly rate, but only for up to 40% of a week's work," the advice service notes, "for instance, for up to two days if you work a five-day week." This is worth checking with your employer, as each company has different policies.
5. Ask for advice & seek support
Whether you believe you’ve been wrongly made redundant or you’re just unsure of how the process will affect you, reaching out to organisations that specialise in employment law can help put your mind at ease. Citizens Advice is a great starting point for finding general and legal advice, as well as solicitors that specialise in employment law.
“If you are being made redundant or suspect this may happen, I would recommend keeping a good record of events, discussions and communications from your employer,” Rafique-Fayez tells Bustle. “If you have any concerns, seek legal advice as soon as you can. These could relate to your selection, the decision making or your employer following correct procedure.”
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