Making employees redundant through a pandemic – navigating the risks and complexities

With the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression upon us, redundancy is a sad inevitability of COVID-19.

No one enjoys making employees redundant, but in the middle of a pandemic when the job market is competitive, and many families are doing it tough? That makes it a lot harder. Here are some tips to help you navigate the risks and complexities of making employees redundant through a pandemic.

Make sure redundancies are genuine

Before making anyone redundant, you need to ensure that it’s a genuine redundancy. According to Fair Work Australia, for a redundancy to be genuine, three elements must be satisfied:

1. The employee’s job is no longer required to be performed by anyone
2. The employer has complied with redundancy consultation obligations under the award or enterprise agreement; and
3. It’s not reasonable for the employee to be redeployed within the organisation or an associated entity of the employer

Source reference: Fair Work Act 2009 s.530

If there is any doubt that the redundancy meets these three requirements, this can be grounds for unfair dismissal. Before restructuring, speak to your employment lawyer to get the best legal advice for your situation.

Be sensitive to the timing

An unexpected redundancy can be hard enough to deal with, but in the middle of a pandemic, when other complications can be at play – financial hardships, emotional stressors, health concerns – it can be a massive blow to your employees.

For this reason, it’s important to be sensitive to timing and to put yourself in the place of an employee through the separation conversation. Make sure the conversation won’t take place on any key dates (work anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) and that there is nothing else that needs to be considered before speaking to the employee about their redundancy.

Where possible, avoid having a redundancy or consultation conversation on a Friday. With a whole weekend of questions and brewing emotions, Monday can bring a whole lot of issues that are easily avoided.

Be compassionately compliant

When making an employee’s role redundant, all legal obligations need to be met, and processes need to be followed meticulously to minimise the risk of unfair dismissal claims. This step is no different through a pandemic if anything, it’s the time to be more thorough.

But in saying this, it’s important not to let processes get in the way of people. While the motivation from your side can be to tick all the boxes to protect yourself and your employment brand from legal action, it’s important to acknowledge that for your employee, their world has changed. Be compassionately compliant by following the process but prioritising the person. Acknowledge the employee and their contribution and take the time to explain why the redundancy is taking place.

Provide support

Understand that being made redundant in the middle of a pandemic when thousands of others are out of work can make the process of transitioning into a new role quickly very challenging. In a highly competitive job market, your transitioning employees need to be given the best chance at securing another position. Your employee is likely to already be anxious, but by providing the right kind of outplacement support can significantly reduce that anxiety.

Outplacement isn’t something to be skimped on right now; there is a moral obligation. Some employees will find themselves in the very real and rather scary situation of having no work while still having to support their families financially. Ensure you make flexible outplacement programs available for your staff and engage highly experienced career coaches to give them the best opportunity at finding new work.

While many businesses are hurting and needing to cull staff to ensure survival, how you handle restructuring in the middle of this pandemic will have a lasting impact on your business. Make sure it’s one that you’ll be proud of in years to come.

Need help managing redundancies through the pandemic? Draw on our experience and call us today on 1300 27 83 45 or www.turningpointpartners.com.au.

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