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How to avoid something more serious than a technical glitch when dismissing staff

Published 13 December 2021

Meta tag: redundancy and dismissal by message

How to avoid something more serious than a technical glitch when dismissing staff

Ruthless Apprentice-style dismissals may make for good TV but are they ever fair in the real world?

Lord Sugar jabbing a finger towards a budding entrepreneur in the boardroom and shattering their dreams with the words ‘you’re fired’, has been a hit with viewers of the Apprentice on the BBC.

Any complaint that the dismissal of a candidate is unfair will usually take place on a spin-off show and social media.

But in the real world of work, any successful unfair dismissal claim can cost an employer tens of thousands of pounds.

The recent mass dismissal of staff, the manner of it, and the use of technology raises an important question about if such brutal dismissals can ever be considered fair.

Vishal Garg, CEO of mortgage lender Better.com, is reported to have laid off 900 employees over a Zoom call [1 cited 13/12/21]

Reports said in the three-minute call, staff at the US-based digital mortgage lending company were bluntly told: 'This isn't news that you're going to want to hear. If you're on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.'

It was reported that a short time later Mr Garg  had taken time off work ‘effectively immediately’ and his responsibilities passed onto a colleague [2 cited 13/12/21]

This type of dismissal is not exclusive to the other side of the Atlantic.

The compensation claims company the Accident Group, Britain’s biggest personal injury claim firm at the time, dismissed 2,500 workers by text message. [3 cited 13/12/21]

The company went into administration and sent staff a text telling them they would not be paid, before later confirming the job losses.

It was reported that at least 21 former workers were awarded compensation at an employment tribunal after it was found they had been "cynically manipulated” [4 cited 13/12/21]

Employers should not dodge difficult conversations with employees if large-scale job losses are necessary or needed.

Such conversations can be difficult, challenging and emotional for all concerned.

Under employment law, companies must consult with employees before dismissing them if their job no longer exists.

This will be a genuine redundancy situation for reasons that can include: the employer changing what it does; it is going to do things in a different way, for example using new machinery; or changing location or closing down [5 cited 13/12/21]

For it to be fair, any proposed redundancy must be put to an employee, who should then be given an opportunity to respond before a final decision is made.

ACAS provide a good practice 10-part guide for employers of all sizes to follow for a redundancy consultation process [6 cited 13/12/21]

Getting the redundancy process right and ensuring it is fair is essential.

A redundancy dismissal can be found to be automatically unfair if the process conducted is unfair.

An employee usually has the right to make an unfair dismissal claim to an employment tribunal if they have worked for their employer for two years.

As well as large numbers of employees being dismissed at the same time via technology, it has also happened to individuals.

A barmaid sacked by text message after she overslept before a shift was awarded more than £14,000 at an employment tribunal [7 cited 13/12/21]

It is reported that the tribunal was satisfied that the dismissal was procedurally and substantively unfair.

Dismissing any number of employees via technology, out of the blue and without following a fair process is not advisable in any circumstances.

Certainly not when they have two or more years’ service, as it can potentially lead to a claim for unfair dismissal.

Caution should be used even if they have less than two years’ service. There is a risk of other types of claims when a fair procedure is not followed.

If the dismissal relates to the employee’s age, disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender reassignment then  they may have a claim for discrimination.

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