Post-furlough redundancies: ‘It is important that workers know their rights’

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Julie Duane

St Philips Barrister, Julie Duane contributed to this article on Post-furlough redundancies in HR Grapevine.

We have reproduced this with permission of HR Grapevine.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a wealth of uncertainty for both employers and employees.

Businesses will be concerned about how they can continue trading in this turbulent time. Employees will be concerned about job security, reduced financial income – particularly if they are on the Government’s furlough scheme – as well as the future of their role once the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) ends in October.

With that being the case, an Employment Specialist has warned that “unscrupulous employers” may use the winding down of the UK Government’s furlough scheme to make some of society’s most vulnerable staff members, as well as parents, redundant.

According to Julie Duane, a Barrister from St Philips Chambers, some employers may make organisational decisions that unfairly impact parents and carers. She said that this could see them become some of the first to be out of a job when the scheme ends soon.

The CJRS is a support scheme that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak unveiled earlier this year to prevent mass unemployment and to keep people in jobs when the UK went into lockdown. It will close at the end of October.

From November 1, 2020, the Jobs Support Scheme will come into effect which is designed to protect ‘viable’ jobs in organisations that are facing reduced demand during the winter due to COVID-19. This will run for six months.

Yet, Duane told HR Grapevine that there is a worry that some organisations will see the ending of furlough as “an opportunity to target many people in difficult situations with regards to redundancy”.

She added: “[This] will especially affect many women, as they are the primary carers in most instances.”

The legal expert’s warning comes after data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that working parents were almost twice as likely (13.6%) to be furloughed than those without children (7.2%) when the pandemic hit earlier this year.

Elsewhere, July 2020 data found that for working parents with school-aged children that had had their work output impacted by the pandemic, 20% attributed this disruption, at least in part, to having to juggle professional commitments with childcare responsibilities. Duane added:

Separate research from Pregrantthenscrewed.com – as was reported by the Guardian in July – claimed that women were being treated as “sacrificial lambs” as the UK economy declines, with half of working mothers unable to access the relevant childcare needed to return to work.

Elsewhere, data from the site found that 15% of mothers have either been made redundant or expect to be made redundant – of those, 46% said that the lack of available children played a role in their redundancy.

In July, a working mum-of-two claimed that she was fired from her job after her boss became fed up with her children being around during work calls.

The statistics and case study point towards the real struggles that working parents in particular have faced throughout the pandemic.

‘The mindsets of decision-makers have not shifted’

Although the pandemic has greatly shaken up the world of work – as organisations moved staff to homeworking in the height of lockdown and HR leaders were tasked with delivering staff engagement, wellbeing and other things virtually – Duane said that for some decision-makers, their mindsets may not have shifted.

“Some employers have not yet embraced flexible working and despite the past few months showing it can work well, some may target those looking for flexibility,” she explained.

“Evidently there will be certain roles where working from home is not always a feasible option, for example those in largely manual labour positions – however, this should not prevent an employer exploring flexible arrangements (where practicable and subject to the needs and demands of a business) and if this pandemic has stressed anything to employers, it is to be dynamic and evolutionary in how its business can be transformed.”

‘Employers should see the bigger picture’

In order to satisfy staff demands and to support the individual lives of the workforce – for example greater flexibility to help working parents juggle childcare and school runs – Duane urged employers to see the bigger picture and ‘embrace change’ to help the workforce and wider society.

Though, for any staff members that feel they have been unfairly treated during this time – such as discriminated against – the legal expert said that they may be able to “fight dismissals using the Equality Act”.

She concluded: “Thankfully legislation is in place to ensure employees can fight for their rights, but no doubt there will be difficulties ahead.”

https://my.executivegrapevine.com/content/article/2020-09-29-women-could-bear-brunt-in-redundancies-legal-expert-warns