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With the rise in household names making significant cuts to their workforce and shutting up shop, redundancies are flooding the news at the moment and it is an unsettling time for many. One of the most vulnerable groups of people are working mothers since they can often find themselves being top of the list where redundancies are concerned. Whilst times have much improved from the olden days, sadly we still see too many cases where working mothers are perceived as being “slackers” compared to those without children, and so employers quite often use redundancies as a way to safely remove some or all of the working mothers in their workforce.
So what can you do to protect yourself if you are a working mother and if you find yourself facing redundancy?
If you sense that your employer may be in trouble or there are rumours about job cuts in your department, unfortunately there is often some truth in it. Rather than bide your time, or start to spend hours on end worrying, think damage-limitation. Look into getting insurance in place which can help pay your mortgage if you are made redundant. Bear in mind that if you have actual knowledge that you may be made redundant, then it is likely to be too late to take out the insurance. Also find some time to read up on current trends in the job market, get your CV updated as well as your LinkedIn profile and start making a concerted effort to put in place a plan B if you are made redundant. Think also about whether there may be ways you can persuade your employer to keep you on rather than make you redundant. The consultation process, if carried out properly, is designed to come up with ways to avoid redundancies and find suitable alternative employment if there is any. For some people, accepting a lesser role, lesser pay or working fewer hours is still a better option that losing their job altogether so it is always worth asking if this is an option if this would work for you.
Don’t assume that just because there are mass redundancies, yours is necessarily genuine. Ask questions, and plenty of them! When was the decision taken to make redundancies and by whom? Have other employees in similar roles also been selected for redundancy or is it just you? If you have been pooled with others, what criteria has been used to select you and ask to see your scoring matrix. It is not unusual for employers to incorporate some flex into the criteria they use such as “attitude to work” or “drive and commitment” which are arguably subjective and open to manipulation. If you are concerned about the criteria, raise it. Enquire whether there any other suitable roles in the organisation or its associated entities which you could be considered for?
If you have had issues in the past, or if you feel that you may have been targeted for improper reasons such as having a protected characteristic (i.e. maternity leave or gender), then it is worth asking some of the more tricky questions – such as are there any other working mothers who are facing redundancy? If you work part time, you could ask the same question about how many other part-time workers are facing redundancy. Be sensitive as to how this is asked, but equally do not be afraid to challenge decisions where you do feel that they have been unlawfully made.
The old saying is true, there is power in numbers. Ensure that you check how many people are being impacted and look towards unions or elected employee representatives for guidance and support in raising the questions which you may be too afraid to ask. However, if you work in a small organisation or in a field where there are no such unions in place – do not fret. Try to take a companion with you to the consultation meetings if this is permitted, and also to the dismissal meeting, and ask them to take a full note for your records. If you cannot find someone to take, enquire whether the employer would object to the meeting being recorded for accuracy. Avoid the temptation to covertly record. Often employers have policies in place that say that covert recording is gross misconduct and if it comes out that you have secretly recorded a meeting, you could be risking your job. As a last resort, if recording is rejected (which is usually is), ask for a full note to be sent quickly after the meeting and go through it carefully. Make amendments where they are inaccurate or incomplete and insist that the amended version is placed on your file. If you feel you are being treated unlawfully, it is always wise to seek legal advice quickly.
Use the proposed redundancy as an opportunity to really reflect on whether this could actually be a good thing for you. We so often hear people say that they are glad that they were made redundant, as they had not realised just how unhappy they were in their previous position, or they now have a proper work/life balance. In fact, research shows that part of the gender pay gap is attributable to the fact that working mothers are missing out on pay progression due to their reluctance to change roles. Whilst many people are content to stay with the same company for the duration of their career as it is comfortable or familiar, if the idea of a fresh start does appeal to you on some level, do not be afraid to ask about voluntary redundancy as there is usually an added incentive with this option.
Also always take advantage of outplacement counselling if it is on offer. It is a common perk employers offer when employees are facing redundancy. Outplacement counselling is designed to help people find another role. It is very good for those who have been out of the job market for a long time. However, be sure to check the terms and conditions of the outplacement provision since it is often only up to a certain financial value and usually has to be used within a certain number of months from termination.
Remember that in this day and age, there really is no stigma if people have been made redundant. It is very commonplace for big companies to either go under completely or need to make mass job cuts. So relax, as, trust me, there are a lot worse reasons out there for losing your job!
*Anita Rai is an employment partner at Winckworth Sherwood.