Stressed out about changed role: ask the expert

I’ve been working for my employer for the last 16 months and I’d started my OML just over four months ago. I was called into the office in early December last year to be told my role is now at risk due to the sale of part of its business. However, HR had a separate chat with me straight after the initial talk and mentioned about the possibility of another redefined role (similar to what I’ve been doing plus other responsibilities added on top). I was asked whether I would like to be put forward for it and I said yes on the spot. However, then I found out the next day that I’m the only person in my team who is at risk despite the fact that more than 20 people are being made redundant on my floor. My colleague who’s one grade lower than me still has his job and he does the same job as me. I gather my salary is slightly higher than his. I have my follow-up consultation meeting with HR and the head of the department very soon. I want to ask the right questions. So far I can only think of asking why have I been selected? What’s the actual selection process? What’s happening to the other redefined role? I’d like to know if I have a case of discrimination here. Also can the company change their mind as to this redefined role? I really would like to have a job to go back to after my maternity leave. The head of department had reassured me before I started my maternity leave that I would definitely have a job to come back to unless the team no longer exists. I’m really stressed about the whole thing and it’s affecting my ability to raise my baby. I’m due to go and see my GP this coming week. I would really appreciate any advice and help you can give me from a legal point of view. What other relevant questions should I be asking during my consultation meeting or even before which may make the company think twice before making me redundant?

Redundancy situations can be very stressful for affected employees so it is understandable that you are concerned.

If a company faces a situation where there is a need to reduce the workforce, then there is a legal process that a company must follow. The first main area is around the selection of people whose jobs are affected and who may be at risk of redundancy. These people will be put in a pool and from the pool employees are selected as to who is made redundant and who is able to stay on. So determining the pool is critical. Basically the pool should include all employees who carry out work of a kind which the employer no longer needs. The pool should contain all employees who undertake a similar type of work in a particular department or at a relevant location. Employers should consider bringing subordinate employees into the pool by looking at how different the two jobs are, the differences in remuneration etc. Part of a redundancy consultation may involve asking employees if they would accept a more junior role at a reduced salary.

You mention that there are at least 20 people being made redundant on your floor. While they may sit on your floor, if they are doing very different roles from you (say they are in IT and you are in Finance, for example) then they would be in a separate pool from you since your jobs are not interchangeable. So they would not impact your particular selection pool. Most critical for you to work out is who does very similar roles to you and so should also be in the selection pool like you. You do not mention what your role is and it may be that there is only you and your colleague that you mention who do your role, but still it does seem like he should be in the pool too.

So in terms of the questions that you need to ask when you have your consultation meeting, you have actually covered the key ones in your question:

– How was the pool for selection identified?

– Which jobs in my department/area etc are specifically affected?

– How many others are in the selection pool that I am in? Who are they? (If they say you are the only one then it is reasonable to suggest other names that you think should be in the pool with you. Make them realise that you have read up on this and know your rights)

– What criteria will be used in the selection process? (If they say you are the only name and yet you know others who do your job then you can challenge this. If there are others affected then you need to understand the criteria for them making the decision. This is usually done by some from of assessment – interview is common but often others factors will be looked at like attendance; disciplinary record. Sometimes the different factors will be weighted – eg interview 50%, attendance 20% etc ) Legally they must give you a clear understanding of this.

– Explanation of the redefined job? Does it still exist? Is it being made up just for you or is it open for other affected employees and so you will have to apply for it (eg interview)? Will it be full time or part time? What will be the remuneration of it?

With regard to this redefined role – If someone is on maternity leave, they can still be placed in a selection pool for redundancy (there is often a misconception that people on maternity leave cant be made redundant and that is untrue.) However, if they are placed in a selection pool, then legally they must be given first refusal on any available, suitable, alternative roles that come up within the company. I did wonder from reading your question whether your employer is already looking at finding you an alternative role so you are not made redundant. That would be fine, but only if you have been correctly identified to be in the selection pool in the first place. Discussions around alternative roles should come up at your individual consultation and not in some rumoured, side conversation. So I would definitely push to understand this new role more, but this should only be for consideration once you understand why you and only you have been identified for the selection pool. Do consider whether some new role which is put together from several old roles is “do-able” since sometimes employers have good intentions at creating new roles to keep employees on, but they load so much into it that it is bigger than is reasonable for one individual to do.

You asked whether you might have a claim for discrimination. Without further detailed discussion it would be hard to assess, but if your employer selects only you to go in a redundancy pool from a group of individuals who all do similar roles and you are the only woman and/or the only one on maternity leave then this is illegal and you might have a claim. I would suggest you get as much information as you can from the consultation meetings and if you still have strong concerns around the process and why you are being selected you might want to get some independent legal advice. ACAS are good to start with since they have a free, impartial helpline or alternatively talk to an employment lawyer.

Good luck.

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