Redundancy and the law of kindness
October 16, 2010 8:39 am
Being made redundant is, for most, an awful experience. Usually the climax to a period of uncertainty and dread, it brings to an end their work status, their ability to earn money and the right to belong at work. At the familiar place of work, where they may have given loyal service for a long time and have close relationships, they are now unwanted, an outsider. The workplace ship moves on without them. The future for them and perhaps their family – work, home, schools, money – may be very uncertain. Low self-esteem and depression can result, with a similar effect to bereavement. Unfortunately, for many managers redundancy is currently an inevitable task, at all levels and in private and public sectors. And for both manager and employee it is often a far worse experience than necessary, by the way the process is handled.
So can a person be made redundant kindly? Yes, they can, or at least as kindly as possible. Loosing a job and being unwanted will never be pleasant, but the way it is done can make a huge difference. If a redundancy is genuine, because the money or work is no longer there, and if the person is genuinely chosen for good business reasons, then there is little need for secrecy and coldness. Procedures and paper trails are necessary to secure fairness and lawfulness, but they should not become an end in themselves. The law on unfair dismissal does not call for unkindness or impersonal distancing. The process is about a person and the job they do, and decisions are made in the context of an acute imbalance of power. An employer who shows real personal regret, consideration for the vulnerability of the employee and an awareness of the personal consequences for them, often preserves goodwill and respect; not only of those who leave but, perhaps more importantly for the business or organisation, of those who stay. The old adage is ‘do as you would be done by,’ and if managers follow this, while taking and implementing the hard decisions needed, then mutual respect and dignity can be preserved while ticking all the right legal boxes.
To inform of decisions by text or even by phone is very rarely appropriate and never kind. A rigid scripted process that does not build into it the time to listen to the person is like breaking the news of a death efficiently but abruptly and coldly. Kindness takes giving time, openness to reasonable questions and some human empathy – but any competent manager should be good at all those things. As with all good management communication is key, and poor communication is always a failure. Of course perceptions will inevitably vary, but a decent manager, HR person and lawyer will want to know they have done their best.
The procedural rigidity of over-officious HR, or stuffy management or, dare I say it, a purely legalistic lawyer, can make a horrid situation pretty well unbearable. Do not blame the law for such unkindness. Kindness, though not enough in itself, tends to strengthen an employer’s defence. We are all allowed to take into account the dignity of other human beings, particularly when we are exercising the power to dismiss them. No-one is so exalted, in whatever sector, that they do not owe it to others to do so.
The above is general comment only and individual advice should be taken.
For specific advice on any employment law matter, and particularly before acting on redundancies, contact Frances Barker, Employment Partner at Blocks Solicitors on 01473 343911 or firstname.lastname@example.org.