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Redundancies on the increase, what are your employee rights?

In the UK there are specific rules that employers must follow for a redundancy to be legal


Mass redundancies, especially in the tech sector have recently hit the news.

Twitter announced that thousands of jobs would be going after Elon Musk acquired the company and Meta have recently announced approximately 11,000 jobs going.

Large tech companies like these have a worldwide workforce who operate in numerous legal jurisdictions. That is likely to mean that many different laws could apply depending on where employees are employed. The laws on redundancy could even vary from state to state in the US.

In the UK there are specific rules that employers must follow for a redundancy to be legal.

UK employers must establish a clear business case for redundancies. That could be, for example, because trading has reduced, or new technology has been bought in.

They must then consider alternatives to redundancy such as moving staff, shortening hours or part-time working.

Then they must create a fair process for selecting individuals who may be made redundant. In that they must guard against discriminating against anyone, particularly on specific grounds such as age, sex or race. This can present challenges for employers because it is possible to discriminate indirectly.

For example, the age old “last in first out” saying to describe a redundancy approach, could be found to be discriminatory against younger workers who tend to have shorter service. Therefore, it could indirectly amount to age discrimination.

Employers must also consult with their workers about the redundancy process. That consultation should include matters such as alternatives and the process for selecting employees for redundancy.

Depending on the number of employees affected there are prescribed time limits for the consultation, and it is not possible to legally make people redundant until those limits have been passed.

All of these are reasons why, especially with large employers, it would be unlikely that a mass redundancy process could legally be completed in relation to UK employees within a few hours or a few days.

It appears that Twitter, for example, are aware of that because reports suggest they are inviting employees to nominate consultation representatives.

It may be that international companies, could try to argue that an employee is employed in a jurisdiction where the rules are less stringent even though they may live in the UK, for example. The courts or Employment Tribunals would have to determine which jurisdiction, and therefore rules, applied. It may be that any disputes around the circumstances and legality of any redundancy process involving international companies will involve these jurisdictional issues. So, if an employee lives in the UK but is employed by an Indian company, say, does UK or Indian law apply?

There may also be issues around whether someone is an employee or a self-employed contractor. In the gig economy and some sectors, self-employed contractors are not unusual. The protections open to employees are not necessarily open to the self-employed contractor. But sometimes it can be difficult to determine if someone is genuinely self-employed or is really an employee. Again, the courts or Tribunals may need to look at that and make a determination in a redundancy situation.

Even if someone is legally made redundant there are certain entitlements, such as to prescribed redundancy pay and a notice period, that a UK employer must provide.

The application of the law relating to redundancy, entitlements and other linked issues, can be complex for employees and indeed employers. If you find yourself in this situation you may want to get legal advice and you can use our website to find lawyers specialising in employment law at Alternatively, you may want to read some of our other employment guidance blogs, such as "Am I an employee and what are my employment rights?" or "I think I have an employment case".