From time to time employers need to make changes to their business that can affect their staff. Just finding yourself at the receiving end of your employer’s proposals for change, where your job is at threat, can be a very stressful time.
On top of this, however, your employer will (if they are acting fairly) ask you to give your thoughts about their proposal.
If you don’t know what to say, this can set you off into a panic. How should you respond? And is there anything you can say that might save your job?
THE STARTING POINT: A GOOD REASON
The top thing to bear in mind is that you can only be made redundant for good reason.So what amounts to a good reason? You might be forgiven for thinking that employers can make whatever changes they wish. Nevertheless, that is not the law. The Court of Appeal has said that an employer’s decision to restructure their business in a way that affects their staff is subject to the test of reasonableness. That means the employer must do more than just:
- want to make changes without any justification; or
- genuinely believe changes are necessary.
Whether or not there is a basis for change is something that will be tested objectively. The employer may need to point to financial data, or organisation charts, or independent reports that explain why the changes they propose are necessary. The upshot for employees? The primary purpose of your feedback on the employer’s restructuring proposal should be directed at testing your employer’s thinking about what they say is the basis for change.
If you can show that their thinking is misguided, you may have an impact on whether the restructure is carried out as first planned, or even whether it proceeds at all.
THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK
Now that you have in mind what your overarching purpose is when responding to a restructuring proposal, here are three questions you can ask either prior to, or during, the meeting you have with your employer to give your feedback.
Have I got all the information?
The Employment Relations Act 2000 requires that your employer provide you with all the information they are relying on to justify their proposal. If you do not have that information, you should ask for it. Because without it, you cannot know whether there truly is a need for making the change that your employer asserts. It is possible that your employer has misinterpreted the data, made a wrong assumption, or is making their proposal without adequate information at all. If you discover something wrong with the information, you can draw that to your employer’s attention when giving your feedback.
Is this the right solution?
Even if the underlying data supports the view that change is needed, it is not always apparent that the solution your employer proposes is the right one.For example, if the business is suffering a downturn in revenue (the problem), the employer may propose to reduce costs (the solution). Still, that is just one solution.
Another solution would be to find other ways to increase revenue. Alternatively, there may be cost-saving measures that do not require the number of employees to be reduced. If you consider there are truly alternative solutions that would avoid anyone losing their jobs, you should voice these in your feedback.
Let’s say you accept that reducing staff numbers is the only viable solution to a problem faced by the business. Even then it does not always follow that you are the person to be singled out for redundancy. There may be others in the business that could be singled out instead of you to achieve the same ends. For example, if the rationale is related to cost saving, maybe there are other employees who are paid more than you.Or if you are performing the same role as other staff, with the same job title, then you need to be clear about the basis for why you are being selected and not those colleagues.
It can be daunting to be faced with a proposal by your employer that you be made redundant. However, knowing the right questions to ask can help you identify ways to challenge the thinking behind the proposal being made. Those questions are:
- Have I got all the information?
- Is this the right solution?
- Why me?
Asking these questions may not necessarily eliminate your redundancy, but it will help you understand where the employer is coming from, and give you the greatest chance of changing their thinking and retaining your employment.