Consulting collectively with a remote workforce during the coronavirus pandemic

Many employers were forced to contemplate the possibility of mass redundancies as a result of the implementation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown in March 2020. The introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme enabled some employers to press pause on contemplated redundancies.

The furlough scheme has now been extended to 31 March 2021. For claim periods from 1 December 2020, employers will not be able to claim under the scheme for employees who are serving a notice period, including where they have been given notice of redundancy.

While this may lead some employers to put redundancies on hold, the ongoing economic impact of the coronavirus crisis means that many will be considering redundancies at some point.

Running a collective consultation process can be challenging, even in “normal” circumstances. However, with staff working remotely or on reduced hours, or not working at all where workplaces are closed under coronavirus restrictions, it is a process that has become even more complex.

The obligation to consult collectively is triggered when an employer is “proposing to dismiss” 20 or more employees at one establishment within 90 days or less.

Consultation has to start in good time and at least 30 days (for 20 to 99 proposed redundancies) or 45 days (for 100 or more proposed redundancies) before the first proposed dismissal.

Employers should be aware that for the purposes of the duty to consult, “redundancy” includes the situation where the employer is proposing to dismiss and re-engage employees to achieve changes to their terms and conditions.

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Adapted from an article by Nick Chronias

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