Why your job is at risk more than ever before
Some companies looking to trim their wage bill are using underhand techniques to get unwanted employees the chop.
Saturday 12 December 2009
This winter, tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs. Many will be told that they are being made redundant as a result of the downturn when, in fact, they will have been targeted for the chop by bosses. Others will be fired for reasons that, in a time of economic boom, would otherwise be overlooked.
The office Christmas party season, for instance, could bring with it more than its usual share of dismissals of staff who get drunk and behave badly.
"You are probably much more at risk than you have been for many years," says Michael Burd, joint head of employment at solicitor Lewis Silkin. "Many more employers are under pressure to shed staff. If you give them a good reason, they may just jump on it."
Cases where employees believe they may have a grievance after losing their job fall into three separate categories:
* Employees who are told they are being made redundant when, in reality, their employer simply wants to get rid of them.
* Those who are dismissed in order to save employers having to fork out a large redundancy package.
* Workers who are dismissed after allegations that they stole from their employer.
Employment lawyers believe that many organisations are setting up their redundancy programmes – and, particularly, the "multiple matrices" used to rate and select staff – in order to weed out specific members of staff.
"It is very easy to produce a scoring procedure working backwards," says Jim Lister, head of employment at solicitor Pannone. "Lots of the matrices I see are eminently challengeable. Companies are dressing-up personal hunch as being something scientific."
James Davies of Lewis Silkin agrees that many employees who are seen as difficult or poor performers are swept out of the door through redundancies.
"In these cases it is actually easier and safer to dismiss for redundancy than to dismiss for performance or conduct," he says. It can take a year to get rid of an underperforming employee if employment law is followed to the letter. However, in a redundancy programme, that person can be lined up to go in a few weeks.
Redundancies are now running at a rate of about 70,000 a month, according to the Office for National Statistics, but fewer people challenge their redundancy selection than employment experts would expect.
"There's a certain fatalism in the current climate," says Jim Lister. Some may have their own reasons not to challenge – such as another job lined up or a recognition that they were not pulling their weight. Others, with a genuine grievance and the will to stay on, could challenge and even win the right to keep their employment.
Mothers, for example, can claim they have been marked down in the redundancy process because they have caring responsibilities, while older workers who think they are being pushed out because of their age should put their case to their human resources department.
In cases of redundancy, the employee will, at least, have the compensation of a payoff (if they have worked with the organisation for a year). In contrast, cases of summary dismissal are more painful because an employee loses their job and also ends up with no payoff, no reference and a feeling of shame.
"Brian", an adviser in a local advice agency who prefers to remain anonymous, hopes to get significant compensation for a client who was fired on the spot for having smoke on his clothes. His employer had banned smoking on the premises and the employee had breached this rule.
Brian says: "Their response was quite disproportionate and they did not follow their own [disciplinary] procedures."
If this particular long-standing employee had been made redundant instead, he would have got a large payment marking over 20 years' service. Brian adds: "We only see the people who come to us. I just wonder how many people assume there is nothing they can do."
Dismissed after allegation of theft
In a report called Unreasonable Demands? published last week, Citizens Advice highlighted another problem: staff being dismissed after allegations that they stole from their employer.
The report, which claimed that a host of high-street giants seek hundreds of pounds in compensation payouts from petty shoplifters using the civil recovery scheme, revealed that a third of the cases seen by Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) related to employees.
Citizens Advice claimed that some retailers and large companies fired workers for stealing sums as small as £5 and, sometimes, in cases where the person had denied any criminal intent.
In one case, "Alan" was dismissed by Tesco in March 2008 after he left a store one day with a carrier bag containing books and aftershave worth £20. Even now he cannot work out what happened and why he did this. "I wouldn't have done it on purpose," he says.
"Alan", who had worked at Tesco for eight years, had been undergoing tests for cancer as well as suffering from depression. The police were called and cautioned him but decided the incident was "out of character".
Shocked, embarrassed and jobless, "Alan" began to apply for jobs again but his confidence was knocked back a year later when he received demands from a civil recovery litigation firm representing Tesco asking him to pay his former employer £187.50.
Still suffering from depression and living on state benefits, he managed to get the payment issue postponed. But that postponement finishes next Friday and he is worried he will be taken to court if he does not pay. Tesco said it was unable to comment on individual cases, but a spokesman confirmed: "We still use civil recovery. It is about recouping costs."
The Citizens Advice report into civil recovery highlights the way employees can have their careers ruined in such cases. In the "vast majority" of cases, Citizens Advice says, there is no criminal prosecution and "in many" there is no police involvement.
In cases where an employee denies any dishonest intent, that person can still pay a high price. Many high-street chains use the civil recovery procedure and appear to be dismissing some staff without having evidence of criminal intent.
Richard Dunstan of Citizens Advice wants the law changed. "They have created a parallel criminal justice system," he says.
Getting fired up: What to do if you're faced with the sack
* If you are fired on the spot –or threatened with the sack – seek employment advice immediately. You can go to a Citizens Advice Bureau, another advice agency, a trade union or an employment lawyer – if you can afford one. If you are summarily dismissed by a hot-headed boss, it may be possible to retrieve the situation if you can speak quickly with cooler brains elsewhere in the organisation (in the human resources department, for example) but you need to act fast.
* Research your legal rights if the process becomes official – if you are fired or given a formal warning. Employers should, for instance, follow steps laid out in the Acas disciplinary code (www.acas.org.uk/dgguide). If they fail, for example, to explain clearly how you have transgressed and to let you respond and appeal, they can pay heavily if they are taken to an employment tribunal. "A lot of employers get it wrong procedurally and can be hoisted on that petard," says Michael Burd, a solicitor at Lewis Silkin. Even if your case does not go to tribunal, you can often extract a higher compensation payment if your bosses are patently unfair in the dismissal process.
* Negotiate hard if you decide to leave as the result of a dispute. Some employers, trying to save themselves the negative publicity associated with making redundancies, have told staff their work is not up to scratch and offered them a compensation payment. Although the average award for unfair dismissal at employment tribunals in 2008-09 was just under £8,000, some people will get far more than – either at the tribunal or through private negotiation.
The maximum compensation for unfair dismissal at tribunal is £66,200, and that figure will be used as a starting point in negotiations by many employment lawyers representing people wrongly dismissed or being asked to leave quietly. Someone earning £40,000 could be "looking at £35,000 to £40,000 in compensation", says Jim Lister, a solicitor at Pannone.
* Consider making a challenge if you are being made redundant and do not think it is fair. "Employees should, quite rightly, challenge any [redundancy selection] criteria that is very difficult to be objective about," says Jim Lister. So if you are being marked on items such as "attitude", "being a team player" or your "potential to develop", you could ask how these qualities are being measured. You can also ask to check your own scores. Mistakes happen: someone could be marked down as arriving late when he or she is visiting clients.
* Negotiate over your reference as well. Employers often agree to give positive references even in cases where someone leaves under a cloud.
* Be particularly careful if you are just coming up to one year of service. At that stage you acquire employment rights (including the right to claim for unfair dismissal) and some employers are tempted to sack people before they pass this milestone.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
Shareholders can hold a company to account
Derek Pain: Dividends ease the suffering in a moribund stock market
Questions of Cash: Payment woes with Barclays overshadow Cornish holiday
The opera singer, the broadband delay and why customers aren’t divas if they expect a good service
Bank-beating exchange rates on your international payments
- 1 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
Putin accuses US of causing global instability
iJobs Money & Business
£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...
£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...
£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...
Day In a Page
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village