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.

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.

Redundancy

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.

Summary dismissal

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

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Sport
Torquay United mascot Gilbert the Gull
football
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

    £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

    Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

    Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

    £50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker