Redundancy candidates are being put to the test: Paul Gosling looks at Brent Council's 'exam' system to decide who goes

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The Independent Online
DECIDING who will be made redundant is one of the most unpleasant choices a manager has to face. Traditionally it is a matter of 'last in, first out', but this can lead to the best and most enthusiastic staff leaving while the exhausted cynics stay on. Asking for volunteers usually means that good staff - those most confident of getting another job - leave.

The London Borough of Brent believes the most effective and fairest way is for employees to undergo tests to determine who should go.

Brent has used this system to reduce staff in the collection section of its treasury services division from 90 to 40. It says the tests have been approved by the British Psychological Society, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. And to further ensure objectivity, the tests are assessed by managers from other sections. But other employers who might wish to try the examination system should tread carefully.

Although Brent has been advised that its scheme is lawful, the Institute of Personnel Management says the area is fraught with legal difficulties, and that it knows of two consultants who would refuse to draw up tests on the grounds that they were potentially unlawful.

Roger Walden, of the IRS's Industrial Relations Law Bulletin, says the legality of any method depends initially on whether there is a staff-agreed procedure to determine who is made redundant. 'If there is, the employer will need to show special reasons for departing from that arrangement or procedure, otherwise any dismissal would be automatically unfair under Section 59 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act, 1978,' he said.

Mr Walden added that the legality of testing itself depends on the design and application of individual tests.

'While it is clearly likely to be a more objective method of selection than merely asking line managers for their opinions, the danger is that it could prejudice certain groups within the workforce if it is not sufficiently flexible to allow all employees to demonstrate their skills, or if it contains discriminatory assumptions.

Employers must always take great care not to use vague or unfair criteria when selecting for redundancy.'