A great many businesses were plunged into grave financial difficulties by the COVID-19 pandemic, but was it reasonable to make employees redundant at a time when the furlough scheme provided a less draconian option? An Employment Tribunal (ET) considered that issue in a ground-breaking case.
A woman who was employed as a practice manager by a consultant surgeon was dismissed after the pandemic caused a downturn in the practice’s financial position. After she launched proceedings, an ET found that the surgeon had decided to cut staffing costs and that the reason for her dismissal was redundancy.
However, the ET ruled that the surgeon’s failure to turn his mind to the impact of the flexible furlough scheme then in operation rendered her dismissal unfair. If she had been placed on furlough, the surgeon would have been able to bring her back to work part time whilst still having the right to claim government support providing 80 per cent of her pay for the hours she did not work.
Had he considered the furlough scheme and applied it to the woman, it was more likely than not that she would have worked part time and resumed her full-time position when the pandemic receded and the practice’s income picked up. His decision to make her redundant was, in those circumstances, unreasonable. If not agreed, the amount of her compensation would be decided at a further hearing.