Kate Watson, Employment solicitor, Stephens Scown LLP
Redundancy is a fact of life in today’s business world and an often forgotten part of the process is the person who has to announce the redundancies. In an effort to address this, the conciliation service Acas has recently updated its redundancy guidance, offering further advice to employers on how to support managers whose job it is deliver the bad news to their colleagues (the “teller”).
Historically, little attention has been given to the teller and this has resulted in employees and managers alike feeling under pressure and ill-informed. Employers may face a greater risk of claims where those carrying out the process are ill-prepared.
Claims may come from the employees who may feel ill-informed, or from the tellers themselves, who may feel under too much pressure without any support.
The teller is often a line manager, or other person who is used to working closely alongside those at risk of redundancy. Although it can be expected that employees will exhibit a range of emotions, many tellers are unprepared for the responses they have to face.
The stress of breaking the news may be compounded given that the tellers may have been working with those “at risk” for many years and have formed close working, and sometimes, social, relationships with them. The teller may feel that they should do more to help their friends and colleagues, when they know that, in reality, they have no control over the decision-making process.
Steps for Employers
The Acas guidance outlines several areas that employers should focus on to improve the redundancy process and support to the teller.
First, employers can try to avoid causing unnecessary stress by choosing a teller who does not have a direct working relationship with those at risk, or by instructing an external consultant. They should inform the teller of the business reasons for the process and give them enough information so that they understand the background and are able to answer the employees’ questions. A teller with little or no information is likely to feel under more pressure and is more likely to make mistakes than one with all the information and adequate support.
It is also advisable for employers to provide proper training to the teller. This should consist, at the very least, of training on “how to hold difficult conversations”. Again, without adequate training for the teller, the employer may be at heightened risk of claims by employees who may not receive the full, or even correct, information about the process. Tellers will also need to be made aware of internal politics, say, between departments, in order to be sensitive and to avoid inadvertently taking sides. Employers are ultimately responsible for the redundancy process and will be held accountable for any mistakes made by the teller in this process, so providing enough information to them is vital.
Employers should also monitor the teller’s usual workload. The role is likely to involve long hours and additional stress. If employers do not offer the teller the support they need, they could be at risk of a stress-related claim from the teller. It is good practice to put in place, wherever possible, support or advice from a more senior manager. As well as being there to offer practical advice, this should help to reduce any feeling of isolation.
Employers should consider the role of Trade Unions, which can assist in supporting the teller, as well as helping with supporting the employees who might otherwise all turn to the teller for support.
Finally, where the business is large or high-profile, whether locally or nationally, consider whether there might be media interest in the proposed redundancies. The teller will need to be kept up-to-date with anything being said in the press, in order that they are well-informed and able to answer any queries from employees, or those outside the business (if appropriate).
The role of the teller will always be a challenging one, but with the right support mistakes will be less likely, as will the chance of claims against the employer from employees or the teller themselves.
Kate Watson is an employment solicitor at leading south west legal firm Stephens Scown LLP. She works as part of the Cornwall Corporate Team and with Terry Falcão, Head of Employment, and is based in the Truro office. To contact Kate, please call 01872 265100 or visit www.stephens-scown.co.uk. If you are looking for an employment solicitor in Exeter please call 0845 450 5558.