East Midlands charity, Disability Direct, has experienced a dramatic 50% increase in calls relating to concerns about redundancy over the past few months – and anticipates this will increase to 75% by March 2021 as a result of Covid-19.
The past year has seen the number of people being made redundant hit a record high due to the coronavirus pandemic driving unemployment rates up. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more than 800,000 jobs have been lost from payrolls across the country since the pandemic began.
Amo Raju, Chief Executive at Disability Direct, said:
“Understandably, there’s a lot of anxiety at the moment due to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve personally taken a lot of calls from people who are worried that, should redundancy proceedings begin at their workplace, they’ll be at the top of the list due to their health. While this could well be an unfounded concern, it’s vital that people are aware of their rights at this pivotal time.
“There’s a common misconception that disability is a visible ailment, but this is simply not the case. For example, a person with conditions such as asthma, diabetes or who suffers from mental health issues has rights under the Equality Act 2010 that they may not be aware of but need to be, particularly in these types of scenarios.
“However, sometimes, the suspected discrimination may not be so overt as being made redundant because of a disability. Often, it can be the selection criteria used that is indirectly discriminatory, for example the number of days a person has had off sick.
“Statistically, employees with a disability are more likely to have had to take time off and, therefore, may end up being scored down for reasons outside their control. In that situation, the employer should disregard disability-related absences or make adjustments to recognise the disadvantage suffered in the selection process.
“That’s why it’s crucial people understand whether or not they do indeed have a disability – whether it’s visible or invisible – as this could provide additional protection should redundancy proceedings be started at their workplace. We’re working with law firm Nelsons so people are aware of their rights, and those we represent feel supported and empowered.”
“No one should be in the position where they feel at risk of losing their job due to a disability or mental health condition, so it’s concerning that Amo and his team have seen such a dramatic surge. When it was announced in June that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) was due to phase out, many employers had to review their workforce and requirements to consider whether the current levels of staffing were sustainable. Inevitably, this resulted in waves of redundancies taking place over the months that followed. Although the CJRS has since been extended to the end of April, many employees remain understandably unsettled about their fate.
“Redundancy usually occurs when the workplace closes or there is a reduced need for employees to undertake work of a particular kind. Employers aren’t able to simply fire someone at will because priorities have changed or the company is having a tough time financially – they have to ensure that the redundancy is genuine in accordance with the legal definition, go through a fair redundancy process and ensure that any resulting dismissal has been handled in a way that’s fair and reasonable in all of the circumstances.
“It is certainly not open to an employer to use the cloak of redundancy to cover up a situation where they are planning to dismiss someone purely on the grounds of disability. Such conduct would plainly amount to discrimination contrary to the Equality Act 2010 and unfair dismissal contrary to the Employment Rights Act 1996.
“If any employee believes they have been placed at risk or selected for redundancy on the grounds of their disability, they should raise their concerns with their employer as soon as possible. Employers should undertake a formal consultation process with those at risk of redundancy, which should provide an opportunity for employees to speak up if they feel they’re being targeted on the grounds of disability.
“If the employer is evasive or appears unwilling to let those concerns form part of the process, the affected employee could raise a formal grievance about their concerns and seek that this be properly addressed before any decisions are made.
“Concerns about disability discrimination in this context can be raised in a formal grievance or in an appeal against dismissal. Following the termination of employment, an employee wishing to pursue the former employer in a disability discrimination claim would first have to register for Early Conciliation with ACAS – which offers a six-week conciliation period to the parties involved in an attempt to resolve it outside of court.
“However, it’s worth noting that parties are not obliged to participate in that process – if they do not want to, or the conciliation is unsuccessful, the employee will be given a certificate and will be free to issue a claim to the employment tribunal.”
“It’s highly likely that the full effect of the pandemic on employment is yet to be realised, as the furlough scheme has been further extended to the end of April. Therefore, it’s never been more important for people to understand their rights and seek advice if they need it.”