HR survival guide: handling redundancies

It’s least enviable of all HR jobs but sometimes it’s simply unavoidable. Here’s how to get through the dreaded task.

HR survival guide: handling redundancies
Canada has been plagued by mass redundancies this year – first Target then Tim Hortons and news came yesterday that low-cost airline CanJet had laid-off two-thirds of its staff – sometimes, job-losses are just unavoidable.

Unavoidable or not, redundancies rarely go down well – employment lawyer Kevin Charles says managers should consider the following if they want to avoid litigation from affronted former-employees.

Selection criteria

“Firstly, identify the ‘pool’ from which employees will be selected,” advises Charles. “As a general rule, the ‘pool’ should include all employees who are carrying out the same or similar role.”

“Secondly, draw up the selection criteria that will be applied to all those in the ‘pool’” - the criteria should be objective, says Charles, and based on verifiable records such as attendance, disciplinary records and appraisals.

“A selection based solely on one criterion such as ‘last in first out’ will be unfair,” he warns.

Breaking the news

“Hold a group meeting with all the employees affected or, if there are smaller numbers, hold initial informal individual meetings with the employees at risk,” suggests Charles.  “You should allow the employee to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative to each formal consultation meeting.”
“Do not neglect employees on sick leave or maternity leave and you may need to consider how to handle any publicity,” he adds.


Where possible, employees at risk should not be presented with a “fait accompli” and told what has already been decided – says Charles.

“They should be informed of the redundancy proposals when they are at a formative stage and given an opportunity to ask questions, make suggestions and seek clarification.”

Employers should aim to make at least two formal consultation meetings, ideally more than a week apart, where the selection criterion is thoroughly explained.

Keep a record

Paper trails are protection, says Charles – send employees letters summarising the content of each meeting and informing them of the next steps. Have recipients sign, date and return them.

Apply the criteria

HR should work together with line managers in applying the selection criteria to avoid any allegations of bias, says Charles.

“Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is no discrimination, for example, any absence related to a ‘disability’ or ‘maternity related’ should be discounted,” he warns.

“Send the scores to the employee who has come out the lowest before the next meeting, to give them a chance to consider them.”

Consider alternatives

“Whilst an employer would not be expected to create a role that did not exist, they would be expected to take reasonable steps to consider whether there might be any suitable alternative roles within the business,” says Charles.

“The employee also has the right to a reasonable amount of time off to look for alternative employment outside of the business and they should be notified of this at the outset of the consultation period.”

Have you had to make mass redundancies? How did you handle it? Share your advice below.

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