We are planning to relocate two of our departments currently based in the UK to France, with one department to be moved in 4 months’ time, and the other 3 months later. We are planning to give the employees in these departments (4 in each) a courtesy ‘heads up’ that this is likely to happen, and are planning to speak to them all informally next week; although we would not be starting any formal redundancy process until a month beforehand. Our American bosses want us to keep it quiet until the ‘last possible moment’. My worry is that a lot can happen over the next few months, and there is a chance that our head office could alter things like timescales, or even change their minds completely!

Peter replies:

You are both wrong. Legally the clue is in your first line…”we are planning”.  As you have started making plans, then you should begin consultation. The law says you must, and it is much better to do it upfront rather than the news leaking out, as it often does, and you are, therefore, in response rather than planned mode. That consultation can explain the full complexity of the situation, and that this is a meaningful consultation and things might change. The nature of consultation means that ideas will be generated which will change the approach. People at work are realistic and recognise that plans can change, and most will react positively as long as it is not changing for the worse.

I do not think you can (or should) give a heads up. I think you mean that you will be giving them the ‘heads up’, but not actually consulting. Once the cat is out of the bag, it will not go back in. I do not see redundancy as such a mechanistic process that it only starts 30 days beforehand. The 30 day ‘rule’, where it applies, is a minimum not a limit, or a rigid straight-jacket that condenses everything into that window. You ought to start now and explain that it will be a slow, ongoing process.

As part of the process, employers should provide in writing, to employees and/or their representatives, the following information:

  • reasons for the proposed redundancies;
  • numbers and descriptions of the employees affected;
  • total number of employees of this description employed within the organisation;
  • proposed method of selecting employees who may be dismissed;
  • how the dismissals are proposed to be carried out; and
  • how redundancy payments over the legal minimum will be calculated;

The consultation process must include consultation ‘with a view to reaching agreement with the appropriate representatives’ on ways of:

  1. avoiding the dismissals;
  2. reducing the number of employees to be dismissed; and
  3. mitigating the consequences of the dismissals;

Consultation should be carried out with an open mind, and proper consideration should be given to any points made by the representatives.

Some people will get frustrated, but it is better than getting angry, which they would do if they found out that you had suppressed the news for Machiavellian purposes. There is a risk of a drop in motivation, but good consultation and support should mitigate this, especially if people have the opportunity to apply for jobs within the organisation, or indeed, to explore the opportunity to relocate to France. Often it will be about helping people to prepare their CVs and considering their future career options.

The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action make sure that you know what you are doing, or call us for specific advice.