As the UK economy suffers amid the ongoing coronavirus struggle, organisations must be more open about their redundancy plans, says a leading provider of employment-related legal services.

On 29 October, Han Law launched its #FairRedundancy pledge, which it hopes will attract signatories from every sector. The firm’s founder Hannah Strawbridge explained: “The pledge is simple. We’re asking employers to declare the splits of their redundancy programmes by age, race, disability and gender.” (Han Law, 29 October 2020)

Firms that take the pledge, she noted, will be less likely to impose disproportionate, Covid-related redundancies upon women, the disabled, the young, the old and people from minority backgrounds.

“There’s been little or no support from government for these groups so far,” Strawbridge pointed out, “and the postponement of gender pay reporting in 2020 has been lengthened, [with] the Cabinet Office confirming to us that there will be no sanctions for those who fail to report on gender pay in Spring 2021.

“We’re worried that all the recent progress on equality will now be eradicated and that, as a result of Covid, women’s rights in particular have been denigrated. This pledge is intended to bring equality front of mind for leaders and allow them to demonstrate that they have been fair in their judgments.”

She added: “The harsh reality is that a lot of people will lose their jobs in the coming weeks and months. The pledge won’t stop that. However, the burden of those redundancies needs to be shared equally across society. Conduct a fair redundancy process and publish your before-and-after-figures so that you can demonstrate that you’ve been even handed.”

On 30 October, Han Law unveiled the pledge’s first signatory: law firm Shakespeare Martineau, whose CEO Sarah Walker-Smith was the subject of a recent interview in the Institute of Leadership & Management’s own members’ magazine. (Edge, Autumn 2020 issue, pages 24-27)

Speaking about her firm’s support for the pledge, Walker-Smith said: “I believe that navigating a good course through the upcoming economic uncertainties requires us to have a strong, open and fair working culture. We’re happy to back greater transparency in redundancy programmes so that everyone knows where they stand and why.” (Han Law Press Office, 30 October 2020)

She added: “I’d love to see the whole legal industry come together on this issue.”

Is this a pledge that employers of every type should support?

The Institute’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Evidence has already come in of the disproportionate impact that Covid is having on working women. Whether by forced or voluntary redundancy, there are signs that women are leaving the workforce – and indeed, one of our recent News & Views blogs covered research showing that many female departures are stemming from the dual burden of childcare and professional responsibilities falling disproportionately on the female side.”

She notes: “Other marginalised groups will be facing their own particular Covid-related career impacts. For example, in a recent column for the BBC, a young wheelchair user talks about how remote working arrangements have enabled her to carry on with her job outside the office during the pandemic. However, she points out, that apparent convenience comes with a flipside: could employers simply link up all of their disabled workers to home-based office tools and use flexible working as a new method of exclusion going forward, rather than adapting their premises? For the disabled, that would certainly become a new source of isolation.” (Kiana Kalantar-Hormozi, via BBC’s The Social, 5 October 2020)

Cooper explains: “When we look at any call for transparency, we can essentially take away two messages: i) that the participating companies genuinely have nothing to hide and are fully committed to doing things differently, and ii) that they are happy to provide tangible insights into the scale of the problem at hand. And as long as Covid-related redundancies are happening behind closed doors, we can’t assess their collective impact on the workforce and how that is likely to shape the employability of people in different social groups. As we have seen with gender pay gap reporting, individual companies will set out sometimes ridiculous, but also occasionally compelling, excuses or reasons for why their status quo is as it is. But we need to have a much broader conversation about these sorts of issues.”

She adds: “Numerous businesses and industry bodies have seized upon the post-Covid scenario as a hook for a range of purpose-driven responses, such as doing things differently in the future, setting new priorities, observing a more compassionate management style, having a greater understanding of the whole person who comes to work and realising the mental health benefits of good work. The more we know, the better those responses will be. With all that in mind, we should absolutely welcome greater transparency on redundancies – because that will at least provide us with a starting point for making any required improvements to people’s lived experiences of work.”

For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on integrity

Source refs:

Han Law, 29 October 2020

Edge, Autumn 2020 issue, pages 24-27

Han Law Press Office, 30 October 2020

Kiana Kalantar-Hormozi, via BBC’s The Social, 5 October 2020