Is there a danger that, when offering enhanced voluntary redundancy packages, a business is inadvertently committing to accepting all expressions of interest?
In certain circumstances, and if language is not chosen carefully, yes.
When faced with the prospect of making compulsory redundancies, a business will often offer enhanced voluntary redundancy packages to its workforce, in order to reduce the number of, or eliminate the need for, compulsory redundancies.
The employer will normally have an ideal number of volunteers in mind – enough to stave off the need for compulsory redundancies. The business will also know the areas where it would be best to make cuts and managers will likely have in mind the members of staff they’d like to keep and those they could afford to lose.
Problems can arise when offering enhanced voluntary redundancy packages. For example too many can put themselves forward. The employer then rejects the expression of interest from a particular employee, who may then be unhappy about the decision. As long as the offer was not binding on the employer, the employee will have to be content to continue in their role.
However, in a recent case a former employee of British Airways (BA), Mrs Stoate, successfully argued that the company was bound by its offer of an enhanced redundancy package.
BA was looking to make cost savings in relation to staff who handled the on-boarding and off-boarding of passengers from its aircraft. A meeting was held at which proposals for a restructure involving the loss of 40 jobs and an enhanced voluntary redundancy package were discussed. The evidence of Mrs Stoate and her former colleagues was that it had been made clear in the meeting that anyone who wanted voluntary redundancy would get it. BA managers denied this, but, with there being nothing included within the slide presentation given to the staff to make it clear that an enhanced package would not be available to anyone who requested it, alongside BA’s pressing need to implement the restructure, the Tribunal preferred the evidence of the staff over the managers.
Therefore, having requested it, Mrs Stoate was entitled to the enhanced redundancy package. Her claim for constructive unfair dismissal failed. She had delayed too long after the promised enhanced redundancy pay failed to materialise to rely on it as a breach of contract. The Tribunal indicated that, had she been quicker to resign, the constructive unfair dismissal claim may have succeeded as well, entitling her to potentially significantly more compensation.
Employers need to be extremely careful in documenting exactly the nature of any offer of enhanced voluntary redundancy. Care should be taken to ensure that all communication is clear, that those involved are informed appropriately, and understand that any expressions of interest will be considered, but it is ultimately at the discretion of the business to accept or reject. Ideally this should then be further documented in written form.