Redundancy is one of the most serious things that an employer can do to an employee in their working life. Employers are required to:
- avoid redundancies wherever possible and
- select staff for redundancy fairly, if redundancy proves inevitable.
Due to the fact that different cases are, quite simply, different, it is not possible to anticipate every single situation here. You must seek advice from your UCU representative if you are a member. Join the union if you are not! Please do not leave this to the last minute as this will affect our ability to offer help.
What follows, therefore, is only an outline.
Key principles: fairness and avoidance
The most common reason offered at UCL for redundancy is the ending of funding for a post. As we comment on our Fixed Term Staff page, it used to be legal to offer fixed term contracts to staff and then dismiss staff at the end of the contract. This is no longer the case.
If funding earmarked for a post is due to end, or duties are diminishing in a particular area, this fact alone does not comprise legally sufficient grounds for making the current incumbent redundant. It may be possible to
- find funds from other sources and keep the post, or
- move the staff member to another similar post.
Where two or more staff are carrying out similar jobs, employers must consider the pooling of the staff together rather than selecting one on the basis of funding. Pooling is a relatively novel procedure in UCL, although it is enshrined in the Organisational Change Procedure.
Redundancy must be considered ‘in the round’.
It is possible to move staff or adjust their duties in order to avoid the redundancy of one of their number. Consequently, if it is claimed that duties are genuinely diminishing, but in reality duties are handed to other staff, then a redundancy may not be fair. The courts tend to accept that large employers, like UCL, have more room to maneuver to avoid redundancies than small employers.
The question of finding suitable alternative employment to avoid redundancy is not exhausted by the (useful) UCL Redeployment Procedure. The legal requirement is for employers to try to avoid the redundancy of staff in the first place, and formal redeployment is only one method of doing so.
This point is particularly clear in the case of academic staff, including research staff, who may have highly specialised skills. Lecturers are asked to teach a different course if numbers fall. Research staff can be moved to another research project. In practice it is more likely that they will find comparable duties within the same department than in an entirely different field.
The question of suitability for a post is based on whether they are capable of carrying out the new role, given a realistic level of training. Staff at risk of redundancy are not required to compete with external applicants.
Redundancies may also lead to questions of discrimination on grounds of gender, race, sexual preference, disability or age, whether or not this was the intention. Women returning to work after materntity leave have special rights in this respect.
The Termination Procedure
UCL’s Termination Procedure is based on the legal minimum procedure in the Employment Act 2002 that must be followed in all cases where notice is given. This is a minimum procedure, and managers are not permitted to pay ‘lip service’ to it. In particular, note that section 2.1 lists reasons for initiating consultation. These are not sufficient conditions for deciding to make an individual redundant. See fairness and avoidance above.
- If you are being made redundant, you should be notified that you are at risk of redundancy, at a minimum 3 months (a possible exception is some clinical contracts) prior to the contract end date, and you should be invited to a meeting to investigate ways to avoid redundancy.
- You can bring a union representative or colleague to this meeting.
- The manager is legally obliged to consult meaningfully with you and your representative. This means that they must investigate any possibility highlighted, and reconsider the redundancy if evidence is presented to show that it would not be fair to proceed.
- Where issues have been identified that require further information or consultation, the usual practice is that a second meeting be held one week later, where the staff member and representative are invited.
The procedure also entitles you to challenge the redundancy through a formal appeal process which is heard by a group of senior staff appointed by HR.
If you are issued with notice you will then be permitted to put your details on the Redeployment Website. We advise all our members to put their details on this website. As we commented above, doing so does not remove UCL's responsibility to avoid your redundancy, but it may find you another job!
UCL Statute 18
UCL protects the employment rights of all lecturers, readers and professors under Statute 18 of the College Statutes.
This statute, justified by the Charter of the University to defend Academic Freedom, requires a more lengthy and reputationally damaging process to be undergone for UCL to dismiss a member of lecturing staff - on grounds of redundancy or for any other reason.
UCL must set up a Redundancy Committee chaired by the Chair of UCL Council to hear the case. Were this to happen this would represent a major threat to the Academic Freedom of all lecturing staff, and UCU would campaign vigorously and publically to persuade UCL to change its mind.
There is one exception to this: UCL has a ‘standing Redundancy Committee’ that can hear cases where fixed term lecturing staff posts are ended. The staff affected by this are those contracted soley to cover the sabbatical and maternity leave of other lecturers.
NOTE: Teaching Fellows, Senior Teaching Fellows and Principal Teaching Fellows are not covered by Statute 18. Any lecturer approached by their Head of Department to be 'reclassified' as a Teaching Fellow must be informed that their security of employment will be affected by this move.
We believe that as well as covering teaching staff, Statute 18 could be extended to cover established research staff, and that this would be both proportionate and consistent with the aims of the Statute. However at present, research staff can be made redundant using the Termination Procedure.
The campaign continues...