A humorous comment made in a former workplace of mine was “never take too many weeks of holidays in a row lest the boss finds out that he can manage without you!”
But as an employer, what happens when that comment becomes a reality? What are your options when you discover that some of a worker’s hours can be absorbed by others in the workplace?
Consider this scenario – you have a long-time employee who works full-time but whose hours are spread over four and a half days. While he is away on leave you realise that the half-day he works is unnecessary. He is still a valued employee, though not on any contract. He is expected to retire in a couple of years, though this hasn’t been discussed.
The easiest option would be to reduce his hours to four days per week.
But is that legal? What are the risks, if any?
Employment lawyer Charles Power, Editor-in-Chief of the Employment Law Practical Handbook, says you cannot reduce an employee’s hours from full-time to part-time unless they agree. If they do agree, in writing, then no problem.
But if this is not agreeable, and the reason for the reduction in hours is because a full-time position is no longer required, it will be necessary to make the position redundant.
Reason must be genuine
Charles says this move won’t attract unfair dismissal risk if the reason is genuine (e.g. you are not targeting a mature-aged worker) and you consult with the employee before implementing it.
Charles warns that before implementing a redundancy, employers should consider the impact this might have, not only on the employee concerned but on staff morale, especially if a long-time worker is retrenched.
That’s why employers are encouraged to read the chapter Charles wrote specifically about this subject: Redundancy & Retrenchment explains in detail the laws relating to redundancies and how they are primarily designed to protect employees from the economic and social cost of losing their job.
The chapter explains how to manage redundancies in a way that is consistent with all relevant Australian employment and industrial laws, while also lessening the adverse impact on your business.
To manage redundancies in your business effectively, you should:
- genuinely seek input from affected employees about redundancy decisions;
- integrate decisions made regarding redundancies with more positive elements of organisational change; and
- provide adequate support to affected employees, e.g. through redundancy benefits.