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Zoo Park’s Redundancy Management and Legal Issues Case Study

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Updated: Jan 13th, 2021

Introduction

In this unit, I have learned several issues relating to human resource management (HRM). When addressing matters concerning the workforce, business companies should follow the laid-down rules and guidelines governing the employer-employee relationship. It is also clear to me that employees, just like employers, have their rights and the abuse of these rights would result in lawsuits.

The presence of trade unions today has helped employees in fighting for their rights. I feel that the trade unions play a great role in uniting workers, thus increasing their bargaining power. A union can also negotiate with the employer on behalf of the workers. I am convinced that the likelihood of an employee getting fair treatment from the employer will depend on the knowledge they have concerning their rights.

Today, economic crises have equally affected employees and employers. I have learned that such moves as making employees redundant, as well as dismissing them, are necessitated by economic crises, which force businesses to cut down on their expenses in an attempt to remain profitable. The remuneration of workers is often seen as one of the major expenses incurred by businesses. It is one of the major reasons why businesses resort to such practices as making workers redundant. As I had stated earlier, employees can challenge the legality of such practices by employers through labor tribunals, as well as in a court of law.

In this paper, I seek to analyze the Zoo Park case study. First, I will advise the management on how to handle redundancies. Here, I have categorically highlighted issues relating to the recognition of a trade union as a bargaining party. Secondly, I have identified problems likely to arise as a result of changing working hours and made recommendations on how to best address the issue. Lastly, I have advised the management of the best ways to address the situation leading to the accident in the zoo park’s restaurant.

Managing Redundancies

Zoo Park’s management team is faced with the challenge of making some of the employees redundant after deciding to concentrate on the monkey section of the zoo. As a result, the park wishes to close the reptile and the aviary section to expand the monkey section. The decision will, however, see the workers in the reptile and the bird sections rendered redundant. The move is opposed by representatives of the ZZZ trade union, who argue that the selection process should be carried out among all zookeepers.

The development led to bitter disagreements between the employees working in the monkey section and those in the aviary and the reptile section. The situation saw employees working in the monkey section pull out of the ZZZ trade union to deal with the Zoo park management individually. The zookeepers are claiming that they are better experienced in dealing with monkeys and that their counterparts are incapable of handling the primates, hence they (the zoo keepers) should retain their jobs.

In a ruling made in the DB Schenker Rail (UK) Ltd v Doolan (2011) case, the court cited incapability to work as a possible reason to have an employee rendered redundant. According to The Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (1995), the management should craft a plan to smoothly roll out the redundancy program to the employees, causing minimal disputes and legal battles.

Based on the Acas code of practice’s disciplinary and grievance procedures, I argue that the management at the park should first of all give a written statement of the issue to every employee. The written statement of issue will serve as evidence that the employees were adequately notified by the management of the decision to make them redundant.

The second step in implementing the redundancy program is holding consultations about the matter. The management should hold both collective and individual consultations with the employees before the redundancy program is rolled out. According to the Employment Rights Act (1996), Zoo Park should clearly state the reasons for the redundancy program to the workers. The method of selection should also be clearly stated during the consultation period.

Moreover, the job groups affected should be stated. I also feel that the zoo park should show evidence of having put in place adequate measures to avoid redundancies and, thus, having used redundancy as a measure of last resort. In this case, I feel that since all the employees are zookeepers, they should all be issued with notices and undergo the selection process to avoid claims of unfair dismissal by those working in the bird and reptile sections.

The management can either choose to engage in collective or individual consultations in this case. According to the Employment Rights Act (1996), when the number of workers likely to face redundancy is above 20, a 30 days collective consultation period is required. In my opinion, the redundancy program is likely to affect 22 employees. According to The Collective Redundancies and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations (1999), individual consultation is of great essence in the process. The view is supported by Tyler & Wilkinson (2007).

The role of a trade union in consultations must not be underestimated. Workers in the reptile and the bird section have the ZZZ trade union as their unifying factor. I feel that the zoo park’s management should first establish the legal status of the trade union. A previous formal agreement exists between the zoo keepers and the ZZZ trade union to enhance collective bargaining. According to The Collective Redundancies (Amendment) Regulations 2006, for a trade union to be a party in the bargaining, the management must first confirm if there exists any agreement between it and the union.

The agreement in this case should prove that the management recognizes the trade union as the body representing the zoo keepers working for the park. However, with the withdrawal of zookeepers in the monkey section from the trade union, the capability of the organization to continue bargaining on behalf of the workers is challenged. The trade union can no longer continue carrying out collective bargaining on behalf of all zookeepers.

Based on the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act of 1992, I argue that the management should recognize the ZZZ trade union since it has met all the requirements. It is evident that the trade union previously represented a total of 46 zookeepers. The number is far beyond the minimum requirement of 21 employees for a trade union to be recognized. I also feel that the union ought to be automatically recognized since the employees likely to be affected by the redundancy program are all zoo keepers.

Despite the resignation of the 15 zoo keepers working in the monkey section, I think that the trade union should still be recognized by the management since it still enjoys the support of the majority of zoo keepers. The zoo park still has 31 zookeepers represented by the trade union, which is way beyond the 21 members’ minimum requirement.

During the bargaining period, I will advise the bargaining parties (made up of the 15 zookeepers in the monkey section, the ZZZ trade union representing other zoo keepers, and the zoo park’s management) to come up with appropriate selection criteria agreed on by all the stakeholders. In a ruling made in the Williams v Compair Maxam (1982) case, the court came up with several guidelines to ensure free and fair redundancy. First, the selection criteria should objectively focus on such areas as employee’s discipline, attendance, and performance records. After agreeing on the selection criteria, the management should apply it fairly. Moreover, the assessment should be done by individuals who know all the zookeepers well, and who are capable of assessing each criterion correctly, thus enhancing fairness in the process.

After ensuring that the guidelines to free and fair redundancy are followed to the letter, the management can then proceed with offloading some of the workers. I would advise the management to adequately compensate the zookeepers affected by the redundancy. Alternative employment should also be given where possible (Redman & Wilkinson 2006). According to the Employment Rights Act (1996), re-engagement and reinstatement of workers should be done where possible.

In the case of the zoo park, I would advise that the high ranking workers who are rendered redundant should be considered for the extra positions in the monkey section, instead of hiring new personnel. Individuals, however, have the right to appeal if they feel they were unfairly treated. As such, the management should be prepared for possible lawsuits.

Problems Likely to Arise from Change of Restaurant and Gift Shop’s Hours

The issue of working hours in the restaurant and the gift shop is critical to the management. The implementation of the working hours’ reduction program is viewed as a breach of contract and may be subject to a court petition based on the variation of contract. To start with, I would advise the zoo park’s management to keenly study the working contracts that were previously signed between the workers and the company.

To avoid disputes, the zoo park’s management should first enter into consultations with the workers involved, rather than going ahead and implementing the program without notifying the workers. In the case of Shanahan Engineering v Unite the Union (2010), the ruling stated that despite the urgency in effecting changes in work schedules, an employer should enter into consultations with the employee.

Furthermore, implementing the working hours’ reduction program translates to the reduction of the workers’ wages as a result of the reduced working hours. The practice will, therefore, result in a variation of contract by the employer. In my opinion, the zoo park’s management should be aware of the fact that the employees will claim the contract is being unfairly varied, leading to an unlawful reduction in their salaries.

In the case of International Packaging Corporation (UK) Ltd. v Balfour and Others (2003), the court ruled that in a case where no implied terms exist allowing the employer to unilaterally reduce working hours, the employees’ claim of unfair variation of contract and reduction in wages is upheld. The move by the employer to reduce employees’ working hours will, therefore, be automatically considered as unlawful.

After carefully reviewing the terms and conditions in the employees’ contracts, the management can then come up with the best way possible to deal with the situation. If the move is lawful and in line with the terms and conditions in the contracts that exist between the zoo park and the employees working in the restaurant, I would advise the management to go ahead with the work hours’ change program. In this case, the employees have to accept the changes, failure to which disciplinary action may be taken against them by the zoo park’s management (Wilkinson 2004). In most cases, disciplinary action by the employer involves the dismissal of workers who fail to comply with the laid down rules and regulations.

It has come to my understanding that employees often agree to the terms set aside by their employers for fear of being dismissed. If the employees working in the restaurant and gift shop agree to the terms of their employer in writing, there is still a possibility that the matter will be subjected to a legal suit if the employees feel they appended their signatures under duress.

To substantiate the claim that an agreement between the workers and the employer was reached under duress, there should be enough evidence showing that the workers agreed to the terms against their will. If the workers in the restaurant and gift shop continue working even after claiming to have agreed to the terms and conditions under duress, their accusation against the zoo park will be dismissed.

I would therefore advise the zoo park’s management to monitor the behavior of the employees after the implementation of the work hours’ reduction plan to determine whether or not there is any basis for laying claims of duress. In the case of Hepworth Heating Ltd. v Akers and Others (2003), the court ruled that continuing to work, even after claims of duress, means that the employees have fully agreed with the terms and conditions of their employer.

Addressing the Situation Relating to the Accident in the Restaurant

The situation in the restaurant involves two supervisors, Jane and Jill. In my opinion, the two are rivals. They are both competing for a single position in the restaurant. The current changes in the working hours in the restaurant have left the two fighting for the job of a full-time supervisor. The accident in the restaurant saw Jane break her wrist and accuse Jill of spillage of a liquid and failure to clean it. Jane accuses Jill of breach of the company’s policy, as well as gross misconduct. If Jane is found guilty of these claims, disciplinary action will be taken against her. In this case, Jill is faced with a likely dismissal by the employer.

According to the Employment Rights Act (1996), before any disciplinary action is taken against an employee, a written statement of the issue is given to them. The written statement should properly outline the claims leveled against them. As a result, I would advise the zoo park’s management to first communicate with Jill the claims made by Jane about her alleged gross misconduct. In the case of Celebi v Compass Group (2010), the court ruled that Celebi’s dismissal was unlawful since allegations against her were not indicated. In the case of Polkey v A E Dayton (1987), however, the court ruled that under some circumstances, dismissal is inevitable, depending on the gravity of the misconduct.

According to the Employment Rights Act (1996), for a worker’s action to warrant the application of disciplinary procedures, the claims should be reasonable and must be taken into consideration to prompt action. I would, therefore, advise the zoo park to conduct thorough investigations on Jill. Before any disciplinary action is taken, the management needs to establish the consistency of Jill’s discipline-based on written records.

In this case, I will advise the management to hold a meeting where the issue is discussed. During the meeting, the case should be heard impartially. In the case of Salford NHS Trust v Roldan (2010), three principles governing dismissals were put in place during the hearing. First, the more critical the consequences of dismissal are, the more intense investigations should be. Secondly, where investigations involve only two individuals giving differing views, the employer is not required to take sides. In such a case, the employee should be given the benefit of doubt. Thirdly, the decision concerning cases deliberated on without evidence should not be overturned. In this case, I would advise that the case against Jill be dismissed since there are only two witnesses, who are saying different things.

If Jill is found guilty of spilling the liquid and failing to clean it there afterward, the decision to discipline her may be dependent on several issues. First, there must be clearly defined policies governing employees’ conduct. Second, Jill’s guilt should be assessed before any disciplinary action is taken. In the case of Bowater v NW London Hospitals NHS Trust (2011), the court of appeal ruled that there is no basis for dismissal if there are no policies governing employee’s conduct to be interpreted.

Similarly, in the case of British Home Stores v Burchell (1978), the court stated that investigations done on cases concerning employee indiscipline should be distinct from criminal investigations. Proof must not be strictly applied. On the contrary, there should be a reasonable belief based on investigations. There are several elements key to this process. They include the facts underlying the belief, reasonable grounds on which to base the belief, and reasonable investigations.

According to the Employments Rights Act (1996), the disciplinary action taken against an employee should be about their written records. Serious indiscipline cases can lead to serious disciplinary actions, including dismissal. According to the Employment Rights Act (1996), four steps should be taken before dismissing an employee. They include oral warning, written warning, final written warning, and dismissal. I would advise the management to follow the steps to avoid claims of unfair dismissal by Jill.

Conclusion

I feel that HRM is an important area of study in business administration and management. A business operator is required to know the handling of workers to avoid legal problems. Also, employees should be aware of the different legal frameworks protecting their rights to avert abuse by employers. Finally, I fully acknowledge the role of trade unions in fighting for the workers’ rights. The unions allow for collective bargaining, increasing the workers’ bargaining power.

References

Books, Journals, and Websites

Redman, T & Wilkinson, A 2006, “Downsizing”, in T Redman and A Wilkinson (eds), Contemporary human resource management, FT/Prentice Hall, London, pp. 45-89.

Tyler, MV & Wilkinson, A 2007, “The tyranny of corporate slenderness: understanding organizations anorexically”, Work, Employment and Society, vol. 21 no. 1, pp. 537-549.

Wilkinson, A 2004, “Downsizing, rightsizing and dumbsizing: quality, human resources and sustainability”, Total Quality Management, vol. 15 no. 8, pp. 21-32.

Statutes

Employment Rights Act 1996.

The Collective Redundancies (Amendment) Regulations 2006.

The Collective Redundancies and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 1999.

The Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1995.

Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Cases

Bowater v NW London Hospitals NHS Trust (2011) IRLR 331.

British Home Stores v Burchell (1978) IRLR 379.

Celebi v Compass Group (2010) UK/EAT/0032/10.

D B Schenker Rail (UK) Ltd v Doolan (2011) UK/EAT/0053/09.

Hepworth Heating Ltd v Akers and others (2003) EAT 846/02.

International Packaging Corporation (UK) Ltd v Balfour and others (2003) IRLR 11.

Polkey v A E Dayton (1987) AC 344.

Salford NHS Trust v Roldan (2010) EWCA Civ 522.

Shanahan Engineering v Unite the Union (2010) UKEAT/0411/09.

Williams v Compair Maxam (1982) IRLR 83.

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