Personal Law

Employment Uncertainty Set to Continue in 2021

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Carrie Tennick, January 26, 2021

The global Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a huge wave of economic uncertainty, business instability and job losses in the UK.

But that isn’t the only external factor causing problems for companies and those they employ. Brexit has come into effect, resulting in bureaucratic changes to the way many firms can do business.

Delivery firms, fisheries and other companies have reported struggles since the UK left the EU. An economic survey revealed that January 2021 has seen the biggest fall in business activity since May 2020.

All of this has left many workers wondering what their futures hold and how secure they’ll be.

Pandemic causes unemployment rise

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has had a huge impact on unemployment rates. The Office for National Statistics found that since February 2020, the number of employees on payrolls have fallen by 828,000, with "larger falls seen at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic".

Unemployment now stands at 5%, for the first time since 2016. And in the three months to November 2020, the UK's redundancy rate reached a record high.

Certain sectors fared worse than others. This was particularly true for industries relying on more casual employment, including gig workers. 2020 was the worst year for high street retail in decades, according to the Centre for Retail Research. The organisation found that 176,718 retail jobs were lost last year. Meanwhile, hospitality saw 660,000 job losses last year. Young people – who make up a significant proportion of workers in these industries – have suffered some of the worst falls in employment.

The furlough scheme is keeping others employed, but it is due to close at the end of April this year. Analysts have expressed concern that employment figures will fall at that point. Economic forecasting group the EY ITEM Club has predicted that the first half of 2021 will see unemployment rise to 7%.

Legalities around ending employment

So if you’ve found yourself one of the many who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic – or even the new conditions imposed by Brexit – what can you do?

The first action to take is to make sure you know what your rights are. Carefully examine the circumstances of your dismissal and check that your employer did it lawfully.

There are a number of ways they could have broken employment law when they dismissed you.

Constructive dismissal

If you resign from you job when you don’t want to because of your employer’s conduct, this could be constructive dismissal.

This will likely be because they have breached your employment contract. This could be because they:

  • Don’t pay you
  • Demote you without reason
  • Force you to accept unreasonable changes to the way you work
  • Let other employees bully or harass you
  • Discipline you excessively
  • Fail to investigate a grievance or complaint you have

If you haven’t worked for your employer for two years, it’s unlikely you can make a constructive dismissal claim, unless your claim is because of discrimination or an ‘automatically unfair’ reason, such as requesting your legal rights or acted on a health and safety issue.

Redundancy

The reason for a huge amount of job losses in the last year, you can be made redundant when your employer no longer needs your role to be carried out. Redundancy is only an option for ending your employment if:

  • Your company shuts down
  • Your workplace closes down
  • Your company needs fewer people to do the work you do
  • Technology makes your job unnecessary
  • Your company needs to cut costs by reducing staff numbers

If your employer has made you redundant for another reason, it may not be genuine. And if they make you redundant but then hire someone to replace you, this could be an unfair dismissal.

Unfair dismissal

An unfair dismissal is one where you are sacked for reasons the law doesn’t consider just or when your employer has not followed the correct procedure in terminating your contract.

If you’ve been dismissed for the following reasons, it is likely to be considered legally unfair:

  • You asked for flexible working
  • You joined a trade union
  • You took part in industrial action that lasted up to 12 weeks
  • Had to take time off for jury service
  • You refused to give up your working time rights
  • You asked to take parental leave
  • You were on the parental leave you’re entitled to
  • You tried to receive Working Tax Credits
  • You took part in whistleblowing

But it’s important to remember that you can only make a claim for unfair dismissal if you’ve been working for your employer for at least two years.

Your legal rights

The future of the UK job market looks as uncertain as ever as we come to the end of the first month of 2021.

But one thing you can be sure of is your right to a legal dismissal at work.

If you need help with the legalities around your job ending, talk to First4Lawyers. We work with expert employment law solicitors, who can help remove the stress from taking action against an employer.

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