Case Study #1

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Legal Director, Charlotte Geesin, explains how Howarths supported a Yorkshire manufacturer to successfully defend a claim of unfair dismissal.

What claim was the client facing?

Charlotte: “The business had seen a significant downturn in work because of the pandemic. This meant it needed to restructure shift patterns for its staff and make significant cost savings.

“As part of the restructure, a management role was vacated. The decision was made not to recruit someone to fill the empty role, instead re-allocating the core duties across the remaining senior management team.

“One employee who had been made redundant then brough a claim of unfair dismissal. He believed he should have been offered the vacated management role instead of being made redundant.


Did furlough have a bearing on the case?

Charlotte: “Yes. The employee had been on furlough prior to his dismissal, and so he also questioned whether it would have been reasonable for his employer to have kept him on furlough, instead of being made redundant at that particular time.”


What specific complexities did Howarths help the client work through?

Charlotte: “Initially, we discussed the timing of the redundancy and its bearing on the claim.

“Furlough was a relatively new concept at the time of this case. There was nothing in place to help guide employers on whether an employee whose role was at risk of redundancy should have been placed on furlough as an alternative measure. This meant there was no precedent as to how strong a business’s commercial rationale would need to be to justify a decision not to make further use of the furlough scheme.”


How did Howarths support the client to prepare for the hearing?

Charlotte: “We supported the client to prepare witness evidence for the tribunal hearing.

“This included giving attention to the business’s commercial reason for making the employee redundant, and the all-important explanation about why the vacated management role had not been considered for the claimant based on his skill level.

“We also needed to address the question of why the employee was not given the opportunity to apply for the vacated management role to ensure a satisfactory explanation could be given to the panel.”


Did Howarths manage the whole employment tribunal process for the client?

Charlotte: “We led the full employment tribunal case for the client, from its inception right through to the final hearing.

“We prepared and submitted the defence, all witness statements and coordinated and completed the disclosure process.

“We also prepared the final tribunal hearing bundle, instructed Counsel and led all the communication and correspondence that was needed to run the case with external parties including the Employment Tribunal and ACAS.”


What was the outcome?

Charlotte: “The client won the tribunal and the claim was dismissed in its entirety, and the business avoided an unfair dismissal payout which, in this case, could have been up to £25,000.

“The business could also have found themselves on the wrong side of media interest if they’d lost on the furlough point, given that they would have been an early test case for the legal principles, which could have led to reputational damage.

“The case took around 30 hours to conclude, but Howarths managed the process from start to finish, saving the client significant time and pressure and allowing them to focus on their business during the continued unpredictability of the pandemic.

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