It may seem like a really obvious point that if you’re consulting with employees about redundancies, that you need to communicate and include those that are absent from work just as much as those who are present. This includes those on maternity leave, other forms of parental leave and those who are absent through ill-health, as well as thinking about those who are actually on holiday when for example, announcements are made.
A recent case illustrated some of the problems that can emerge. The employee was on maternity leave when she was identified as one of several employees at risk. She didn’t have her work laptop with her whilst on leave and didn’t then receive the email notice regarding potential alternative employment, which would have required her to complete a form and express interest in the roles, returning it to HR. This wasn’t found to be an act in itself of sex discrimination because the tribunal would have to be satisfied that the reason for the unfair treatment of the employee was their maternity leave, it was found to be other unfavourable treatment which in itself makes a dismissal unfair.
So, what are some of the things you can do if an employee is not in the workplace? The obvious thing to do would be to telephone the employee and discuss the situation with them. You could check whether or not they’ve got email access, and you can ensure you’re sending communications to the right address. For example, it is not uncommon for an employee who is unwell to perhaps reside at another address temporarily. You should certainly offer those who’re absent the ability to come in and attend meetings even if this is at a different time to everybody else, and even if this delays your process slightly.
You should check that individuals have received paperwork and make sure that the timescale for returning expressions of interest, for example for alternative employment, are realistic: those who might not be in the workplace may have questions they want to ask relevant line managers etc.
You may also decide to give those who are absent transcripts of meetings that they haven’t been able to attend, so they can see some of the issues perhaps being raised by colleagues, and the answers that you have been giving them to questions.
In short you need to take extra steps to ensure that those who aren’t present in the workplace, aren’t left out and excluded. Put yourself in their shoes: how would you want to be treated if you were them?