The Acas Podcast


Black lives matter: the workplace

Black lives matter: the workplace

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought ingrained racism to the foreground. In this episode, Rachel Rockson, Chair of the Acas Race Equality Network, and Julie Dennis, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Acas, share their insights into what organisations and individuals can do to make our workplaces truly more equal, including what intersectionality is and why it matters. We look at how racism and inequality are experienced and persist, what white people need to do to be part of change, and what organisations and leaders need to do to be responsible for change. Plus: how investing and committing to equality benefits everyone.

Acas advice

Improving equality, diversity and inclusion in workplaces:

Discrimination, bullying and harassment:

Webinar - what to do if you think you are being discriminate against:

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy template:

Acas helpline: 0300 123 1100

Key UK organisations

The Equality, Advisory and Support Service offers advice for people facing discrimination:

Government Equalities Office:

Equality and Human Rights Commission:

External resources

This is not an exhaustive list and we highly recommend carrying out your own research too, but we hope you find these links useful:

McKinsey evidence for the positive impact of diversity and barriers to inclusion:

Everyday racism: what should we do? Akala (3m):

3 ways to be a better ally in the workplace | Melinda Epler (9m):

Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Robin DiAngelo (20m):

An anti-racist reading list:


Sarah Guthrie 0:00  

Welcome to the Acast Podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie, part of the communications team here at Acas, and today I'm here with Rachel Rockson, Chair of our Race Equality Network, and she also works on our helpline, and Julie Dennis, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Acas. Thanks for joining me today.

Rachel Rockson 0:16  

Thank you for having us.

Sarah Guthrie 0:18  

Today, we're talking about racism, particularly in the light of the tragic death of George Floyd in the US and the way that that has highlighted, through Black Lives Matter, racism in our own country. I'm really aware that we're only scratching the surface in the short podcast, but I've been really looking forward to talking to you both Rachel and Julie, about what organisations and individuals can do to make our workplaces truly more equal. But let's start off first with exploring the problem. So from your roles in Acas, how do you see racism showing up? Rachel, do you want to kick us off? 

Rachel Rockson 0:54  

As an Acas helpline advisor, we are on the front line and we are usually the first port of call for people who feel that they're having difficulties to do with racial issues in their workplace. When it comes to the systematic mindset, the issue is, what we find is, well what I find in my experience as a helpline advisor is, those that are being discriminated against, until recently, found it a little bit difficult to come forward to ask for help, because there was this stigma against playing the race card if there's something going on in the workplace that they feel has got an underlying race element. From a personal perspective, what I find is, sometimes an individual may take action from a well meaning place. A typical experience for me, I am a black woman and I have a bit of an accent. So sometimes in a social gathering, when I start talking to people who don't know me, the reaction I usually get is, "Oh my gosh, you speak very good English." Now, that person may not mean any negativity by that comment, when you analyse the comment, really, it could have come from a good place, it could have been meant as a compliment. But when you drill right down into it, you find that maybe there is that that underlying unconscious bias that may have led to them making such a comment and that I usually use that as an opportunity to start a conversation, to make the individual aware what may have triggered the comment in the first place and to give them the opportunity to bring the potential unconscious bias into the consciousness. So my response usually to that is, thank you, so do you. And then we start a conversation from that.

Sarah Guthrie 3:08  

Mmm. So people don't come forward because of the fear of playing the race card, as you put it. And in your own life, you've experienced what might seem as good intentions to mask a bias, and actually, you personally take that as an opportunity to open a conversation about that, which is pretty incredible. Julie, what have you seen as Head of Diversity and Inclusion? I know you're often out and about talking to companies about this.

Julie Dennis 3:33  

For me, I think the whole issue of institutional racism is still not really understood by a lot of individuals and a lot of organisations. You know, I've been working in this field for over 20 years and I've been championing race equality within organisations. And I've seen that a lot of organisations have this perception that there is no longer an issue around race because we're seeing people from minority ethnic backgrounds in senior roles in organisations. And I think there's been this perception that everything's okay in the world. And I think for me, we were already seeing how unequal the world was, and COVID-19, I think has really highlighted that. I've not been surprised to see how this pandemic has a disproportionate impact on individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK. It's just reinforced that we have a long, a long, long way to go.

Sarah Guthrie 4:36  

So on that, what can we as individuals do to make progress to make our workplaces and our society more equal and inclusive? And how can we do that well?

Rachel Rockson 4:46  

This may sound like a bit of a cliche, but talking helps. One of my best friends - well, she's now one of my best friends - we had hit things off when we started working together, but somewhere down the line there seemed to have been a bit of friction. And it turned out that there were certain barriers that she had. She thought it might be offensive if she referred to me as black. So she didn't know whether to refer to me as coloured, etc. when she had to use some sort of description for me. I didn't know there were barriers for her. So it wasn't until she came out and told me that I just, we had a very frank conversation, and it was just a matter of talking for two minutes. And our relationship got back on track. And we are now best friends. So sometimes talking and trying to address any concerns that somebody has about potential barriers might actually break down that barrier. So it could turn out that those may not be buried at all. So yes, please, let's talk.

Julie Dennis 5:59  

I'd completely agree with that, Rachel, I think also as a white woman, I think it's a time for us to listen, to actually sit back and listen and have that conversation with our colleagues, and hear what they have been saying, for a long, long time. We need to really understand now what this concept is all about. And for some of us, that's going to be really difficult. And what I found interesting over the last couple of weeks, is the amount of people that really have an issue when we start having that conversation around white privilege because the natural reaction for people when they heard that is for them to say, "Well, I've not had privilege. You know, I've had to work hard where I've got to." And when we talk about white privilege, we're not talking about that, you know, it's about recognising that, again, as a society, everything is geared towards individuals who are white and it comes down to recognising that our friends and our colleagues that are from minority ethnic backgrounds have a completely different experience in the UK. And that can be down to something really simple. As you know, me and Rachel actually was talking about this the other day, weren't we Rachel, when we talked about when we get clothing and someone says let's have flesh coloured clothing well, flesh for me is completely different to Rachel and, and I shared an example with Rachel the other day that you know, next month it's my beautiful daughter's birthday. She's getting older, makes me feel older, but I will not be able to get a birthday card that has a proper photo or image of a mother and daughter because you go into any high street Especially where I live in the north of England. All of those images are the white woman and a white child holding hands. And I would love to be able to buy a picture that actually, is of a white woman with a mixed race child holding that because that is my reality. One of my heroes actually in the diversity world, Jane Elliott, who's an American diversity specialist always says, you can never understand someone reality until you walk in their shoes. So listening to the experience of your black, Asian and another ethnic minority colleagues will give you a greater insight into what the world is like. And then it is our role to step up and make that change happen. Because, you know, we need to step up to the plate now and make this change happen. And we need to do that in the right way, in a constructive way. And education. listening and talking is a great way to do that.

Sarah Guthrie 9:03  

So speaking of action, there's a danger that white people, white leaders don't take responsibility, perhaps a temptation for the work to fall on black people or Asian people or the people who do not hold the privilege that can make it easier to act. So how can organisations do this well?

Julie Dennis 9:22  

What I see and I've seen over the years when we go into companies, is the first thing that a company will say is what what "Well, we've, we've, we've got X amount of people who are from this background working for our organisation," just like they'll tell you how many people with disabilities they've gotten, how many women they've got in senior roles and like, it's like, job done we've, we've, we've done it and I think the issue that a lot of employers do, they they just see their.. equality is about how many people you have not about what are the systematic structures within your organisation that are preventing you progressing in your diversity and inclusion journey? And I think one big tip I'd give a lot of employers, take a step back. This is not just about how many people but also, what is the culture? What is it really like working here? Are we actually seeing in some pockets of our business that actually when someone from a minority ethnic background goes and works in that department, they only stay there for six to 12 months and then all of a sudden they move, or are we actually seeing that more minority ethnic individuals are leaving the business full stop, in comparison to their their white counterparts. They're all trends that tell you there may be a problem here and there may be a cultural issue.

Rachel Rockson 10:45  

Just to build on that, I find that in my experience anyway, having consistent education in place helps because like Julie had said before, when you have got a culture that has been consistently ingrained over centuries, it doesn't take just a days or maybe Black History Month event to change that mindset. So the any educational tools that the employer puts in place have to be continuous and consistent across the board to ensure that the managers of these people are aware what their duties are, and that the fact that they, they could maybe do a little bit more when this talent to try and encourage the staff to really step out of their comfort zone and potentially, maybe do something more to try to address some of the issues to do with under representation, and hopefully to get on to a more equal playing field for everybody. There is also an additional resource that employers could utilise effectively and having been a lead of that resource - and that is the only word that I can use for it, it's a very powerful resource - of staff networks. Now, these are made up of staff, they know the experience they have in the workplace, they experience the culture on a daily basis. They may have some really good ideas, good and simple ideas on how to address racism in the workplace, or maybe try to change the culture. So start networks are a really good source of information and resources that could be utilised to drive positive change, it could be a safe platform that individuals could access to voice any concerns that they may have that which they probably, if they are not able to discuss it with their manager or with colleagues, they could also suggest ways in which this issue could be addressed. There may be others who may not be in a position to speak up who might benefit. And it could also go some way towards enhancing the employers image and potentially the output of the employees would be increased as a result of becoming a more engaged workforce.

Sarah Guthrie 13:26  

Mmm, Rachel, from your experience of running the network at Acas, what advice would you give to someone looking to set up or reinvigorate a network?

Rachel Rockson 13:37  

It just takes one person with a passion for equality, to get it going. And my experience from chairing of previous networks is is hard work if you have a culture in a workplace where that there isn't that...openness almost? That if an individual recognises, that is the first step - if they recognise that this is a resource that we can utilise, and we can all work towards achieving that the equalities is each individual person's responsibility to do their bit, then any individual no matter your grade, etc, I mean, I am leading the Acas Race Equality Network, and I'm not a senior member of staff, but I'm having to liaise with senior members of staff to try and get as much input into policy etc. And this is all based on input from the network. So it's, it's helpful if a senior member of staff could be identified, who might be maybe a champion or you know, somebody to coach and mentor this individual and try and connect them expand their network. By expand their network, I mean, maybe put them in touch with other people. When I first started on my first race equality network chair role, that was the first big break that I had: having someone who was passionate, a senior leader who was passionate about race equality. And all she did was put me in touch with others when I needed to get maybe some issues raised or some policy loopholes, addressed, etc. She would go to then she would say, "This person can help you and that person can't," and all she did was send an email to various individuals introducing that introducing me and telling them what it was that I needed, and the individuals that got back in touch with me straight away. Now, because she was senior, there was that authority that she was lending to the voice that I had, it had an impact - it had a huge big impact. And we were able to achieve a lot as a result of her input. What then happened was, we, that was the first step to setting up a network, we set up the network, senior leaders became more engaged, they were able to release staff to participate and become more engaged and, and that led to, when it came to staff survey time, it led to a big jump in the survey results. People were also becoming a lot more enthusiastic in the workplace. So you could see the whole culture of the place had changed somewhat, because people now felt free to speak with - within reason! And know that whatever they had to contribute would be treated as valuable contribution.

Sarah Guthrie 16:53  

That's great. So only takes one person with passion, and a senior sponsor really helps. What about from your experience in HR, Julie? 

Julie Dennis 17:02  

Where I see some organisations get it wrong is they will set up a network. But then they don't think about, first of all, giving that network time and space to be able to do that job, they give it part of a person who's got 99 other things to do. It is not as simple as "Right, we'll have a, we'll set up a race network, we've got a Chair, we've got a Vice Chair, right, crack on, get on with it and leave them." You've got to...just like a plant, you have to make sure it's watered and it's nourished and it's cared for. And if you do all those three simple things, you will have a fantastic network and you will reap the benefits of that hard work that you've had to put in at the beginning.

Sarah Guthrie 17:48  

That's great. What about employers who might be reluctant to do anything because they're perhaps embarrassed about where they are? They don't have a great record. What would you say to them?

Rachel Rockson 17:59  

Well... no one's perfect. And so from my perspective, we can't change the past. So if we haven't been doing this in the past, then we could learn from, you know, what detriment that may have caused or indeed from other organisations who may have done it successfully. You can't obviously go back in time and change what had happened in the past, but we can start from now and make a brand new ending. So taking action now is going to affect what happens in future, so now's the time that this opportunity has become available. So you could consider utilising it and taking action to ensure that equality elements of your organisation are addressed and your staff get all the benefits as well as your business actually get all the benefits from having an engaged and diverse workforce.

Julie Dennis 19:03  

I'd also like to just add to that what we're doing in Acas is we're actually using what's happened as a way for us to just step back for a little bit and to reflect on, "What have we done so far? What's worked well, what's not worked? So, well, why hasn't that worked?" So, well, and, and learn from some of those mistakes, too, then, like Rachel said, to move forward and actually do things and maybe accelerate some of that, that work. So I think, you know, for companies out there, you know, don't beat yourself up too much. There are, I know, there's some great practice out there that that companies are doing. But don't just sit there on your laurels and go, this isn't we don't need to focus on it either. It's about time for reflection. Time for us to see what's worked well, what hasn't worked well. And let's have a refocus.

Sarah Guthrie 19:53  

Thank you both. That's great. So now is the time to create a new ending. And even for those with strategies already in place, it's a really good time to step back, reflect on what's working and what's not to accelerate change. I wondered if we could touch briefly on intersectionality, which is a word I'd heard of before I joined Acas, I didn't really understand what it meant. Julie, what is it and why does it matter?

Julie Dennis 20:22  

So for me, it's, it's common sense. Let's take race for example, people from different ethnic minority backgrounds will be men and women. Some of them will have disabilities, some of them will not. Some of them will be heterosexual, or gay or lesbian or bisexual. Some of them will be trans, some of them will be intersex. Some of them will have different religions. And to me, that is what the human race is all about. And that is what this subject is all about. So I think again, for those organisations that are on this journey and looking at race equality, think about the different layers of that. An experience of an individual from a minority ethnic background who is male will be different from someone who is female, will be different for someone who has a disability, because the inequality that comes along with those different protected characteristics, as we call them, are the ones that layer on and, you know, I remember having a conversation with my sister in law once and she said to me, she doesn't know whether the inequality she faces is because she's a woman, or if it's because she's a black woman, she does not know. And actually, to her, it does not matter. The fact is, she wants the inequality to stop and she wants to be able to seen as an individual and be able to grow and flourish. So I think it's very dangerous for organisations to just look through that lens. So again, as part of what we're doing in the race equality space at the minute, we've also been having those conversations with our LGBT plus network about "So, what does that mean in the context of sexual orientation? And with our Disability and You network, " So, what does that mean in the context of disability?"

Rachel Rockson 22:22  

The points that she raised are very relevant, because when you're talking about overlapping protected characteristics, obviously culture has an impact and if there is a workforce who come from a specific culture and sort of fall into more than one of those protected characteristics, then having the cultural knowledge as an employer to be able to address any issues that may arise and have the intelligence to be able to recognise signs when they start developing might go some way towards addressing any inequalities in the workplace. 

When it comes to leaders, like Julie said, it's not good enough, I feel for leaders to say "Right! We have got a network and there you go, go and do whatever you have to do." That commitment is required for the network to become an engaged network. And it's only when the network becomes an engaged network that you start reaping the rewards, as Julie said, so if an employer is wanting to take action in the workplace to address any inequalities, then from my perspective, it is beneficial if there is a clear cut strategy in place and commitment and, rather importantly, budget. There is a specific budget allocated to it. That would help make whatever is going on - the education, the coaching, etc. - it would help make it consistent and potentially embed it in the existing culture. And that would go to us changing the culture for the better.

Sarah Guthrie 24:17  

Thank you, Rachel. It's interesting you say budget there, because I have to ask a question I don't really want to ask at this point. But in the current context of Coronavirus, and lots of organisations feeling very financially strapped, what would you say to employers who are listening to this and saying, "You know what, this all sounds great, but there is no way that I can devote time and attention to that when my business is about to fail." What would you say to that?

Rachel Rockson 24:45  

Where you have an engaged, diverse team, the productivity, the profitability of your business, it's been proven to be enhanced. So investing in equality and diversity and committing to it, even during difficult times, I don't think it will detract from the long term prospects of the business. I think it would enhance it, if anything.

Sarah Guthrie 25:26  

Thank you, Rachel. And on that really positive note about how good diversity is for organisations and how we can measure that, let's sum up. We've talked about talking and how important that is listening, particularly for white colleagues, and taking action. And for organisations, that means looking deeply at your culture and what it really feels like and resourcing your staff networks with budget. And we also touched very briefly on the idea of intersectionality, the different layers that privilege and discrimination can have. We'll put some links to further resources in the Session Notes for this episode. All that remains is to say thank you so much, Rachel and Julie, for sharing your expertise and insight today. Thank you. 

This has been the Acas podcast. If you'd like to give us any feedback, we'd love to hear from you. You can email us at Acas Thanks for listening. 

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Employee voice: on mute or mission critical?

In this episode, we take a big-picture look at employee voice: why it matters now and what we need to do to strengthen it. As workplaces grapple with unprecedented change, what role should voice play in helping us to navigate the present and future challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic? We’re joined by Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the REC, Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary of the TUC and Gill Dix, Head of Policy at Acas to discuss:-What good voice really looks like-What mechanisms workplaces need to harness it -And what happens when they do - or don't Episode resources: Policy paper: Building back – making working lives betterPolicy paper: Consultation – a voice lost in a crowd Tailored support for your workplace: We offer tailored support for workplaces facing specific challenges. Call us on 0300 123 1150, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm orfill in our enquiry form.TranscriptSarahGuthrieWelcome to The Acas Podcast. Today we are looking at the big picture and panning out to look at employee voice. What is it? What role can it play in making our workplaces better? And how can it play that in building back better after and during Coronavirus? So it's big picture, meaty discussion for those interested in shaping the world of work. I'm here with Gil Dix who is Head of Policy at Acas and we're joined today by special guests Paul Nowak, who is Deputy General Secretary of the TUC and Neil Carberry, who is chief executive of the REC. Neil and Paul have both been really heavily involved in shaping the world of work through their organizations, but also as their role as Acas council members. So it's great to have you here with us today to have this discussion.PaulNowakHi SarahNeilCarberryHi SarahSarahSo to kick us off, employee voice. Gill, I wondered if you could start off by describing what it is that we're talking about when we use words like employee voice?GillDixYes, Sarah, thanks. And it's good to be here on the podcast. Yeah, I agree. The idea of employee voice is a slightly abstract term. It's actually quite a simple, essentially, a simple idea. It's about workers basically being able to have their say at work. But here comes the tricky bit, that having this say has to be part of a dialogue, I think. And that's really what makes for good employee voice. Now that can be sort of through organized voice. And we generally tend to term that collective voice and most commonly talk about the trade union movement, or through staff associations. And the focus is really on the impact of that voice on most or all of the workers in that workplace. But then we also talk about voice being very much an individual right or an individual entitlement, where people just are able to have their say at work, can talk to their managers, can raise their concerns, and really importantly, can share their ideas as well. I think with Paul and Neil today, it's going to be good to talk most about what we might think of as collective voice. But clearly the two issues do go hand in hand. Yeah, just a few more words, really, from me before we hear from others, but I was reading an article just the other night, which referred to voice as being mission critical at the moment. And I thought that was interesting. And I think I know what they're talking about, as we live through, rather than emerge from probably the COVID pandemic, there's a massive shake up in our social and working life. And I think worker voice is critical at the moment in creating balance and calm and continuity, but ultimately, in finding a resolution to how we regained where we were, and improve where we were maybe. I mean, for my mind, voice is and always has been mission critical. But I get what they're saying when they think it's mission critical now, the authors of that paper, I suppose the question is, are we fit for purpose with voice at that point? I know that you know, if you're up back to MacLeod and Clark's work on engagement, voice was one of the leavers but was probably the one in, certainly in research that we commissioned, that was the one that was lagging most in its establishment. We hear about voice shallowing out and consultation arrangements being difficult to maintain at a high level. But nonetheless, we are where we are. And I think it'd be really interesting to hear from others, where they think the state of employee voice is.SarahSo with that question, Paul, where do you see voice showing up at the moment? And how do you think that it can show up better at the moment?PaulWell, that's a big question, Sarah. And listen, first of all, you're gonna have to excuse me, if you hear background noise, it's the the rain bouncing off the roof of my shed, because we're obviously doing this remotely. But I mean, I think voice covers a whole range of sins and virtues, doesn't it? I mean, for me, the key thing about voice is, it has to be effective voice. And I suppose you know, it's not enough for people to have a voice. That voice needs to be heard. So it takes different forms in different workplaces, I suppose. It's a truism. But it's, it's important nonetheless, to sort of recognize that, you know, there isn't one size that fits all workplaces, and all sorts of organizations, but I don't care if you're running a corner shop or you're running a multinational company, that idea that you give your staff the opportunity to input into the work that they do, that you listen to their ideas, that you give them a sense that their opinions are valued and rewarded, and that crucially, you act upon that voice, I think is important. Now, so as Gill mentioned, I mean, I suppose from a trade union perspective, that's probably normally articulated Sarah through, you know, formal recognition agreements with employers through collective bargaining arrangements, and that's common across the public and private sector. And there are obviously non union workplaces out there as well where there'll be other types of employee voice but I mean, that's the starting point, from my point of view is about it being effective voice and a voice that's heard, you know, we've all, we've all worked probably in workplaces or for organizations where employee voice is you know, put your ideas in the suggestion box or the digital equivalent. To me that's not effective or meaningful voice.NeilI think it's very easy for firms to think, you know, this is, it's all about this, this kind of slightly ubiquitous acronym MVP, employee value proposition, and if we get the employee value proposition, right, you know, we'll align what we're asking for from the employees, what we've got to achieve in the business and everything will be lovely. And I mean, it's a slightly naive view of how human beings in the workplace work. And people come to work with diverse and goals for what they want to, to achieve, they come to work looking for different bits of meaning. And as an employer, your job is basically to align that effort with the things that the organization needs to achieve. And, and what that means is that to some extent, conflict in workplaces is inevitable. And that's not a bad thing, you know, differing points of view and different challenges are a driver of innovation. They're a driver of change. But as employers, we have to think about, well, how do you channel that potential for conflict into really positive actions that help employees and help the company prosper, if you don't have a process in the business for thinking about voice and how voice happens? The risk is actually that when it arrives, it arrives in quite destructive ways, which is clearly in no one's interest here.SarahSo kind of if we were to summarize what voice is, it's actually put very simply, how do you listen to your people, and as Gill said, create that two way dialogue. And that because workplaces are complex, we have different mechanisms that we can use to do that. And workplaces do that to varying degrees. But if they don't do it, then there's a desire still, for voice to be heard. But it doesn't come up in the most constructive ways and will come up as badly handled conflict.NeilYeah, that's exactly my point, which is, you know, we've had a, there are a couple of sort of case, examples of where companies have imagined that just because they say things will be a certain way, things will be a certain way. And ultimately, employees will find a way of expressing their views, whether that's dissatisfaction or ideas that need to come out, and whether that is that they move on to somewhere else, which is what you don't want, or whether you get a bigger conflict. There's certainly something there about just encouraging all employees to think about the pipework of how are we hearing what people think, in the business early enough that we're not surprised when we find out in staff surveys, or from trading reps, and early enough that actually we can be in on sorting that out in the normal course of business, rather than having these peaks of conflict, which are not in the interest of anyone in the business.GillI indulged myself by looking back at the last workplace Employment Relations survey just recently, which if you remember, it was conducted during the period of the last recession. And I think what we're coming, what we're talking about really is what's good voice. And if you look back at the findings from, about what was it that made some companies survive during the last recession, it was a kind of virtuous circle of good voice, not just voice, as Neil was saying, good voice arrangements, that generates trust, that generates good trust, that generates good voice. And it was the companies that invested in, indeed invested in working practices generally, but also those that invested in unions and voice arrangements that actually ended up with the employees with the with the greatest commitment and productivity outcomes. So it really was a key to survival in the last recession. And sadly, we're looking like, well, we are heading in the same direction. So I think they bring it together. The point about voice being absolutely central the business case is made. And then I think the point that Neil is adding to it is ithas to be good voice. Which goes back to Paul's point.PaulYou're absolutely right Gill, I mean we're in a really difficult environment at the moment, aren't we? I mean, so COVID-19 is right at the forefront of everybody's mind. And it's already had a massive impact in workplaces. And you mentioned the sort of previous recession, Gill, the experience there was this is an opportunity to engage the workforce on what can we do, imaginatively, creatively together to make sure our organization and the people who work through, for it get through to the other side. And, you know, Neil was absolutely right about the value in voice not eradicating conflict at work, but helping to channel and to mitigate the impacts of conflict in work. But it's also a real opportunity for employers as well to get ideas from the shop floor, from the people who are doing the job day in, day out, about how we can improve processes, how we can deliver better customer service, how we can do things more efficiently. And I think, you know, that's important for the people I represent as well. Because you know, people go to work and like to feel that they can influence the job that you do. And I don't, I don't care whether you're working in a supermarket, or you're working in a nuclear power station, the idea that you've got ideas, and somebody takes those ideas on board and listens to you, and take you seriously is really important I think. But now more than ever, you know, sort of as we deal with the, you know, the last year, we know, the impact of the pandemic won't be over in six weeks, or probably six months. It, we're all in this for the long term.NeilSo I think, you know, I agree with a lot of what Paul and Gill said there, I think what's really important to call out here is that none of this as an employer, as a business is about being nice. It's not, you know, it's not something you do as a staff benefit. This is actually much more about different ways to resolving really difficult things. But that, I think, is the real management challenge for businesses, which is, how do you have the confidence to safely have really difficult conversations with your staff, and finding the structures in which to do that is difficult but absolutely worthwhile. And, you know, in lots of larger businesses, and many smaller businesses that you know, trade unions play a role in that. But even where trade unions are not present or not recognized, that does not imply that that level of kind of input and control over working life that that voice generates isn't wanted by people. I think it's a very powerful driver, especially in, in tough times for employee's engagement with a company.GillTaking the unions as a start, their job needs to continue, they need to continue to look at pain terms and conditions, but really are we at a point now where where's a lot of issues that need to be totally renegotiated? We've talked about the importance of business survival on how voice, and in all its forms, it's got a role in that. But I was thinking about much bigger issues as well, such as the value and purpose of organizations, then you've got the kind of not marginal at all issue anymore of safety at work, you know, really center stage question of safety, where voice plays a part in that, then through to more specific individual concerns about what is the future of flexibility look like? So I kind of agree that managers and employees have got a massive challenge on their hands as has the union movement and other forms of voice in organizations and, you know, the matrix is bigger. I was thinking, that's both collective and individual issues, it's for those in workplaces and those working remotely, and it's short, medium, and long term objectives. So I think if if we can all work together Acas, the employer bodies, the union movement, I think we've got quite a tall order, but believe that, you know, there is, there is a way that we can promote our joint thinking on this.PaulUnions have always been, you know, had a focus on things like pay terms and conditions. But you know, when I started off as a young union activists, like sort of 30 years ago, I mean, one of the first things I was told was, you know, don't assume you know, what, what really matters to the people that you are representing. And so there's a challenge there for us to make sure that we're helping to give effective voice to the people that we represent on the stuff that really matters to them. And, obviously, pay will be one of those issues, but it may well be about skills, it may be about progression, it may be about that balance between working from home working in the office, and so that those that's a responsibility on those organizations to make sure that we're, we're helping to articulate the issues that really matter to our, to our members. I mean, just to pick up something else that Neil said, I mean, I think he's absolutely right, that you know, employees need to have the confidence to find the mechanisms to help facilitate effective employee voice. And I suppose that what I'd add to that is this stuff doesn't happen by accident. And, you know, it, it doesn't, you know, all the warm words about giving workers effective voice don't, don't really count for anything unless you do put those mechanisms in place. And, as I say, for me central is about unions and collective bargaining. But I think there are other things that we should be collectively thinking about. I mean, as a result of the the Taylor review, the the trigger threshold for the information and consultation arrangements has gone down, you know, could we use that as an opportunity to extend employee voice across British workplaces? And for me, you know, workers on boards, that's it, that's an important part of employee voice. It's not the whole story, but that sort of sense that people from the shop floor can help influence the big strategic decisions and bring their perspective into boardrooms i think is a really interesting idea, something that we're very supportive of, because, yes, we want to influence practice at workplace level as well but you know, in terms of giving British business a bit of a dose of long term thinking and a little bit more transparency and openness and those workers voices in boardrooms will be useful as well.SarahTaking up what you're saying about mechanisms there, I'm just wondering for someone listening to this podcast, who's heard all of your passionate and, and really good arguments for why we should prioritize voice, what are the mechanisms that they could put in place themselves in their workplace that would really help create good voice?PaulOh, well, maybe I'll start off: recognize a union. You'll be surprised to hear me saying that [laughter] But, but there's actually a serious point underneath that, which is actually, I think, for employers, and for, certainly the new generation of HR managers coming through, I would, I would encourage them not to be afraid of unions and not to be afraid of engaging with unions. Now ultimately, the decision about whether or not people are represented by union has to rest with the workers themselves. But for me, you know, all too often, I come across employees who don't have a huge amount of experience of dealing with the unions and, and see us through the prism of the of the press, or see us through the political prism that you know, because the only stories you read about unions and the mainstream press are about strikes and about the Labour Party. And that really doesn't, in any way reflect the job that we do day in day out to represent the sort of five and a half million, 6 million people that we represent, so I would encourage employers to have an open mind about engaging with unions.SarahBecause the kind of link with employee voice there is because unions can help you listen to your people well, in a constructive way early on, which can save problems down the line.PaulAbsolutely. But also, I have literally had the conversations with employers and they said, Well, we don't need a union, because we're a good employer. And the idea that like a good employers and unions are somehow mutually exclusive to me just doesn't stack up. I mean, you can see some of the most successful organizations in the country that have strong robust relationships with unions, but ultimately positive relationships with the union. So yeah, I'm not an HR director or manager, but I would encourage those people who are not to think about, you know, your staff wanting to be represented by an independent union as somehow a failing on your part or a failure on the part of the organization. It's entirely possible for people to be proud of working for an organization to want that organization to be successful, and also to want an independent union voiceSarahAnd Neil, from an employer's perspective, how have you seen voice done?NeilWell, so I think Paul happens on something, which I think is really important there, which is as an employer, you can't control everything in the process of how voice happens. And you have to kind of slightly get comfortable with it. If a trade union is how employees want to be represented, then as, as a business, there's a duty on you to be respectful of that. There are lots of other ways in which voice can happen. And what's important, I think, is that you have a strategy for how it happens and a couple of things I'd draw out there. Firstly, Jill mentioned the last workplace Employment Relations survey. And because she's geeked out on that, I'm going to dive into it as well. And, and point out that what's really interesting is that while there is relatively little reported in that survey of kind of formal structures for voice, actually what people say about their work reflects that there probably is more voice going on than, than perhaps there are formal structures for and I think that's about management cultures, first and foremost, a linking in you know, how does voice, how do we handle voice in our management culture? How do we train our managers to deal with it rather than leaving it to HR I think is important. Then coming to Paul's point, I absolutely, absolutely do think that HR has developed down a quite a sort of HRM school of thought. You've got your award specialist, your your talent acquisition space specialist, your employee, value proposition proposition people...actually company side Employment Relations thinking has been under invested for a while. And you know, the, the the ER guy is usually the person that the chief executive puts his head into his hands when even when they walk into the room. Because they're going to, they're usually there because there's a problem. And actually, it's breaking that culture that matters, is that how are we thinking about ER all of the time, in terms of that moveable feast and of what employers are telling us. What employees are telling us, what the company is trying to achieve, and the ongoing process of trying to get those two things to clear against each other. So it's a much more iterative and line management led process then kind of what we've been used to maybe in some of the HR textbooks for the last few years.SarahSo rather than almost delegating voice to specific people or specific departments, trying to think about everybody who's involved in hearing opinions from staff and how you can equip them to hear those opinions and act in in a way that strengthens employee voice in a good way rather than an unconstructive way.NeilI think that's right. If you think about it, think things through, if you're thinking about a big reconstruction round of redundancies, and it's the first time that anyone has ever asked to the employees about anything, then it's going to be rightly treated with a certain amount of caution by by the workforce, whereas if people are used to in the culture of the business, in our weekly meetings with managers, with their own managers getting a sense that they are being listened to, then I think the big stuff becomes easier to do as well.SarahYeah, uh huh. So practicing and equipping on the small things.PaulI think Neil's points about doing this, not just at times of crisis, or times when there are problems, but building it into the day to day work of an organization is really important. And I always have this sort of very strong memory of going to a well unionized engineering plant in the northeast of England, where there was a strong joint trade union, virtually everybody in union membership as you, as you would expect. And we sat down, we had a presentation from the senior member of staff at that at the plans about the company's sort of strategic plans over the next five years. And then what when we spoke to the shop steward, the reps on the ground, and said, Well, do you have these sorts of discussions on a regular basis, they said that, that this is literally the first time we've ever sat down and had a presentation about, you know, the future of the organization. Now, they were having, they would be talking about pay constantly, they'd be talking about terms and conditions. But in terms of thinking about the big stuff that you know, where do we see the future of this organization? What does that mean for staff? What might it mean for our skills mix? There'd never been that sort of regular dialogue between the union and, and staff, and the management. And that, to me, it's just like, that's craziness. Because what a missed opportunity, to actually get staff to understand why a company might be taking the decisions, they're actually taking why they're asking to work in certain ways. I mean, this is the sort of stuff that I think, you know, I likethink that the people we represent, they're all grown ups, they're not daft. And they can, they can see through the BS pretty clearly. And that, and that just, you know, sort of treating people like they're grownups and bringing them into the conversation. And as Neil said, making sure that that that is not something that Oh, God, we've got to make redundancies, now we'll talk to you. I mean you should be building that sort of culture, right, right, throughout the day to the work of an organization, I think.GillI definitely think that, that that point is one that Acas operational senior advisors would echo, which is that voice should be there for the good and the bad times. And in fact, if you can smooth out and oil the wheels, when a crisis comes up, if you've got your institutional arrangement in place, then you're cooking on gas, really, that, you know, you're not having to create from scratch, that's definitely a message that I've heard.SarahWe started off talking about how this is mission critical. And I think it's fair to say that everybody understands more than ever the need to bring people along with you in a workplace. But a lot of people are trying to bring their workplace along with them or listen to their workplaces remotely. And I'm just wondering what your reactions are to that, how do we create good voice in a context where this is, as we are doing currently remotely?NeilI think partially, that's about not giving ourselves a free pass. So as many people will be quick to remind you, not all workplaces are closed. So there plenty of workplaces, which are open where the the mechanisms might be more disaggregated than normal. I mean, clearly, you're not going to get the workforce together in one big room at the moment. But equally, I think employers have found that, you know, things like staff meetings on zoom are often actually rather better for some of this stuff. Because you have to think about structuring and thinking about how you present what the company's got to say and thinking about how you take feedback, you know, in, in my own experience, just with the team at the REC, I think it's been a powerful tool for engagement just through this period to to increase the volume of discussion that we've been doing with the, with the staff. So I don't think it's impossible. It's different. I don't think it's fundamentally and more difficult to achieve.SarahWhat role do you think voice can play when we're talking about race inequality and discrimination?GillI think that work - voice - needs to work doubly hard around those excluded groups.PaulI mean, from from my perspective Sarah, I mean, one of the keys to effective voices about redressing the power imbalances that exist in, in workplaces, you know, power imbalances between individual employees and their employer. I mean, that's part of the job of, of unions is to give people a collective voice to redress that fundamental power imbalance. But then there's also a responsibility on unions, for example, to make sure that we're genuinely representative, I think we need to do more, for example, to make sure that we've got more black workers taking on reps roles within unions so that our reps base is genuinely representative, more work to do to put women into senior positions in the trade union movements. So unions absolutely, fundamentally, I think have got a role to play in terms of making sure that the issues and concerns of black workers are effectively articulated and part of our agenda. That's a challenge to us as organizations, but it is also a challenge to the, to the employees that we engage with as well.NeilI think that's right, Paul. And from a business perspective, you know, greater understanding that as businesses, we exist within society, you know, there's a lot of discussion about business and society. You know, there's a lot about social economic diversity, which overlaps in many ways with some of the themes around people coming into the workforce from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, as well, where I think it behooves us as businesses to think about how we, how we open our doors more broadly and think a bit differently about how people might come to us and how they might add value to us. It's not about the best way, it's about finding a good way. And I think more businesses need to challenge themselves to remember a good way is enough. That opens you up to a greater diversity of approaches to how we we tackle things, and perhaps opens your mind to different ways of recruiting and engaging with staff that that will fundamentally underpin culture, a culture in your business that people coming from different backgrounds will want to work in.SarahThanks for those thoughts. I wondered if to round off, I could ask for a top tip from each of you on employee voice, your biggest insight into how you can create good voice wherever you are.GillI mean, for me, it's a relatively discreet area, actually, which is recognizing that representing employees, employee views, and listening to the listening to the views of reps is actually not a necessarily a given skill. There's a bonus, bonafide a skill that people need to be trained in so that the roles are fully recognized and realized for the best for everyone. And so it's quite a marginal comment, really. But nonetheless, I think it's absolutely the heart of what makes for good voice -training for both the managers and the reps.PaulI mean, for me, I mean, as I've mentioned, before, unions have got a key role to play in terms of helping give workers collective voice to redress those power imbalances in workplaces, and I would say to employees that where staff choose to join a union, want to be represented by that union, then respect that choice. But ultimately, trust your workforce. Because, you know, my experience in workplaces in the public and private sector is that people want the organizations that they work for, to be successful, they want their company or their organization to be proud to work for that company or organization and giving people effective voice enables them to feel that sense of pride, that sense of involvement and engagement and I think that's good for any organization.NeilSo just to finish off on this, then, quite simply it's managerial culture, not HR policy. Anything that you impose from HR, that feels like kind of an additional loop in the process to getting stuff done will face resistance. Whereas if it's just how you do business, then I think it embeds and you get some upside out of, in terms of engagement from, from involving people voice processes, and there are little things you can do as leaders and businesses to embed that which is, you know, if someone comes to you to plan, or you know, ask where it comes from, ask what the team thinks. You know, send signals that this is how we work. I think a lot of this is about behaviors and in, in the business rather than what we expect from HR.SarahSo training people, both the managers and the reps to do voice well, trust your workforce, respect their choice to join a union and also focus on influencing managerial culture. Well, thank you so much, Paul, Neil and Gill for a fascinating conversation about voice how we strengthen it and why it matters for all workplaces. Now if you've been listening to the APS podcast, you can get to more depth on voice on our website and I've put links to twp policy papers in the episode notes, covering how we build back better from Coronavirus and a deep dive look at consultation. But also we can help. If your workplace is facing issues with voice, then please do call us and I've put the number for that in the episode notes as well. Thanks for listening.

Changing an employment contract

With many employers looking at changing contracts as a way of avoiding redundancies, we ask Acas advisers Mark Makin and Helen Robinson how to do it well. We explore:-The best way to change employment contracts-Why consulting staff matters-How to do this well remotely-What your rights are as an employeeEpisode Resources SarahGuthrieWelcome to the Acas Podcast. We're talking today about changing an employment contract with Acas advisors, Helen Robinson and Mark Makin, and I'm Sarah Guthrie. This is topical at the moment because lots of employers are looking at changing contracts as an alternative to making people redundant. So employers are asking, how can we do that? And members of staff might be asking us, can my employer do this? So Helen, let's start off with employers. What's the best way of going about changing an employment contract?HelenRobinsonThere's a number of different ways that an employer can can consider changing somebody's contract or varying the terms and conditions. But I think the best way from an Acas perspective would be where possible to do so by agreement. If an employer speaks to a member of staff, and they are able to get their agreement to make a change to their terms and conditions, then ultimately that is going to be the best way for conducive working relationship moving forward.MarkMakinTo echo what Helen said there, taking the workforce with you - informing, explaining consulting, discussing, providing feedback - that sets the tone for the relationship once the change comes into effect, because the trust and the goodwill will need to be there to take the organisation forward afterwards. And if we make changes without agreements, there's a big possibility that that trust and goodwill won't be there, which is going to create problems with itself.HelenBuilding on that, I mean, what some employers are choosing to do is to see whether they can make these changes on a temporary basis because staff might be more willing or accepting to the changes there. And I've also spoken to an employer recently who has offered an incentives so the change that they were looking at making was a 10% pay cut and that was across the board 10% pay cut for all staff. That was a measure to look at avoiding redundancy. And what the employer said almost as an incentive was that if this didn't work, and if actually they did need to make any redundancies within the next 12 months, their redundancy pay and their notice pay would be calculated at their original wage so that the wage that was slightly higher, and so that that was something that went some way for for stuff agreeing to that change.SarahYeah, I can see why that would really help because we've heard stories of people who have agreed to a temporary pay cap with a perception that then they won't be made redundant and get made redundant and then also have their redundancies as calculated on their most recent pay, which is half of what they were being paid. So I guess it, it sounds like thinking through in detail how your staff will respond to the changes you're proposing both in the short term and the long term is really important here. Some people listening to this podcast might be thinking, Well, can employers change a contract? What are my rights? I wondered if you could give us an insight into that.HelenIf a member of staff agrees to a change, then absolutely a change can be made to that contract, whether it's on a temporary or a permanent basis. I think it's very, very important when we're looking at agreements and agreeing to a change that an employer is very open and honest about what this change is going to be. How long is it going to last for? Is it going to be permanent? Because employees need to have that information so that they can make an informed decision about whether they are happy to agree. But I also think it's equally if not more important for employers to be open about the reason behind the change. Because if they approach their staff and they speak about Okay - we will use the 10% pay cut as an example - we're looking at giving you a 10% pay cut, if that's all the information that staff have, then it's highly unlikely that they're going to be happy about that or agreed to it. Whereas if an employer approaches staff and says, Okay, look, we're looking at a 10% pay cut and the reasons are because x y z, people still may or may not be happy about it, but they might be more likely to respond to that say, Okay, yeah, I can understand the reasons why. And yes, I will accept that change.SarahSo keeping very clear communication around the reason why and also how long it's likely to be for and what the long term consequences of that might be. And, Mark, what have you seen from employers about good practice in this area?MarkI think it is the communication as early as possible, as open and transparent as possible. And it's two way. Feedback is given. I think that's something that is often missed in this type of process, where the employer may well go into this type of situation. And they will listen to what people have to say, but they don't provide the feedback. And the feedback may be that was a great idea. But we can't do it, because in some cases, it may be that's a great idea we haven't thought about. Let's discuss in some more detail how we might be able to implement that.HelenJust remember that if you are looking at changing the contract of 20 or more people, there are additional consultation requirements on you, and that you would need to collectively consult. So that would mean either involving trade union representatives if you recognise a trade union, or giving staff the opportunity to appoint employee representatives to almost act as a go between and have conversations with employer and staff themselves.SarahAnd that two way communication is very different at the moment for most workplaces than what we would have encountered in the past. Do you have any insight into the challenges of doing this remotely and how people have been overcoming them?HelenI think there are I should say that added challenges. And I think sometimes it's very important for employers to remember that actually, people have got other stuff going on at home. At the moment, yes, they may be working from home. But it might be that they need to schedule a specific time to have important conversations such as these when I don't know if they've not got children at home or the partner is able to look after children at that particular point or other caring responsibilities. So being very, very clear about what's going to be spoken about in a specific meeting or specific virtual meeting. But making sure that that person is in the right frame of mind with minimal distractions to have this conversation because it is an important conversation. Just because people are working remotely or we may have people furlough that we need to speak to, there still needs to be a good level of communication. And what I mean by that is not just an email chain, it's a conversation that would usually be had and it should be a conversation, have it as a conversation, whether it's a video call, whether it's a telephone conversation, not just an email to all and saying this is happening or we're proposing this how. Have a conversation.SarahSo you mentioned Mark that one of the things people often miss is the two way feedback and the need for that. What other mistakes have you seen employers making? And why do you think those mistakes are being made?MarkThere's sometimes an assumption that I've made this decision for the good of the business. So people will automatically accept that it's the right decision. So one of the mistakes that is often made is that that communication, early communication doesn't take place. A decision has already been made, and the employer presents it to the staff almost as a fait accompli, and then is shocked and surprised when they get objections to that, or when people have concerns about it. Or when there is a long list of questions about well, how will this impact me? What does this mean for me? When is it gonna happen? It's it's almost like the employer sometimes jumps the gun and makes the decisions for good reasons, but misses out that communication stage consultation stage.SarahOne thing that's really struck me about doing this process well is that it can take quite a lot of time. And I wonder what you would say to somebody who's thinking, well, that all sounds great, I don't have time to do this.MarkUltimately, the decision is the employers. But the conversation that I would have with them would be centred around not just the legal risks that they might face if they get this wrong - so there might be breach of contract claims there might be constructive dismissal claims, there might be claims centred around the failure to consult properly if they are in a collective situation. But I'd also talk about some of the less obvious risks, the impact on your workforce, in terms of morale and motivation, the goodwill and that trust and confidence that needs to exist between the employer and the workforce in order for them to function properly.SarahAnd so what rights do you have as a member of staff who's going through this process? Perhaps there's been a proposed change, perhaps your employer has or hasn't handled it well? Could you just talk us through what rights you have?HelenIt's not an uncommon question from from an employee to say, Okay, well, you're talking about agreement to change, but actually, I don't want to agree to it for whatever reason, and it may be that an employer has done absolutely everything that Mark and I have spoken about. They've consulted they discussed, they've been very open about the the reason behind this change, but the change doesn't suit the member of staff and that is a real life situation. And I think in all circumstances, there's absolutely no obligation on a member of staff to agree to a change. But I do think it's, it's worth being aware that ultimately, if they don't agree to change, there are other options that are available to their employer. For example, if an employer feels that they've got absolutely no option, but to make this change, and their business may go under otherwise, for example, then they do have the option of actually ending the existing contracts by giving notice. And then re-engaging their staff at the end of that notice period on new contracts. What I would say is that it's not a risk free thing for an employer to do. It is still technically a dismissal, you dismissing somebody from their existing role, from their existing contract. And with that in mind, an individual would have the option, if they chose to, to appeal against the decision. They'd also potentially have the option of actually treating that notice as notice of dismissal. And if they felt it was unfair, and they weren't engaged in the new contract, they could potentially look at making a complaint to an employment tribunal around that. So it's not risk free for an employer. It's an option but it's not not a risk free one.MarkAs well as the agreement route to vary a contract, and the dismissal and reengagement route to varying contracts, some employers already have flexibility clauses built in to their contracts, which they can invoke. Just a word of caution around flexibility clauses: they do need to be well written, they need to be quite specific, and they need to be reasonable in order them for them to be to stand up and and be operative. And you usually find them around place of work, job role, job function, hours of work. Even if flexibility clauses already exist in a contract before invoking them, I think it's good practice for the employer to speak to staff and explain the circumstances such that they feel they need to invoke the clause. Here's the reason why I feel a need to involve the clause and here's the fine detail about about when and how and what it might mean for you. But then leave the door open for the staff to come back with questions, concerns and objections of other suggestions and ideas. There is another option, unilateral variation, which involves the employer simply making the change and imposing it on employees. But it is fraught with risk and it should be only used as a very, very last resort. It opens the door to legal challenges, it doesn't go down well with the workforce, it will damage goodwill, it will remove any discretionary behaviour that might have been the previous layer, and it just doesn't make for good employment relations as well as the the big legal risks that come along with imposing changes on your workforce.HelenAnd I think if I if I just add to that, I did some work with an organisation last year - so we're talking pre COVID pre pandemic. And the employer had done exactly this, they had basically informed all of their workforce that as of next week, they were going from a five day to a four day working week, and the pay cut that that attracted as well. Now as Mark said, they lost a lot of goodwill from their staff with that, but what also happened was they lost within about the following month, four members of staff left and went working for another organisation. But what had actually happened, these four particular members of staff were quite specialist, so they had to be replaced. So there's all these then additional costs that the employers got of losing experienced, knowledgeable members of staff, and then having to go through recruitment again to replace them when they were already struggling with money, which is why this this going to four day working week had come in in the first place.MarkAnd I can see in a situation like that Helen where, if the employer had spoken to people in advance, early, been open about the need to make the change, staff may well have agreed to that once they understood the full picture.HelenAbsolutely, yeah. And I think at the end, the employer in his particular circumstance, had done exactly what we were talking about earlier. He'd fallen into one of those traps where they felt they had consulted because they themselves had thought about all these different measures or different ways and come up with the solution. But they'd done it on their own. They hadn't involve their staff during that thought process.SarahI'm just thinking of people who are listening to this and thinking my employer is not doing this well. They haven't consulted very well. They haven't listened to that feedback. What would you advise someone in that position about how they can help their whole workplace go through this process more smoothly?HelenI think in the first instance, and this would be true of any concern that any member of staff has within a workplace, we would be advising them to raise that and to raise that internally. I think it's very important for both employers and members of staff to see whether a situation can be resolved internally before they think. Okay, well, is there any sort of external complaints I could make? And part of the reason for that is something that Mark mentioned earlier on, it's about the fact that hopefully, a working relationship is going to continue. And the more that that can be resolved internally, and informally wherever possible, the more likely it is that that working relationship will continue and will continue to be positive.SarahThanks. That's been really helpful. I wondered if you could leave us with a key insight that you've had to during your work on this topic.HelenThe key thing - and Mark and I have referenced this throughout our conversation today - is to communicate and to communicate as early as possible.MarkAnd to keep communicating. I've seen situations, certainly in collective situations where there are laid down consultation periods that the employer must observe. But I've seen situations where we get to the end of that 30 days or 45 days, depending on the numbers, and the employer decides that's it job done, when it would have made so much more difference if they just kept that talk in that communication going for a few more days, because they were making progress. Things were developing yet, they'd come to the end of the statutory consultation period, and they felt that's it. That's the green light to move ahead now. So don't be bound by any limits. If things are moving ahead. If progress is being made, keep talking.HelenAbsolutely. Yeah.SarahIt's a great thing to remember for all workplace relationships, not just varying a contract, changing your contract. And so thanks very much for your insight today.HelenThank you.MarkOkay.SarahYou've been listening to the Acas podcast. You can find full details about what you need to know about changing an employment contract on our website at Thanks for listening.

Redundancy and rights: your FAQs

Acas adviser Chau Doan covers the main questions employees have been asking about redundancy and rights. We look at:What to do if you think you’ve been made redundant unfairlyHow to encourage your employer to look at alternatives to redundancy (if they aren’t already)Your rights around changing contractsPay and notice periodsPlus why checking your contract, communicating early and following the process is so important. It's a huge topic and we couldn't cover everything - but watch this space for more content about redundancies involving large numbers of staff. Episode links Your rights and redundancy: pay calculator: helpline: 0300 123 1100Coping with redundancy: Sarah GuthrieHello and welcome to The Acas podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie, part of the communications team here at Acas and today, I'm joined by Chau Doan, who's part of our helpline team working incredibly hard at the moment to advise employers and employees on everything to do with the workplace. Today, we're looking at redundancy, what employees are particularly ringing us about the moment. We've seen calls on the helpline about redundancy go up by more than double. And I wonder Chau, if you could just start off by giving us an insight into what kind of questions you've been getting from employees around redundancy at the moment?Chau DoanHi, Sarah. So yes, we have been receiving a lot of calls regarding redundancy, especially now the news has just been announced that we're going through a recession at this moment in time. So we've been getting a lot of people actually worried about their job status. So they're concerned that whether if they're on furlough now, whether there's still a job for them to return back to. Or if they're going through consultation at this moment in time, what their rights are, or essentially if the employee has already given formal notice of the redundancy, what they can do to address that situation that they're in as well.Sarah GuthrieOkay, so let's start off with that point you just mentioned there about what can you do if you've been given notice of redundancy but you feel like it's been unfair or you don't think the decision has been the right decision. What do you do about that as an employee?Chau DoanSo we would advise that if they have any concerns regarding their redundancy, or they believe that the redundancy was not genuine as such, then we would advise them to speak to the employer first to raise that concern to them. Now, it might be the case that if they have been given formal notice of the redundancy, the employer should also inform them how to appeal that decision as well. There might be certain instructions that the employer has to follow to go for that the appeals process to that but we normally advise that you should be best practice for the employer to allow the employees to appeal that decision if they disagree with their redundancy. If it's the case that the employer does accept the appeals process to that then they should then invite the employees to an appeal meeting to discuss that between them during that period of time and in essence that would be their opportunity to bring anything forward to the table that they're having concerns about. And they would normally have the right to be accompanied by another work colleague or Trade Representative in that appeal meeting between them and employer as well.Sarah GuthrieOkay, so usually your employees should have let you know that if you disagree with a decision you can appeal and how to do it and even bring someone along to that. That sounds like quite a stressful, obviously, discussion for everybody involved, what advice would you have for employees who are in that position about how to conduct that appeal really well?Chau DoanSo again, the first thing we'd also advise them to do is check the contracts. So there's a clear process that both the employee and the employer has followed as part of the appeals process, check the guidelines to that as well. So in a way, both employees and the employers know what to expect in that meeting where they attend that meeting. And then also if they are a member of any trade unions as well, it might be advisable to get in contact with them as well to see if they can represent them in that meeting as well if they haven't consented either attending that meeting by themselves or if they wish to have another work colleague attend that meeting with them. Because it can be a stressful situation. And especially if you've just lost your job and you're trying to argue, to either try and get your job back or you disagree with the way that you've been essentially made redundant, then it might be beneficial to have someone there to support them as well in that meeting.Sarah GuthrieSo both for the emotional support, and I guess because you were just saying that the contract is almost the guide through this process, and you both should be following the contract and the process, policy, that your organisation sets out, that that can be really helpful as well for another person to hold those details and that structure in their heads almost. So after that meeting, your employer says either yes or no. If it's a no to the appeal and you still feel like there's some unfairness there, what could you do with that as an employee?Chau DoanThen ultimately, if you believe that you've been unfairly dismissed by the employer, so technically a redundancy isalso classed as dismissal from your job, then if you do have two year's length of service, you would have the right to be able to bring a claim against the employee for an unfair dismissal due to your length of service. We will still advise you, rather than treating that claim straightaway, if you can, go for that appeals process first and see what the outcome of that would be. But yes, if it's the case that you believe that you've been unfairly dismissed, due to either redundancy not being a genuine one as such, and you have that two years of service, you would have the right to pursue a claim to an employment tribunal. If you're considering doing that, you can call one of us on the helpline to help you potentially go through the steps that you can take if you should pursue that claim further.Sarah GuthrieAnd in what kind of situations might a dismissal of any kind be unfair? Could you describe that for people who might be wondering, well, is this unfair or not? How do I tell?Chau DoanIn the case of any unfair dismissal, it would mean that they believe that in essence, they've been dismissed unfairly. So for example, if they believe that the employer is not followed through with a correct procedure first or they've been unfairly selected for redundancy, then as long as they have that two years length of service they can bring that claim. The other exception would be it's classed as an automatic unfair dismissal. So that would mean that normally the employer's essentially done something against their statutory rights. So for example, if they felt that they've been discriminated in any way as part of their redundancy. So if for example, you were pregnant, and you believe that you were only put forward for redundancy because of your pregnancy, then technically that would be classed as automatically unfair dismissal instead. So there's no length of service required for the employer essentially terminating your employment due to a statuory right.Sarah GuthrieOkay. So if you're worried about a discrimination case, if you feel like perhaps you've been on furlough, you've been looking after children or you've about to go on maternity leave, and that might be why you're being made redundant, then actually, you don't need to have been in your job for two years to raise a concern about that. You're right to apply however long you've been in the job, is that right?Chau DoanYes, that's correct. So as part of the employment act of 2010, the nine protective characteristics that are protected against discrimination, where there's no length of service required to bring a claim to an employment tribunal for that. And if you believe that, you've been unfairly dismissed due to those reasons as part of your redundancy, then there's no length of service prior to being that claim. But we would still advise you to go through any appeals process first, or potentially raise that as a grievance to your employer, because ultimately, if you were to bring that claim to the employment tribunal at a later date, the courts or the judge might also ask you as well, have you tried to follow the correct procedures yourself? So the benefit of doing all of this first, if you still can, is that you're showing that you've tried to follow the procedures yourself. But also you tried to actually speak to your employer to try and resolve that issue before you brought that claim to the courts.Sarah GuthrieSo it sounds like following procedures and making sure that you've gone through the process and paid attention to the contract will help you at a later date, if it does escalate to court.Chau DoanYes, that's correct. So at least you can show that you've done everything correctly yourself. So regardless what your employer does, you're showing that you followed the procedures yourself as well.Sarah GuthrieThanks, Chau. That's really helpful. So moving on from that, I'm thinking about employees who might actually have some ideas in their heads of alternatives to redundancy. Their workplace might be considering making reduncies, but actually they've thought of alternatives to it - that might be changing contracts. What happens if you can see something as an employee, but your employer isn't considering any of those alternatives? How could you influence them in this process?Chau DoanSo speak to your employer, raise your concerns, and if there's something that you believe that they've either neglected or not taken account of, bring that forward to the employee, though, we do advise that if they can have that informal discussion first with the employer, if it's an idea that they think that we could bring to the table that could either help them with their jobs or keep their jobs, and it's something that could be rolled out throughout the company, then that would be their opportunity to do so.Sarah GuthrieSo be proactive, don't wait for them to come to you. And do you have any advice for employees about how they might broach that conversation and things that they should keep in mind as they do that?Chau DoanAgain, it can be a bit of a sensitive subject as well if you're discussing your employment, or you're having fears about that you might be losing your job. But until you have that conversation you might not know what the outcome of that would be. Yeah, sometimes you have to have a bit of confidence to do that. And if you're worried about it, then we advise you to try and speak to your employer. So you have a quiet conversation with them at the sidelines to say, well actually, there's an idea that I thought about that could keep my job or keep everyone's job as well. Are you willing to consider that? Every employee should take that in consideration and essentially come up with the ideas themselves. Or if it's the case that they cannot meet fully the considerations that the employees have suggested, then it might be the case that they could also try and negotiate with them as well come to compromise.Sarah GuthrieSo perhaps starting informally, to kind of sound out and suggest ideas rather than perhaps assuming that everything's done and dusted?Chau DoanYes and the reasons why we advise them to do that as well - to the employers - is ultimately if they don't, they might potentially cause some doubts within employees' minds to that. So I've actually spoken to people in the helpline before where they said, well, actually, we believe that the employee already had made a decision in their mind. Even though they're going through the process with us, they felt that they've actually already been decision. Though, again, by the employer not allowing to have that open discussion, it might be the case that they're already causing that tension beforehand. And then when it does come to the consultation stage, they've already built up that barrier between both parties. So if both parties can be open about it in the very beginning, it makes the process a lot easier and a lot smoother for everyone to go through.Sarah GuthrieAnd speaking of consultation, what about if your employer is thinking of changing your contract, but they haven't consulted you? What would you do as an employee in that situation? That's another question that we've had.Chau DoanSo we would again, suggest to them to check their contracts of employment to see whether there's any clauses that allows the employer to do that. So for example, if there's a flexibility clause in there that allows them to make any changes to their contract as such, so for example, reducing their wages, reducing the hours or changing their job roles, then technically, if that clause is already in a contract, the employer could also reserve the right to make those changes. But at the same time, we would still advise it would be best practice for the employer to consult with the employees first before they make any changes to that. So again, we've talked about the communication aspect before, reasons why we advise that the employer communicates with them first is essentially, they explain to them why they're wishing to propose any changes to their contracts, and essentially, what effect it would have upon the employer as well. Because if they don't, then again, it's creating further tension between them and the employees. And it might be the case that they run the risk of potentially having a grievance against them in relation to that by them not consulting with the employees first. Now if there isn't one in there, and if the employer wishes to make any changes to that, we were still advise that they need to consult with employees first and get them to either agree to those changes as such. Or the other option is they could essentially just, unilaterally just make the change to that. But again, the risk of them doing that is ultimately if they were to dismiss any employees on any old contracts and then re engage in a brand new one is if the employer has been working with them for more than two years, they could also potentially pursue a claim against the employer for any unfair dismissal as a result of that as well. So the caveat that we warn to employers is if they do that, then they could also risk a claim to the courts as well.Sarah GuthrieThat's interesting, because that actually relates to another question that we've had through a lot, which is about the law around making someone redundant and then hiring someone else. You're talking there about hiring the same person back over contract. But thinking about one of the questions we've had is, my employer has made me redundant and then hired someone else. Is this legal?Chau DoanSo potentially it can be, so it's a bit of a slightly grey area and in terms of employment law for that. Now, as long as the employee can show that there's a necessity for them to hire on another person to that role as such, or potentially if they've lost that contract for that role, and they've lost essentially the employees to that but then they gained another contract, but they need to hire the new employees in relation to that, then, in essence, the employee could show that there is a need for the employment for them to do so. But it might be best practice that they offer that employment first back to the original employee that was made redundant rather than hiring any new persons on. Because if they don't, then technically, if the employee felt that they've been unfairly dismissed as a result of that, or they believe that the redundancy was not a genuine one as such, as we mentioned before, if they have that two years length of service, they would also have that right to claim any unfair dismissal against the employee for that reason as well.Sarah GuthrieThanks, Chau. And we've had quite a few questions around pay and notice periods. It's quite confusing, I think, especially at the moment when people have been on furlough and working different hours. How can people work out what they are entitled to in terms of pay and notice periods if they are made redundant?Chau DoanSo if they are being made redundant, then the employer would then have to serve them notice for their redundancy as well. Now, they might need to check their contracts again to see if there's any contractual notice that they're entitled to. But if there is no contractual notice, then they will be given statutory notice in. And the statutory notice would normally be for every year that they worked they're entitled to one week's notice, up to a maximum of 12 weeks.Sarah GuthrieChau, I wondered, because this is a really stressful time for everybody involved, whether you could give our listeners who might be facing redundancy, perhaps a kind of key thing to keep in their mind that will help them go through this process really smoothly, and kind of navigate these complexities that most people don't often face around employment law. What could they take away with them that will help them go through this really well?Chau DoanSo the first thing I would advise to everyone who's potentially at risk of redundancy now is check their contract. So I cannot reiterate the importance of that. Your contract should always tell you what you're entitled to as part of your redundnacy procedures, so it should include your redundancy pay and any notice that you're entitled to as well. Now, if you have any concerns about essentially what you're entitled to exactly in your redundancy package, there's a really good redundancy calculator they can use on the government website as well. But at the same time, we would also advise that if you have any concerns regarding your redundancy, so either whether your at risk of it or either going through any consultation period at this moment in time, or you're just suspecting that you might be at risk of redundancies, have that open and honest discussion with the employer. So sometimes it might be the case that you take the first step rather than waiting for your employer to do that for you. So at least you're being proactive. So things do come arise later down the line, at least you try to address those concerns. And essentially, you've allowed the employer to prepare for that situation between yourselves as well.Sarah GuthrieThanks, Chau. So be proactive, have the conversation. First, look at your contracts, know it inside out. And you can use tools like our helpline and redundancy pay calculator, where you need to know what the details are and to work out what the correct processes.Chau DoanThese are just the basic guidelines that we give, but if anyone does have any concerns regarding the redundancy that they might be going through, they can always call us on the helpline. So if they have a specific question that we've not covered today. They can speak to one of our advisors and a helpline as well.Sarah GuthrieThanks so much. Thanks for joining me.Chau DoanThank you.Sarah GuthrieThis has been The Acas Podcast. I've put links to the redundancy pay calculator Chau mentioned, plus our free helpline number in the session notes for this episode. We're really aware that this is a stressful process at any time, but particularly at the moment, so I've also put a link to a resource from Mind, the mental health charity, about how you can take care of yourself if you are facing redundancy. Please feel free to share with anyone who you think find this podcast useful and thanks for listening.Transcribed by