18 October 2013 #Employment
The EAT case of Somerset County Council v Chaloner (2013) highlights the importance of ensuring that when redundant employees are being considered for redeployment, they must be given a fair opportunity of understanding exactly the nature of the role being applied for. So, be careful when devising a new role in a restructure and ensure that the job description is properly finalised before conducting a redeployment interview.
In this case, when the Council suffered a downturn in demand for adult education and conference services (a “traded function”) resulting from public sector cuts. It was proposed that four senior management posts be reduced to two vacancies, one being Business Development Manager (`BDM`). Based on the job description provided (which described a role very similar to her own) and the fact that she was the only senior manager interested in the post (which was at a lower grade), the Claimant reasonably concluded that she would be slotted into the post.
However, upon further review, the finances for adult education services were worse than initially thought and so the re-organisation was extended to other management, including the Finance Office who also applied for the BDM role. The job description was revised to include additional financial responsibilities and the Finance Officer was considered for the position. However, the Council omitted to inform the Claimant of the changes to the job description. Although the Claimant was aware that other employees might now apply for the position, she was not aware that she was in competition with the Finance Officer or that the revised job description required financial reporting duties.
The first two questions at interview related to the detail of the financial position of adult education and conferencing services. The Claimant, who was taken by surprise by the questions and found the interview unnerving, scored less well than the Finance Officer. The Finance Officer got the job, the Claimant was made redundant.
An employment tribunal found the dismissal unfair because the Claimant had been kept in the dark about the revised job description. The Council had relied entirely on the interview and a subjective assessment of the answers given. That was in breach of its own procedures to carry out an assessment of skills and qualifications. The EAT agreed, upholding the finding that the Claimant had been at an unfair advantage at interview.