The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has recently confirmed that an employee can act reasonably in refusing suitable alternative employment, when the Tribunal’s finding was that a reasonable employee would have accepted the offer.
In Readman v Devon Primary Care Trust, Mrs Redman worked in community nursing and she, along with five colleagues, were put at risk of redundancy following a restructuring exercise. Mrs Redman was offered alternative employment in the role of Hospital Matron. This would not have resulted in any loss of status or salary, and the Tribunal concluded that this did qualify as “suitable alternative employment”. Mrs Redman, however, refused the offer on the basis that she hadn’t worked in a hospital environment for over 20 years, and had no desire to go back. Devon Primary Care Trust therefore refused to pay her a redundancy payment, on the basis that she had forfeited this by unreasonably refusing what was an offer of suitable alternative employment.
The Tribunal agreed with Devon Primary Care Trust, and rejected Mrs Redman’s claim. The EAT has, however, overturned this judgment, and in doing so has confirmed that whether or not an employee has acted reasonably in refusing suitable alternative employment should be judged with reference to the particular employee’s circumstances. The Tribunal must consider whether the employee had a sound and justifiable reason for turning down the alternative offer. In this case, the EAT considered that Mrs Redman did, and so she was entitled to her statutory redundancy payment.
Impact of employers
- Whether or not a role qualifies as a “suitable alternative” in the context of a redundancy situation is an objective test, having regard to the employee’s skills, experience, status, salary, etc. However, the question of whether the employee has acted reasonably or unreasonably in refusing that offer is more subjective, and the employee’s reasons and particular circumstances must be carefully considered.
- Employers should bear in mind that, even if an alternative role carries the same status and salary, this does not necessarily mean that an employee will act unreasonably in refusing the offer, if they have justifiable reasons for doing so.
- If an employee has reasonably refused a suitable alternative job, the only implication of this is that they are then entitled to their statutory redundancy payment. It does not, of itself, make a redundancy dismissal unfair.