MORE job losses loom as the furlough scheme comes to an end this month.

The job support scheme that replaces it pays much less for workers and employers, even with the Chancellor’s announcement of new help for businesses forced to close from “circuit breaker” lockdowns. All of this makes for grim tidings as we approach a Dickensian winter with the possibility of a dystopian hard Brexit in the New Year.

The official figures record that a quarter of a million people were made redundant in the UK in the first six months of this year.

These are only reported cases, so the actual figures are likely to be higher.

The Institute for Employment Studies estimates that three-quarters-of-a-million redundancies are likely to take place between July 1 and December 31. That would be our highest job loss total since 1995.

The reality may be harsher. We know UK payrolls had 730,000 less employees in July than March this year. Fewer firms are hiring staff. We also know that people claiming benefits for unemployment rose by 120% to 2.7 million in recent months.

The pandemic has created a perfect storm for workers to be treated unfairly as employers hastily try to cut costs. This has already manifested with a surge in claims to the employment tribunal (ET). Between April and June this year, 10,318 new claims were filed at the ET by individuals – a 18% increase on the same time last year.

With the end of furlough approaching, those figures are set to skyrocket. Many employers may be tempted to take shortcuts to dismiss staff as financial shortfalls bite deeper. We are already seeing more claims for unfair redundancies, changing terms and conditions unlawfully and disputes around pay and benefits.

Some employers have been making furloughed employees redundant automatically. That in itself can be subject to challenge as employees may have been furloughed for different reasons, such as childcare obligations or health concerns. Automatically moving to make furloughed staff redundant could also trigger claims for discriminatory treatment.

It’s important for everyone to know what their rights are. In general, an employee only has a right not to be unfairly dismissed after a two-year qualifying period of service. But dismissal or selection for redundancy on particular prescribed grounds is deemed automatically unfair without the need for any qualifying period. For example, redundancy selection related to pregnancy or childbirth, asserting your statutory rights or whistleblowing.

In order for redundancy to be fair, an employer has to establish it was the true reason for dismissal. The employer must also have acted reasonably in all the circumstances of the case – that means procedural fairness in the way a worker was treated in being selected for redundancy.

From the House of Lords case of Polkey an employer may have acted unreasonably – with dismissal being unfair – if it hasn’t done three things: consulted employees or their union about proposed redundancy; adopted a fair basis on which to select for redundancy, and this means identifying a pool from which to select workers against proper criteria; finally, an employer must have considered suitable alternative employment within its business.

If your employer has an

appeals process, use it. In deciding whether a selection was unfair, the ET must decide whether the employer’s choice of pool was within the range of reasonable responses. Potentially fair selection criteria include performance and ability, length of service, attendance records and disciplinary records.

I’ve seen employers try to create a pool of one person. While this is possible, it won’t be fair if there are other workers doing similar work even if in different locations. Criteria that’s been found to be unfair includes employees whom a manager thought would keep the business viable; were best suited for new business operating conditions; those who cost more but generated less; and those with an attitude.

A dismissal is more likely to be considered fair if an employer has considered whether it can reduce the need for downsizing. For example, voluntary redundancy, recruitment freeze, withdrawing new job offers and early retirement. Firms should consider sabbaticals, unpaid leave, lay-offs, reducing hours, part-time working and overtime bans.

Remember, if you don’t have two years of service, you might still have a breach of contract remedy if you’re laid off and the procedures in your employment contract haven’t been followed. No length of service is required where you believe you have been discriminated against because of a protected characteristic such as age, sex, disability or race.

You have to make a claim to the tribunal within three months of your employment ending or the problem happening – so seek advice as soon as possible. Govan Law Centre can help people in Glasgow for free on 0800 043 0306. Speak to your trade union if you’re a member.

If your employer goes bust, you can apply to the Secretary of State for the sums owed to be paid out of the National Insurance Fund. That includes a redundancy payment, arrears of pay and holiday pay.