An employment tribunal has rejected a long-serving law firm worker’s claim for unfair dismissal after she was placed in a redundancy ‘pool of one’.
Janice Barlow, who worked with national practice Horwich Farrelly for more than 30 years, argued she had been treated unreasonably because the pool was not extended to other PAs at the firm. But employment judge Holmes ruled that the dismissal and process was fair, and that Barlow had been singled out for sound reasons.
The Manchester tribunal heard that Barlow was made redundant in 2019 after spending almost her entire career with the firm’s claimant department. In 2012, this department had been re-branded as Zest Legal, but in 2017 it stopped accepting new instructions and entered a period of run-off.
In August 2019, legal operations director Michael Rimmer met Barlow to tell her a consultation period would be starting, with no other employees informed of any potential redundancy.
Barlow said she had the same skill set as other PAs within the firm and asked for a ‘fair process’ where they should be objectively marked against each other and the lowest scorer being at risk of redundancy. She continued in further meetings to ask the firm to consider ‘bumping’ another PA, but Rimmer did not believe it was appropriate.
The firm made clear there was no criticism of Barlow’s performance or abilities, and denied that the decision had been made before the redundancy consultation. It was an oversimplification that PAs could all do each other’s jobs and the suggestion to pool resources would be disruptive and costly.
The judge said that if an employer chooses not to use bumping it will be an ‘uphill battle’ for the employee to show unfairness in that decision. He added: ‘If the employer has, as the tribunal finds it did, genuinely addressed the issue before proceeding to dismiss, and rejected bumping for genuine and sound reasons, that is sufficient.’