by Mhoraig Green, CAS Strategic Lead on social policy
This article was first published in the Herald on 27 October 2020.
That Covid-19 would lead to economic instability and a wave of job losses has been a grim reality for some time. The Citizens Advice network in Scotland has seen soaring demand for advice around employment and redundancy since March, as employers and workers alike grapple with this strange new world of lockdown and furloughs.
That’s why, as we come to a critical point for working people with the furlough scheme changing, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) this week launched our Redundancy Rights campaign, aimed at encouraging people to check our online advice if they are at risk of losing their job.
I’m going to highlight some of the things you need to know if you are in this situation. But first, it's worth noting that redundancy is not just financially challenging but emotionally difficult too - especially at the moment. Covid-19 has created so much anxiety for us all already, that losing your job on top of that can leave you feeling dizzy, lost and alone.
So, as part of our campaign, we’re encouraging people to take care of their mental health. You shouldn’t be afraid to reach out and tell family and friends your news, and you can also find helpful resources at www.clearyourhead.scot
If your job is at risk, you are not alone. Research for CAS by the Diffley Partnership this month has revealed that 39 per cent of people in work or furlough in Scotland are concerned about their job security over the next year.
And 84 per cent of people told that same poll they weren’t sure of their rights during the redundancy process, which really shocked us. But then, who does find out about those kind of rights until they are in that situation? How many people know the difference, for example, between dismissal and redundancy?
That’s why we’ve launched this campaign. Faced with the shock of losing your job it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so we want to make sure that people have straightforward, simple advice to help them exercise their rights.
For example, redundancy needs to be fair. There are rules to protect you from being discriminated against and being picked for redundancy for unfair reasons. These can include because you work part-time, are pregnant or on maternity leave, or because you made a complaint about health and safety.
You should also check your entitlement to redundancy pay, especially if you’ve been furloughed. Redundancy pay should be calculated on 100% of your normal pay, not the 80% you may have received on furlough.
And you should ensure that you get any remaining holiday pay in your last wage and that your employer respects your paid notice period. If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a month you’re entitled to a paid statutory notice period, which increases with your length of service. In some cases you might also be entitled to paid time off to look for new work.
Some insurance policies can also be a huge help if you do face redundancy. Often the ‘legal expenses cover’ that comes as part of home insurance packages can cover free legal help to challenge an unfair or discriminatory redundancy. It’s worth checking the terms and conditions and speaking to your insurer about this. If you have a trade union at work, you should also contact them. Your union can help you work out if you’ve got a claim, and support you through the process.
And of course you should find out what social security you can access once you are unemployed. The Universal Credit system has faced huge demand during the pandemic and has generally coped well. There is a 5 week wait between your application and the first payment, and assessment period rules mean it’s often best to apply after your last paycheque has been paid.
You can also contact your local authority to check if you’re entitled to a Council Tax Reduction or a crisis grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund if you’re already struggling with money. We know that people often don’t like to ask for this type of support, but remember you've already paid into the system through things like VAT and income tax, and this is exactly what it is there for.
Ultimately, our economy is going through some serious challenges in the short and medium term as a result of the pandemic, and another wave of jobs losses is no reflection on any individual worker but on the damage this virus has done to our society.
We believe that what comes next has to be a society that creates well-paid work with a proper social security safety net. But in the meantime, don’t forget that you have rights now, and shouldn’t waste any time in exercising them.