downturns guide

Downturns: HR guide



Introduction to HR guide on economic downturns

In economic downturns employers are often faced with many difficult decisions. Employers may have cash flow problems and struggle to be able to pay their fixed costs including salaries. Business planning can be particularly hard. Here are a few options for employers to consider.

General temporary lay-offs

Employers would still be obliged to pay an employee their salary unless the employment contract allows the employer to lay-off. In those circumstances an employee would be entitled to certain statutory guaranteed pay. The maximum an employee can receive  is £29 a day for five days in any three-month period. The maximum payout would therefore be £145.

If the lay-off has been for four weeks in a row or six weeks in a thirteen-week period an employee could resign and claim statutory redundancy pay (though this would be subject to eligibility).

Furlough leave

The government is still operating a scheme whereby employees can be placed on furlough leave. The scheme will close on 31 October 2020.

Employers cannot now put employees on furlough leave for the first time unless the employee is returning from maternity, shared parental, adoption, paternity or parental bereavement leave and certain conditions are met.

The government has been paying grants of 80% of wages for employees not working but being kept on payroll rather than being laid-off, up to £2,500 a month. From 1 August 2020 employers have been required to cover employer and national insurance contributions. From 1 September 2020 the grant contribution will effectively be split so that the employer pays 10% and the taxpayer pays 70%. From 1 October 2020 the grant contribution will effectively be split so that the employer pays 20% and the taxpayer pays 60%.

From 1 July 2020 employers have been able to bring back employees to work part-time. Employers are required to pay the employees for hours worked and hours not worked will be covered by the furlough scheme.


downturns furlough leave

Can an employer cut an employee’s pay?

Generally, employers cannot impose pay cuts on the workforce and have to get their consent. If an employer imposes a salary cut without the employee’s agreement the employee may continue working but make it clear that they are working under protest.

Alternatively, the employee might resign on the basis that the employer has fundamentally breached their contract of employment. Depending on the circumstances, various claims could be considered.

downturns cut pay

However, if an employer cannot get the employee’s agreement there is another option for pay cuts. Providing the employer can demonstrate a sound business reason for the lower salary, carries out consultation as required, warns that any continued refusal could result in the employment being terminated and offers re-engagement on the new terms, a subsequent dismissal could be fair.

Is an employer able to force an employee to take annual leave?

An employee does not necessarily have the right to choose when they take their holiday leave and an employer could tell an employee when to take their leave. However, an employer has to give appropriate notice. The required notice has to be twice as long as the length of the holiday. So if an employer requests an employee to take five days’ holiday, they need to give the employee ten days’ notice of this.

downturns annual leave



An employer may decide that the only viable option is redundancy.

A redundancy technically occurs when the dismissal is due to the closure of the business, the closure of the workplace where the employee was employed or reduced requirements of the business for employees to do work of a particular kind.

Employees who have at least two years’ service and are made redundant are usually entitled to statutory redundancy pay. The payment is calculated by reference to length of service, age and earnings (up to a maximum of £538 per week) with an overall cap of £16,140). Here is a link for calculating these payments.

In order to dismiss fairly the employer should consult with the individual before a decision is reached, carry out a fair selection if appropriate and search for suitable alternative roles. Also, depending on the number of proposed redundancies, the employer may have obligations to consult the workforce collectively.

Generally, employees need to have at least two years’ continuous service with their employer to bring an unfair dismissal claim. There is no minimum service requirement though for discrimination claims or collective consultation claims.

This guide is intended for guidance only and should not be relied upon for specific advice.

If you need any advice on downturns or have other employment law queries please do not hesitate to contact me on 0203 797 1264.

Do check mattgingell.com regularly for updated information.



    Download PDF

    You may also like

    Redundancy guide
    Redundancy: HR guide
    Fair selection for redundancy: HR guide
    Suitable alternative roles: HR guide
    Exit discussions | HR guide
    Share This