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When is a redundancy not a redundancy?

When is a redundancy not a redundancy? When it’s a ‘disestablishment’. It’s when your post is discontinued and you are put out of a job, but because it’s described by a different word, there are none of the compensations of redundancy.

And it is, of course, complete and utter nonsense. But that did not stop one trust trying it on with a long-established consultant.

The doctor attended two meetings about his role and future, and then shortly after, received a letter from the trust saying his post would end three months hence.

It made an offer of what it deemed ‘suitable alternative employment’ — a formal process that only happens in redundancy situations.

Yet instead of the word ‘redundant’ it said the post, which the doctor had held for 16 years, was going to be ‘disestablished’. And there was no mention of compensation. It already seemed clear that the trust was trying to avoid a large payout.

This was confirmed when I met the trust HR department. I said it was as clear a redundancy situation as could be, but the HR representative would have none of it. He kept saying we would ‘lock horns over this’, another odd phrase which made me wonder if he worked from a dictionary all of his own.

Also, the offers of alternative employment were significantly different to the post held. The doctor worked in a very specialised area and the alternatives were in the general specialty, in which he had not practised for 17 years.

We sought the view of the relevant royal college who supported our view that the offers were not suitable.

The doctor involved the BMA at an early stage. Pursuing his case involved a number of meetings, letters and taking advice from solicitors to confirm the view that this was indeed a redundancy.

In the meantime, the initial three-month notice period was extended by another three months because it did not leave time for meaningful consultation.

The case then took a slightly farcical turn as the trust appeared to realise that without the doctor, no one would be able to take over his work. So it extended the notice period again — and then shortly afterwards decided it wanted to keep him after all. It never gave an official reason, but we suspect it may have taken legal advice and realised its position was indefensible.

The amazing thing is that the trust did not seem to think it was doing anything wrong. Many of us have been subjected to management speak. But the fact that a trust HR department could think that simply by giving a redundancy a different name it could avoid its legal obligations simply beggars belief.

The doctor was exasperated by the experience, but continues in his job, happy to treat the patients for whom he trained extensively.