Written for the ABC.
One Friday at 4:30pm, I joined a video call with my co-workers. From our small, designated rectangles, we shared hellos and awkward virtual small talk before we were told we no longer had jobs.
After two months of vigorous job-seeking, the same company asked me to return. It was a risk, but I was quickly reassured of its strengthened position.
Fast-forward six weeks to another video call and the news the company was closing its Australian operations.
It was a wild ride. Having experienced it twice, I asked an employment lawyer and an HR consultant for their tips on navigating a redundancy.
What defines a redundancy?
“Redundancy is about a position ceasing to exist, not a performance issue,” says Tracey Davies, an employment law specialist based in Melbourne.
“It’s important for the person facing redundancy to understand that it is not a reflection on them personally. Rather, there has been an impact on the business, meaning the employer has had to reduce staff numbers.”
Determining whether a redundancy is genuine is an important step.
According to the Fair Work Commission, a genuine redundancy is where the employer ‘no longer requires the person’s job to be performed by anyone because of changes in the operational requirements of the employer’s enterprise’.
Employers need to comply with the award or enterprise agreement you’re under to consult about the redundancy.
Redundancy is different from being stood down by your employer, where work and pay may be stopped for a period of time for a variety of reasons.
Ask plenty of questions and consult Fair Work if you need to
“Engage in a conversation with your employer if you’re unsure of anything before taking any next steps,” says HR consultant Lisa Sheehan.
“The organisation should be able to explain exactly why the role will no longer exist, or that your responsibilities will be absorbed into other roles. It should be a very clear, transparent rationale,” she says.
“You should also receive information in writing detailing final payments and effective end date.” This ensures there’s no confusion or discrepancies.
“If you don’t get answers you feel are appropriate, then you’re in your rights to go to Fair Work,” Ms Sheehan says.
Fair Work has redundancy information on its website. There’s also an infoline via 13 13 94 and a free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.
“Anyone losing their job will tell you it’s an incredibly stressful time,” Mrs Davies says.
“Anger, resentment and self-doubt are common emotions. People also question if their experiences in the business were authentic,” Ms Sheehan says.
Speaking to family and friends can be helpful, as someone you know may have been through a similar situation. You could also seek assistance from a counsellor or a psychologist.
“Don’t believe you need to conquer it all on your own,” Mrs Davies says.
While it may be difficult, leaving your role as professionally as possible may help you secure future work.
“If you are working through your notice period then keep working to a high standard,” Mrs Davies says. “If you leave professionally, you may be able to rely upon your old employer or close work colleagues for future references or contacts for other jobs.”
Sometimes there’s a silver lining
The silver lining doesn’t usually reveal itself too early after redundancy, but there can be some pluses.
“A forced change is not necessarily a bad change,” Mrs Davies says. “If you have another job lined up or are confident in your ability to obtain further work, usually you will feel in a better position. You can actually take a break from the workforce without worrying about financial pressures.”
Depending on your circumstances, it can also be a rare time to reflect and ask yourself what you did and didn’t enjoy in your previous role; whether you admired the leadership and what skills you can take forward.
This article contains general information only. You should consider obtaining independent professional advice in relation to your particular circumstances.