Is it reasonable for someone to refuse a job offer as an alternative to redundancy if a reasonable person would have accepted the job offered? Yes, according to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Readman v Devon Primary Care Trust.
Mrs Readman was at risk of being made redundant by her employer and was offered three posts as alternatives to redundancy. Two of them were at a lower grade and the other was at an equivalent grade. She tried one of the lower grade jobs for a four-week statutory trial period but she resigned from this and claimed a redundancy payment.
Instead she was offered the equivalent grade position as an alternative to redundancy. She was asked to accept the offer and, if she did not do so, the Trust would decide whether to make a redundancy payment or not, based on whether her refusal to take the job was unreasonable.
Critically Mrs Readman began her nursing career in 1976 and she had worked as a community nurse since 1985. The alternative job at an equivalent grade was as a Modern Matron and would require her to work in a hospital setting. She did not wish to do so. The Trust decided that her refusal of the job offer was unreasonable and therefore declined to make a redundancy payment.
The employment tribunal therefore had to decide:
- (1) whether the offer of employment was an offer of suitable employment, and
- (2) whether the employee had unreasonably refused that offer.
Whether or not the job offer is of suitable employment must be based on an objective assessment, taking into account the employee’s skills, aptitudes and experience. However, whether refusal of an offer is unreasonable must be based on a subjective assessment so that the question is not whether a reasonable employee would have accepted the employer’s offer. Rather, it is whether the particular employee, taking into account his or her personal circumstances, was reasonable in refusing the offer, based on sound and justifiable reasons.
The result is that even if the employment tribunal takes the view that the offer is reasonable, that does not make its refusal unreasonable in the particular case. Effectively the tribunal had substituted its own decision as to what was reasonable for that of the employee concerned. The core reason for refusal of the offer was unwillingness to work in a hospital setting and that was not addressed by the tribunal. It was a sound and justifiable reason. The decision of the tribunal was therefore overturned and Mrs Readman was entitled to her redundancy payment.
Again, this decision is a reminder that since employment tribunals get such key issues fundamentally wrong it is just as difficult, if not more so, for employers to get things right when seeking to apply fair procedures, particularly in potentially difficult areas such as redundancy. Our subscribers benefit from comprehensive advice and support from the outset and throughout the process when important employment matters such as redundancies need to be implemented.