All change on collective redundancy: the new meaning of establishment

Every now and then, a case comes along that shatters perceived wisdom and established practice. The Woolworths case (as it has become known) is one of those cases.

Up until this point, an employer embarking on a collective redundancy exercise could be fairly confident that the consultation obligations were triggered only if it proposed to dismiss 20 or more employees ‘at one establishment’ within a 90-day period. For multiple site businesses, this threshold was usually applied to each place of work to give some flexibility before hitting this consultation obligation threshold.

Breaking new ground, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has now ruled that this approach is wrong. According to the EAT, the only way to deliver the core objectives of protection of dismissed workers is to construe ‘establishment’ as meaning the retail business of each employer – that is, assessing the business as a whole rather than on a site-by-site basis (USDAW v Ethel Austin [in administration])…

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