For the last year or so I have been talking about TUPE on a regular basis, both in teleseminars and in person. So far, no employee engagement, talent management or onboarding specialist has turned up.
Is TUPE seen as a completely unrelated discipline or as a simple compliance exercise? This may be why so many of the questions I deal with are around “What do we have to do?” instead of “This is what we need to achieve…”
The consultation elements of TUPE are key to success or failure. There are two employers – the current employer (transferor) and the future employer (transferee). The law treats the two for most purposes as if they are one employer, but not at this moment. The transferor has to give elected employee reps information about the transfer, and to state what measures it is proposing to take (sometimes known as a “measures statement”), and the ‘measures’ it expects the transferee to take. The transferor is required to consult the employee reps about its ‘measures’ – with a view to seeking employee agreement to them.
Often that the transferor fails to organise TUPE reps, believing that there is a ’20 person’ threshold to this requirement. That threshold is a redundancy one – it does not apply to TUPE. There is no statutory timetable for TUPE consultation unless more than 20 employees are at risk of redundancy and the redundancy thresholds are triggered. It can be tricky to do a good consultation exercise in no time at all whatever the law says. Many HR departments think they have to consult only on proposed changes to contracts (most of which would be difficult under TUPE anyway) whereas the ‘measures statement’ should cover changes to the contractual terms (such as pension schemes so far as TUPE permits) but also to non contractual arrangements (e.g. discretionary sick pay and bonus schemes).
The transferee is required by TUPE to provide their ‘measures statement’ to the transferor in good time so that the transferor can pass it on to the employee reps. Sometimes the transferor will even allow the transferee access to staff to begin their own consultation process. But there is no requirement for the transferor to allow personal contact or meetings with staff prior to the transfer date. If the two parties are rival contractors (rather than a situation of client outsourcing), there can be little practical motivation for the outgoing employer to invest a lot of time in the consultation process for outgoing employees. Some employers simply make an announcement and say “your new employers will tell you everything when you turn up to work for them”.
Compliance is not much of a goal
The real problem for the transferee is not legal compliance, which can be fairly easily achieved in most circumstances. Difficulties arise because the incoming employees are bringing with them the whole psychological contract they had with their existing employer, along with their own personal set of misunderstandings about their contractual and legal entitlements, their expectations of how they should be treated, and their memories of how they were. They will be adding to that psychological contract how they are treated during this process – by the transferee and by their soon to be ex-employer, the transferor It’s a potent mix that can result in three way tribunal claims, disaffected employees and a lot of wasted time and effort.
If the transferee is “allowed in” prior to the transfer, the consultation process can be a wonderful way to start to understand these issues, and to arrange to bring those individuals into their new employment relationship with a better basis for working together. At any point consultation can also be the time when a mini ‘skills audit’ is done to see what training is needed to properly induct the new team members. It can be a ‘getting to know you’ process and a ‘checking we understand the data’ process. Alternatively, you can make this process into: ‘This is where we tell you what we want you to know, and you just listen and obey’.
The spirit of consultation is often overlooked in the rush to compliance, and many highly motivated and resourceful individuals start working for their new employer confused, angry and resentful. It is an extremely hard thing for some people to be sent to work for someone they have never met, never applied to work for or indeed wanted to work for. We need to recognise that, and build our processes accordingly. This is the first opportunity you have to show them how your ‘employer brand’ really works – are you going to fail?
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.