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Woolworths case referred to ECJ

Nick Thorpe
22/01/2014
The so-called "Woolworths" case, concerning the threshold for collective redundancy consultation, was before the Court of Appeal today. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS) The so-called "Woolworths" case, concerning the threshold for collective redundancy consultation, was before the Court of Appeal today. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS) was appealing against the Employment Appeal Tribunal's (EAT) decision to award compensation to former Woolworths staff employed at stores where fewer than 20 redundancies were made.

As readers of this blog will recall, the EAT took many of us (including BIS) by surprise last year in overturning decades of accepted practice and ruling that the words "at one establishment" under UK collective redundancy legislation should be disregarded for the purposes of any collective redundancy involving 20 or more employees. This decision meant that, rather than take a site-by-site approach, employers should look at the organisation as a whole when calculating the number of proposed redundancies.

This has since created great uncertainty, as well as practical challenges, for a large number of multi-site employers, particularly those in the retail sector, when carrying out redundancies across a number of sites. Unfortunately, this uncertainty is likely to continue.

It is understood that the "Woolworths" case has now been referred to the European Court of Justice and will, possibly, be joined with an earlier referral to the ECJ in the "Bonmarche" case. We understand that the "Bonmarche" case has yet to be listed for hearing and therefore it is likely to be some time before we get clarity on this issue. In the meantime, multi-site employers should continue to take great care in how they carry out redundancies across multiple sites to avoid successful claims for protective awards of up to 90 days' pay per affected employee.

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