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“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”

We rarely get the chance to be literary here but we came across a story this week that even Robbie Burns himself would have described as poetic justice.

As you know, we like to bring you various real-life redundancy stories to show how the process can work and produce the best outcomes for everybody involved, allowing them all to move on with a fair outcome. 

It’s quite rare that we find one that made us read it twice because we couldn’t believe what we read the first time. 

Lyn Ferguson was a barmaid at Burns Bar in Forfar, named after the famous Scottish poet.

She was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkin lymphoma in July 2016 and her condition was considered so serious that she brought forward her wedding and was also forced to cancel her honeymoon as she deteriorated further.  

She underwent more than 320 hours of chemotherapy and eventually had stem cell and bone marrow treatment. In July 2017 she was in remission but eager to return to work. 

After a phased return, her shift pattern was changed, without prior discussion or consultation, from days to late evenings which would severely affect her already depleted energy levels. 

She provided a written statement from her consultant to help support her right to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to her work pattern. 

What happened next is accurate albeit incredible. 

Iris Edgar, the owner of Burns Bar, gave Lyn a letter saying that the company that owned the bar (Braid Ltd trading as Burns Bar) was to cease trading in a months time and that she was being dismissed by reason of redundancy, as were all staff.  

Lyn hadn’t been advised that she was at risk of redundancy, hadn’t been consulted at any time or undergone any selection process. To quote the judgement: “(Ms Edgar) did not follow any procedure at all. It was a sham redundancy.”

The reason for the second statement becomes clear when we learn that a second company (Maggidog Ltd trading as Burns Bar) had been incorporated with Ms Edgar as its sole director for the same purpose as Braid. They’d also started looking for new staff via Facebook for a bar staff position, exactly for the post that Lyn was working in. 

Lyn was the only employee of Braid made redundant and didn’t transfer to Maggidog. All other staff members continued working without any break in service. 

When Lyn found out, she was told that she could have applied for the posted jobs as they  were advertised on the internet despite not being told the name of the new company nor that she should have been transferred under TUPE

The verdict of the employment judge is emphatic: “There was a very strong inference that the alleged cessation of trading of (Braid Ltd) had been engineered to remove the claimant from employment. I am satisfied that there was no consultation whatsoever and that there was unfair dismissal.”

To summarise then – after failing to make reasonable adjustments or engage with Lyn, it would appear that the owner created an entirely new company in order to remove one employee. 

Ironically the punishment cost the company far more than if they’d followed proper legal procedure in the first place. Lyn was awarded £2,338 compensation for unfair dismissal and £11,081.33 for Injury to feelings for discriminatory conduct. 

The vast majority of companies that have to make staff redundant will follow the law to the letter and won’t invent elaborate schemes that end up costing them more in fines and negative publicity. 

If your business or your employer is struggling, and you’re facing a redundancy situation then get in touch with us. We can advise you on what you’re entitled to and how your company should go about the procedure properly. 

It seems fitting to end with advice from Robbie Burns himself for anybody considering drawing up clever plans.

From his poem To a Mouse: 

“But Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be vain:

“The best laid schemes of mice and men Go often askew,

“And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!”