The decision of Lloyds Pharmacy to potentially close 190 pharmacies, and the associated changes to their internal structures have no doubt sent shockwaves through many pharmacists who now feel less certain about their own job security. Many fear this could be just the beginning of a significant reduction in the number of community pharmacies and that they too may face uncertainty in the coming period.
In this article, we outline what these changes could mean for individuals, but emphasise that we have not used precise legal terms. It should not be assumed as specific legal advice for pharmacists’ circumstances which, as we outline, will differ from person to person.
The employment contract is based on statutory law in terms of what it must contain. It can also evolve over a period of time, with subsequent written amendments, such as references to or inclusion of agreed company policies, and “custom and practice”. These factors cannot take an individual’s rights below that defined in statute, but may enhance them or clarify aspects not detailed in the law.
UK law takes equality seriously, and an individual’s characteristics or responsibilities may also affect how they should be treated. For example, a person on maternity leave must have the same opportunity to be consulted and act on change as somebody who is not on maternity leave; hence, this may mean the final discussion of their situation is held after they return to work.
Redundancies arise when the requirement for work ceases or diminishes within the business. Under employment law, individuals and groups should be informed and consulted about what is happening to their work, and if their employment ends through redundancy, they have a right to a redundancy payment in compensation for losing their job. The payment will depend on the terms of their employment (as there are enhanced as well as statutory payments), their length of service and the individual’s age.
Experience has shown us that while this may be the most straightforward of possible outcomes and may provide closure to the relationship with the current employer, it will sometimes include unexpected complexities. For example, the manner in which the redundancy has been handled, possible issues of discrimination, disputes over when an employee facing redundancy can leave if they secure alternative employment, calculating redundancy pay, how to treat outstanding annual leave, pension contributions and the accuracy of employment references are just some of the issues that may occur.
Suitable alternative employment with the same employer
It may be, especially with a larger employer, that rather than suggest redundancy an employer proposes to reassign an employee to other work. This presents the employee with two key questions:
1) Is the new work a “suitable” comparison to the work I was previously employed to do?
2) Do I want to / am I able to take on the new role?
The combination of “yes” or “no” to these two questions, especially if the employer’s view on the answers is different, may place the individual in dispute with the employer about whether they should move into the new role or, if no other suitable alternative is identified, if they should after all be made redundant.
The comparison between roles will include consideration of hours worked, remuneration, location, responsibilities and job content.
The suitability will also depend on the individual’s circumstances, and what is suitable alternative employment for one individual may not necessarily be suitable for another. For example, a transfer to another branch located 15 miles away may make no material impact on one person’s commute, but could make another person’s overall commute unreasonable.
Transfer to another employer
If a pharmacy is sold to another organisation then it may be that the individual’s employment contract is included in the sale and hence individuals may be faced with the proposal of a new employer. This is known as a “TUPE” transfer, after the acronym for the relevant legislation for these circumstances ‘Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regs’.
As with transfers within the same employer, any changes to the role at, or after, transfer could mean the job has become something different and the individual could find themselves wishing to dispute whether in fact they are redundant (or not).
Who is impacted?
We are very mindful that the closure of pharmacies affects patients and their care, but this article is about the impact on pharmacists, so we will not explore the impact on patients here.
The Lloyds announcement has already shown how these sorts of changes do not only affect the employees in branches subject to potential closure or transfer. Lloyds’ management arrangements and support structures are also changing in light of this decision, including some new roles being created.
The impact does not end there. Other pharmacies in the locality of a closing branch will have some level of impact and that too may impact on the individual’s job. Similarly, there will also be some level of impact on jobs within an organisation that purchases any of the Lloyds branches.
What should individuals do?
In this article we have scratched the surface of what this sort of change may mean for individuals. We provide our members with expert guidance and support for any of these potential situations, tailored to their specific circumstances and we reiterate that our members should contact us with any concerns.
We also understand that the employment law aspect of this sort of decision is not the whole story and that other aspects, such as the potential impact on morale and mental health, also need to be considered.
We highlight that at times pharmacists may want additional help and advice from Pharmacist Support, the independent charity working for pharmacists. They are there to provide counsel and support in times of need.