In a potential redundancy situation where the employer has made a suitable offer of alternative employment and a reasonable employee would accept this, an employee cannot reasonably turn down the offer, right? Well, yes they can, according to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Readman v Devon Primary Care Trust.
Mrs Readman had worked in the NHS since 1976 but ceased working in a hospital in 1985 in favour of a community focus. In November 2007, the PCT told her she was at risk of redundancy and in July 2008 offered her an alternative position as modern matron at Teignmouth Hospital. Mrs Readman rejected this offer citing her community background and explaining she did not want to return to hospital based work. The PCT therefore withheld her redundancy payment, arguing this was an unreasonable rejection of an offer of suitable alternative employment. The Employment Tribunal (ET) agreed and found against Mrs Readman on the basis that a reasonable employee would have accepted the offer.
Mrs Readman appealed and the EAT overturned the decision stating the ET should not have applied a wholly objective test. They said the relevant question is not what a reasonable employee would have done but whether Mrs Readman herself was reasonable in turning down the offer, taking into account her particular reasons. She had consciously moved away from working in a hospital environment over 23 years previous, and the EAT concluded her desire not to return to this was a sound and justifiable reason for rejecting the alternative employment. She was entitled to her redundancy payment.
The correct approach therefore is to consider the particular employee’s reasons for refusing the offer of alternative employment and to decide whether those reasons are sound and justifiable.