In the case of Readman v Devon PCT, Mrs Readman worked for the respondent PCT from 1985 to 2008 in community based nursing. She was ultimately employed as a community based modern matron. In November 2007, she was placed at risk of redundancy and was offered three alternative roles, one as a modern matron working in a small community hospital. She refused this on the basis that she had been working in community nursing roles for over 20 years and had no desire to return to a hospital setting. Her refusal was also against a background of a desire to emigrate to Canada, and in the interim she was offered a job in Canada. She was made redundant in November 2008 and emigrated to Canada in 2009. The respondent refused to pay a redundancy payment, asserting that Mrs Readman’s refusal was an unreasonable rejection of suitable alternative employment.

This case has now been heard by the Court of Appeal. By way of background, the employment tribunal had concluded that Mrs Readman wanted to move to Canada, the modern matron role was practically identical to Mrs Readman’s previous job, and therefore constituted suitable alternative employment. They found that she had unreasonably refused this offer and no redundancy payment was payable. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturned this. They found that the tribunal had failed to apply the correct test in considering whether Mrs Readman’s refusal of the alternative role was reasonable or not. In particular, the EAT criticised the finding that Mrs Readman had rejected the role because she wanted to move to Canada and found that the rejection of the role was sound and justifiable.

The Court of Appeal found that, whilst the tribunal had in fact applied the incorrect test, the EAT had also incorrectly applied the band of reasonable responses test, which is the test for unfair dismissal. There had been a failure to address Mrs Readman’s central point, which was that she did not want to return to work in a hospital setting. The court also concluded further analysis was needed regarding the move to Canada and whether this was the reason for rejecting the post.

The case is therefore to be remitted back to the employment tribunal for fresh consideration. What this case underlines is how difficult the issue of withholding redundancy payments can be.

What is clear from the case is that a two-stage test must be applied. Suitability of alternative employment is looked at objectively, however, whether a refusal is unreasonable or not is looked at from the employee’s subjective viewpoint. Issues such as differences between hospital-based or community-based practice may be relevant if these are important in the mind of the employee.