We've been conducting operations in the UK for several years now, and unfortunately, we are now considering layoffs for a portion of our workforce. What should we be aware of as we plan our approach to these dismissals?

The first thing to know about UK dismissal law is that it's different – different from the U.S., different from other European countries. The business reasons for the reduction in force, or RIF, might be the same across borders, but your process has to flex to local requirements. Taking the same approach globally could be a costly mistake.

Then, there are two important questions you need to ask your internal HR or project team: How many dismissals are in scope, and what is the length of service of the impacted employees?

The answers to those questions will have a significant impact on the level of risk, costs of dismissal and length of time you need to get this done.

Broadly analogous to U.S. WARN act requirements, special rules apply in the UK when employers plan mass layoffs. The important number is 20. If an employer is proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees within a period of 90 days, then additional collective consultation obligations apply. Those can include electing employee representatives or speaking to unions, and generally add one to two months to the process. Failing to follow these rules can lead to claims for up to three months' pay per affected employee, so working out whether they apply right at the outset is vital.

Length of service is important because the key protection UK employees enjoy against termination – "unfair dismissal" – generally only apples to those with two or more years' service. Below that threshold, employees can be dismissed for any or no reason, just so long as it's not for a short list of protected reasons (like discrimination, retaliation against whistleblowing and other areas that you'd expect).

But the story is different for those with more than two years of service. Those employees can bring an unfair dismissal claim for up to around a year's pay or USD 115,000 unless the employer has a fair reason for dismissal and follows a fair process. Redundancy is a potentially fair reason, but it requires at least two consultation meetings with employees to outline and discuss the proposed dismissals, their methods of selection, potential redeployment and other topics before the dismissal is affected. This adds two to four weeks onto the process, and requires prior planning.

There are, of course, plenty more traps for the unwary, but I hope this gives you a flavour of some of the issues you will need to plan for if making dismissals in the UK. For more information, please contact your Littler attorney.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.