Malcolm ZoppiSun Oct 15 2023

Do I Have to Keep Staff When Buying a Business?

The pros and cons for keeping staff after you’ve bought your new business. Learn more here.

Do I Have to Keep Staff When Buying a Business?

Do I Have to Keep Staff When Buying a Business?

When considering the acquisition of an existing business, one of the primary concerns for potential buyers is the issue of staff retention. It’s common to wonder whether you are obliged to keep the current employees and what the implications are if you choose not to. Understanding the legal framework and the rights of employees in such situations is essential in ensuring a smooth transition and avoiding potential disputes.

In the UK, the legal framework governing the employment rights and obligations in the context of business transfers is the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, commonly known as TUPE. These regulations stipulate that, in most cases, employees are automatically transferred to the new owner, maintaining the same terms and conditions as their original contracts. It is crucial to be aware of the implications of these regulations and any specific market or sector factors that may impact the retention of staff in your newly acquired business.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding employee rights and obligations when buying a business is crucial for a seamless transition
  • TUPE regulations often protect employees’ contracts during the transfer of a business
  • Effective planning during the pre-acquisition, transfer, and post-acquisition stages will ensure compliance with legal obligations and sector-specific factors.

UK’s Legal Framework

Tupe Regulations

When buying a business in the UK, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, or TUPE, is an important legal aspect to consider. TUPE is designed to protect the rights of existing employees when a business is transferred to a new owner. This means that when you buy a business, you are obliged to take on the existing staff under the same terms and conditions as their previous employer.

Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE)

Employment Law

Understanding UK employment law is crucial when taking over a business. When acquiring a company, you must comply with the legal obligations towards your employees, such as providing at least the statutory minimum working conditions, including the national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and providing a safe work environment. It is essential that you seek professional advice on employment law to ensure compliance with all relevant regulations and to avoid potential disputes.

Unfair Dismissal

Under TUPE regulations and UK employment law, dismissing an existing employee without a valid reason can lead to unfair dismissal claims. When buying a business, you must consider the implications of any potential staff changes carefully. If you plan to restructure the business or make redundancies, ensure that you follow proper consultation procedures and provide a clearly outlined business rationale for your decisions. Employees have the right to take you to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal, so understanding the legal framework around dismissals is key to avoiding costly and time-consuming legal disputes.

Pre-Acquisition Stage

Due Diligence

During the pre-acquisition stage, it is crucial to conduct thorough due diligence to understand the business’s current state and the implications of retaining or replacing existing staff. This process involves examining various aspects of the business, such as ownership, sector, size, and employee representatives.

First and foremost, it is essential to review the existing staff and employee’s contract, terms and conditions of employment, as well as their employee liability information (ELI). ELI plays a significant role in providing insights into any liabilities that might arise from retaining the employees after the business’s sale. Keep an eye on the due diligence period as this is the time when you have the opportunity to investigate all the details regarding the business you plan to invest in. Remember, ensuring that the business aligns with your interests during the due diligence period will save you from potential issues down the line.

Always do your due diligence!

Secondly, it is vital to assess the impact that retaining the existing staff could have on the business’ operations. For instance, would keeping the existing staff contribute positively to the company’s long-term goals, or would replacing them with new employees or contractors be more beneficial? Make sure to consult employee representatives (if any) during this stage and obtain their input in such decisions.

Additionally, when considering keeping the existing staff, it’s essential to determine the applicability of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations to your specific situation. TUPE applies if the business remains fundamentally the same after the change of ownership; thus, the remaining employees will be doing the same job for the same clients or involved in a service provision change.

Finally, seeking professional advice during the pre-acquisition stage is highly recommended. Legal or sector experts can offer guidance on the complexities of due diligence and provide valuable insights into how the retention or replacement of existing staff might impact the business you aim to acquire.

In conclusion, the pre-acquisition stage is crucial in determining whether or not to keep existing staff when purchasing a business. Conducting thorough due diligence, considering the operational impact, reviewing employment terms, understanding sector-specific regulations, and seeking professional advice from independent legal advisor are all essential steps to take before finalising your decision.

The Transfer Process

Inform and Consult

When considering buying a business, it is essential to inform and consult the existing staff members. In the UK, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations puts an obligation on both the buyer and seller to inform and consult employees about the proposed transfer. This process involves inform employees discussing any implications, such as changes in pay or working conditions that may affect them. As the prospective buyer, you should work closely with the seller’s HR department to ensure proper communication with staff members.

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Transfer of Undertakings

TUPE helps in ensuring that the existing staff retain their current terms and conditions of employment, including pay and other benefits, when the business changes ownership. As the buyer, you will inherit any rights, liabilities, and obligations relating to the employees, including their existing contracts of employment.

It is worth noting that any dismissals based largely the same manner or solely on the transfer could be seen as unfair, unless there are Economic, Technical, or Organisational (ETO) reasons justifying such actions. As a new business owner, you should be cautious about making significant changes to the staff without proper grounds.

Continuity of Employment

One of the key aspects of TUPE is the continuity of employment for the existing staff. This means that their current employment contracts, and accrued benefits will continue as if there was no change in ownership. Therefore, the employees’ length of service, annual leave entitlement, and any other rights gathered throughout their tenure will be preserved.

The continuity of employment is essential for safeguarding employees’ rights during the transfer process. However, it is crucial for both the seller and buyer to understand that it also carries a responsibility to ensure the staff’s continued employment under the same terms and conditions as before the acquisition.

In conclusion, when buying or selling a business, the protection and rights of the existing staff must be taken into account during the transfer process. By understanding and complying with the TUPE regulations, as well as respecting the Continuity of Employment, you can ensure a smoother transition for both the business and its employees.

Post-Acquisition Considerations

Employee Contracts

When you buy a business, existing employees’ rights typically carry over to the new buyer and employer. Employee contracts are a key factor, and you need to be aware of your obligations. As a buyer, it’s crucial to ensure that all employee contracts are reviewed, and you are familiar with the terms and conditions of employment. It’s essential to maintain transparency with the staff to help ensure a smooth transition.

Redundancy and Dismissal

Acquiring a business may lead to changes in staffing, with possibilities of redundancy or dismissal. You should approach these matters cautiously and adhere to employment laws in the UK. Assess the need for redundancies carefully, and follow a fair and transparent process when implementing them. Make sure to consult the affected employees, provide them with relevant information and consider any alternative solutions.

When it comes to dismissal, it is important to note that dismissing employees because of the acquisition may expose you to unfair dismissal claims. Avoid making hasty decisions regarding staff dismissal and review each case individually to minimise potential liability.

Public Sector Transfers

In situations where a business is being transferred as part of a public sector operation or service provision change, special regulations apply. The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations (TUPE) protect employees during such transfers. TUPE ensures that employees’ terms and conditions remain the same, and their continuous employment as employees transferring elsewhere is preserved.

In addition, public sector transfers may have specific procedures or guidance on staffing issues. Ensure that you are familiar with these requirements and consider whether additional consultation or negotiation with trade unions or other employee representatives is needed.

In conclusion, when buying a business, it is crucial to consider the implications on existing employees and their contracts. Address redundancy and dismissal issues cautiously and be aware of the regulations surrounding public sector transfers. By approaching these matters confidently and knowledgeably, you can help ensure a smoother acquisition process.

Market and Sector Implications

Economic, Technical and Organisational Factors

When considering whether to retain staff after buying a business, you must assess the impact of economic, technical and organisational (ETO) factors on the market and sector. Economic factors, such as market conditions and competition, may require you to maintain staff levels to sustain or improve the business’s performance. However, if the market is shrinking or undergoing significant change, you might need to restructure or downsize the workforce.

Moreover, technological advancements can influence your decision to keep or let go of employees. If the business relies on outdated systems that require manual processes, you may want to invest in automation and reduce the workforce accordingly. On the other hand, a highly skilled and adaptable workforce could be invaluable in helping your business thrive in a rapidly evolving technology landscape.

Organisational factors encompass the business’s culture, morale, and core values. Retaining existing staff can help maintain continuity and foster a smooth transition for clients and stakeholders. However, you should also be aware of any potential social implications – such as staff resentment or resistance – that may arise from changes in ownership or management. Keeping the lines of communication open and transparent can help minimise negative consequences.

Services Sector

In the catering and service sector, staff play a crucial role in delivering exceptional customer experiences. When acquiring a business in this sector, you will need to weigh the advantages of retaining experienced, well-trained staff against any potential cost-savings or strategic restructuring. Ensuring that staff maintain high morale and motivation during the transition is important for customer satisfaction and the overall success of your business.

Consider the following aspects when retaining staff in the services sector:

  • Reputation: Retaining staff with a proven track record of excellent customer service can bolster your business’s reputation.
  • Client relationships: In a relationship-driven industry, your staff’s existing connections with clients can be invaluable.
  • Skills and knowledge: Experienced staff can contribute their deep understanding of operations, sector trends, and customer preferences.

Ultimately, your decision to retain or let go of employees when buying a business will depend on a thorough analysis of market and sector implications, including ETO factors and industry-specific considerations. Balancing these factors with your strategic goals and vision will help ensure the continued success of your business.

Professional Legal Obligation

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When buying a business, you may have certain legal obligations towards the existing staff, and it is crucial to be aware of these responsibilities. Consulting a solicitor could provide you with the necessary guidance to ensure you comply with all pertinent regulations.

It is your legal obligation to inform existing employees about the impending sale of the business. You should ideally notify all staff well in advance of share sale, either through their trade union or an employee representative. Open communication ensures that the employees’ interests are protected, fostering trust between you and your new workforce.

While TUPE regulation typically requires employees to be retained, specific exceptions do exist. In some cases, you may have legitimate grounds for dismissing staff or altering their terms and conditions. A solicitor’s advice can be invaluable in determining when and how such exceptions are applicable.

To summarise, there are legal obligations you must fulfil as a business buyer concerning existing staff. A solicitor can help navigate these requirements, protecting both you and your potential employees. Being aware of and compliant with regulations like TUPE can help provide a smooth transition of ownership and set the foundation for your new business relationship with employees.


When buying a small business, it’s essential to consider employees contractual relationship with the existing staff and their contracts. You are not obligated to keep all staff members when purchasing a business, but you must be aware of the current employees’ rights. Review the employment status of each staff member, including those on ‘zero hours contracts’, as their rights may differ from those on standard contracts.

The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations – or TUPE – play a crucial role in determining the rights of existing staff when a business is sold. Under these regulations, existing employees may have the right to be employed under the same terms as their original contract.

As a new owner, it’s your responsibility to inform and consult all employees who may be affected by the change. In many cases, transparent communication and addressing staff concerns can help ensure a smoother transition for both you, incoming employer, and the employees.

Effectively managing the existing staff when buying a small business can have a significant impact on the overall success of your acquisition. Taking the time to understand and navigate employment regulations and fostering a positive workplace environment will serve you and your new employees well.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens to employees during a company acquisition?

During a company acquisition, employees’ rights are usually protected under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations (TUPE). This means that the new employer must take on the existing employees with the same terms and conditions as their original contracts. Both parties involved in the transfer must consult with the employees to inform them about the process and any changes that may affect them.

Can contracts be changed after a business takeover?

Employment contracts can be changed after a business takeover, but this must be done with care. If the new employer wants to make changes to employees’ contracts, they must ensure that they are for a valid reason, such as economic, technical, or organisational reasons. Employers must also consult with the affected employees and obtain their agreement to the proposed changes. Unilateral changes to contracts can lead to disputes and potential legal issues.

Is redundancy an option if a business is sold?

Redundancy may be an option for a new company or business owner if there are valid reasons to make some positions redundant. These could include operational, financial, or organisational factors. However, the new employer must follow proper redundancy procedures, consulting with the affected employees and considering alternatives to redundancy beforehand. Employees who are made redundant may have the right to redundancy pay and other entitlements depending on their length of service and contract terms.

When is TUPE not applicable?

TUPE regulations typically apply to most business transfers and service provision changes. However, there are specific situations where TUPE may not apply, such as share sales, transfers of assets alone, or transfers of undertakings situated outside the UK. Additionally, TUPE may not apply if the transferor is under bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings and the main purpose of business transfer is to liquidate the assets.

What occurs with employee benefits after a business sale?

After a business sale, employee benefits should generally be maintained by the outgoing employer and the new employer under the same terms and conditions as the original contracts. However, the new employer may wish to harmonise or change employee benefits for valid reasons. In this case, they must consult with the employees and obtain their agreement to any proposed changes to their benefits.

Are staff transfers common in group companies?

Staff transfers can be common in group companies, especially when there is a reorganisation or restructuring of the business. Transfers within a group of companies may also trigger the application of TUPE regulations to ensure the protection of transferring employees” rights. However, the specific circumstances will determine whether TUPE applies or not.

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This document has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. You should consult with appropriate professionals before buying a business. Additionally, this document is not intended to prejudge the legal, financial or tax position of any person buying a business.

Disclaimer: This document has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. You should always seek independent professional advice and not rely on the content of this document as every individual circumstance is unique. Additionally, this document is not intended to prejudge the legal, financial or tax position of any person.

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