Category Archives: Breach of Contract

Protected Conversations Must Remain Secret

SUMMARY: Learn more about protected conversations with your employeesPrivate conversations

In 2013 there was a welcome change, which now enables employers to have what are called protected conversations with their employees about ending the employment relationship.  Previously, employers had been nervous about having such conversations, due to the risk that an employee would later rely on what had been said as evidence in an unfair dismissal claim.

Since then employers in some circumstances have been able to speak more freely with those employees who are not considered to have a future with the organisation, usually because their performance or conduct is substandard. Once the discussions have started, there are likely to be two outcomes:

  1. The employee agrees to leave and their departure is managed with a settlement agreement to remove the risk of any tribunal claim. To learn more about settlement agreements, please click on the following link – http://www.fgsolicitors.co.uk/news/settlement-agreements-a-perfect-ending/
  2. The employee declines the offer of an agreed departure.  If that is the case, the employer can then go back to its internal procedures to manage the situation. If the employee is subsequently dismissed, the following protection arises so that there can be no reference to either:
  • the content of any settlement offer or the pre-termination discussions; and/or
  • the fact an offer has been made or pre-termination discussions have arisen. This level of protection has recently been confirmed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which explained that an employee should not be able to refer to the fact discussions have taken place pre-dismissal in an unfair dismissal claim.

Clarification was also provided that the protection extends to any internal discussions between different managers and human resources.

Protected conversations are potentially a safe way of managing straightforward people management issues. Employers however wanting to have such discussions should be aware of the following:

  • The protection is lost if either party engages in improper behaviour including for example, bullying, harassment, discrimination, victimisation, physical assault, or undue pressure.

Telling an employee that the capability or conduct procedure will be invoked if terms cannot be agreed would not be improper behaviour.  Stating that the individual would be dismissed if they do not agree to leave would be improper behaviour.

  • The employee should be given a reasonable period of time to consider any offer and take advice; ten days is usually considered to be reasonable in most cases.  Although there is no statutory right to be accompanied at any meeting where a protected conversation takes place, as a matter of good practice an employee should be entitled to be accompanied by a work colleague or a trade union representative.
  • The protection will only apply in respect of “ordinary” unfair dismissal claims. Where an employee brings proceedings for automatically unfair dismissal (for example, whistleblowing or health and safety), or any other claim such as discrimination or breach of contract, the protection afforded to pre-termination negotiations will not apply.  This does therefore create inherent uncertainty in the effect of initiating a pre-termination negotiation until an employee commences proceedings, or decides not to do so as settlement terms have been agreed.

If you consider that you may want to have a protected conversation with an employee, it is preferable to take legal advice before doing so.  This will ensure that you are confident that a protected conversation is the right way forward and if not, what other ways there are to managing the situation.

Contact Details

To explore how protected conversations and settlement agreements can provide solutions to workplace problems – please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172 93 22

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.

Settlement Agreements – A Perfect Ending!

160519 Settlement AgreementSUMMARY: Learn more about settlement agreements with the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.  

Q: When can we use a settlement agreement?

A:   Settlement agreements are often used to resolve workplace disputes, and to give the employer the certainty that once the agreement is signed there will be no subsequent employment tribunal claim from a disgruntled employee.  More often than not, the employment relationship will have broken down. The focus then is usually on avoiding unfair dismissal and discrimination claims. A whole raft of statutory employment rights and breach of contract claims can also be compromised.

There does not necessarily need to be a dispute as settlement agreements can be used in a variety of other circumstances where the employment will end.  For example, where there are performance or ill health issues, a voluntary exit or a restructure.

Settlement agreements are not however always about the employment relationship ending, as they can be used at any time during the employment relationship to resolve workplace disputes. For example, if there has been a complaint about how holiday pay has been calculated.

We would recommend that where a settlement agreement is being contemplated, legal advice is taken before any discussions take place with the employee so that any legal risks are identified and then can be properly managed.

Q: What are the benefits of using a settlement agreement?

A:  A settlement agreement allows an employer to manage legal, commercial and reputational risks all in one go in the knowledge that there will be no tribunal claim.  Significant management time, stress and expense can be saved.

Terms can also be agreed on issues that a tribunal would be unable to address. For example, the offer of a positive reference; or the introduction of post termination restrictions, where the existing contract is silent on the employee’s activities once they have left.

Settlement can also keep a dispute out of the public eye and be subject to strict confidentiality provisions.

These benefits need to be balanced with the fact the employee will want something in return, no matter how at fault they may be. Money is usually the main consideration but the circumstances may dictate an entirely different exit package.  There are also restrictions on an employer’s ability to compromise personal injury and accrued pension rights claims.

Q: Are there any essential requirements which need to be complied with to make the deal binding?

A: The following are essential to ensure that the employee is not able to bring an employment tribunal claim:

  • The settlement agreement must:
    – be in writing;
    – identify the complaints to be compromised; and
    – state that it satisfies certain legal requirements.
  • The employee must also have received independent legal advice.

A poorly drafted agreement or one which has been incorrectly signed may leave the door open for an employee to bring a tribunal claim, even if they have already been paid a sum of money.

Q: How long should we give an employee to consider a settlement agreement?

A: An employee should generally have at least 10 days to consider the settlement agreement and obtain legal advice. A shorter period could lead to allegations of undue pressure, permitting reference to the settlement offer in a subsequent tribunal claim, if settlement is not reached.

If there is a commercial imperative requiring a shorter period, legal advice should be taken.

Q: Do we have to pay for the employee’s legal advice?

A: An employer is not obliged to pay the employee’s legal costs.  To get the job done, an employer will often choose to make a contribution.  A good starting point is £250 plus VAT. The following factors may demand a higher contribution: locality, seniority of the employee and the complexity of the case.

Q: Can we recycle a settlement agreement used in the past for a different employee?

A: We would caution against recycling for two reasons:

  • Each employee’s circumstances are different; and these circumstances need to be taken into account in the agreement. A one size fits all approach will not provide the employer with the best possible protection; and may give no protection at all.
  • Any changes to the law may require amendments being made to the agreement.

Contact Details

If you would like to explore whether a settlement agreement may be the best option for your business where you have a workplace problem – please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172 93 22

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.

FG Solicitors’ quick guide to key payments by employers

As part of our popular “quick guides” series, our team of employment law experts has produced an easy to use guide to key payments by employers. For more comprehensive advice on payments which should be made as well as when employees qualify for them, please contact a member of our team using the details below.

STATUTORY WEEKLY PAYMENTS DURING ABSENCES FROM WORK

April 16

Maternity/adoption pay prescribed rate (max)

£139.58

Paternity pay (max)

£139.58

Shared parental pay (max)

£139.58

Sick pay

£88.45

Lower earnings limit  (a)

£112.00

 

NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE RATES (HOURLY)

April 16

October 16

Apprentices  (b)

£3.30

£3.40

Age 16-17

£3.87

£4.00

Age 18-20

£5.30

£5.55

Age 21-24

£6.70

£6.95

National Living Wage (Age 25+)

£7.20

£7.20

 

KEY COMPENSATION LIMITS

April 16

Week’s pay

£479

Statutory redundancy payment: up to 30 weeks’ pay

£14,370

Unfair dismissal basic award: up to 30 weeks’ pay

£14,370

Unfair dismissal compensatory award  (c)

£78,962

Breach of right to be accompanied: up to 2 weeks’ pay

£958

Breach of flexible working regulations: up to 8 weeks’ pay

£3,832

Failure to give written particulars of employment: 2 or 4 weeks’ pay  (d)

£958 or £1,916

Breach of contract claim in employment tribunal

£25,000

Failure to inform or consult: collective redundancy  (e)

90 days’ pay

Failure to inform or consult: TUPE transfer  (e)

13 weeks’ pay

…….

Key:

(a). To qualify for these payments, in addition to other criteria such as length of service, the employee must earn the same or more than the weekly lower earnings limit (“LEL”), which is set by the government. The LEL from April 2016 is £112.00 before tax.

(b). Only applicable to those under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship. For all other apprentices, refer to age bands.

(c). Maximum compensatory award is lower of statutory limit or 52 weeks’ actual gross pay at the time of dismissal. Limit does not apply where reason for dismissal or redundancy selection is carrying out health and safety activities or making a protected disclosure.

(d). Please see our guide to essential contracts.

(e). Calculated by reference to employee’s actual gross pay – the limit on a week’s pay does not apply.

Contact Details

For more details about amending handbooks or contracts of employment or consulting with your workforce please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172 93 22

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.

Does “Discretionary” Commission Mean Employers Can Pay Whatever They Want?

CommissionSUMMARY: Many employers give their employees discretionary bonuses or commission. However, “discretionary” does not mean that employers can pay whatever amount they choose.

In a recent case, the Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court that the amount of “discretionary” commission paid to an employee should be increased.

This case is a useful reminder that an employer should be able to show that the way in which it has exercised its discretion is not irrational or perverse.

Here are our top tips for employers who want to avoid challenges by employees about how they have exercised their discretion:

  1. Have in place an appropriately worded clause in the contract of employment setting out that a bonus/commission is discretionary.
  1. Consider the reason(s) for the amount of bonus/commission you are giving to an employee.
  1. Record your reason(s) in writing at the date the bonus/commission decision is made so that you have evidence ready in the event of a challenge.  Your record should show why and how you have reached a decision.  Flipping a coin is not a rational decision-making process!
  1. If you want a bonus/commission scheme in place, ensure that this is suitably worded to give you flexibility.  For example, the flexibility to vary or withdraw a scheme can be a useful tool.
  1. If you tell employees there are factors that will be taken into account in decision making (for example, in a commission scheme), ensure these factors are taken into account.  If the factors change, tell employees in advance of them carrying out the work.
  1. Treat staff consistently.  If an employee feels that they have been awarded a lower commission/bonus than others, they may claim this is on the basis of a protected characteristic (such as age, sex or disability).  This could leave an employer facing a discrimination, as well as a breach of contract, claim.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to motivate your workforce with the possibility of a bonus/commission payment, but avoid claims from employees when you want or need to pay less.

Case

Hills v Niksum Inc [2016] EWCA Civ 115

Contact Details

For more details about how to set up and implement bonus or commission schemes please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172 93 22

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.

Early Conciliation – A New Era – Q&A

Handshake (123rf ref 9932791)We think we have underpaid ten of our employees. Someone mentioned early conciliation – what’s that all about?

Early conciliation (EC) is a new process and is intended to give parties the opportunity of settling disputes through ACAS to avoid tribunal claims. EC for most types of claim became mandatory from 6 May 2014. It covers, for example; the following types of claim; unfair dismissal, breach of contract, discrimination and equal pay, protection from a detriment and in the situation you describe, unlawful deduction of wages.

How will we know if conciliation has started?

There are five stages to the EC process:

  • Stage 1: The claimant must contact ACAS to provide notification of their intention to bring a claim and will provide your details.
  • Stage 2: The ACAS EC officer (CO) will contact the claimant to clarify the complaint.
  • Stage 3: The CO will then contact you to see if you would like to participate in conciliation.
  • Stage 4: If both parties are willing to discuss settlement there will be a period of conciliation for up to a period of one month. This period can be extended for up to 14 days with both parties’ agreement, where there is a prospect of settlement occurring. The CO will explore the options for resolution without the need for a tribunal hearing. This could include the claimant withdrawing the claim or conversely, you paying compensation or in dismissal cases, considering reinstatement or re-engagement. ACAS cannot make any judgment or provide you with legal advice.
  • Stage 5: The CO will end the EC process and issue a certificate where at any time it appears that there is no reasonable prospect of achieving settlement. If settlement is reached the CO will prepare a COT3 setting out the terms of the settlement.

Do we get a choice?

Yes. Each party can choose whether or not to participate. If either party refuses to enter into conciliation an EC certificate will be issued to confirm this is the case. You can also withdraw from the process at any time. A claimant is not prevented from bringing a claim if they choose not to participate in the EC process so long as they initially contact ACAS.

Do we have to pay for the service?

No. It’s free.

Will there be ten separate EC periods in this case?

Not necessarily. If one of the employees in the group of ten has already complied with the EC requirements in relation to the same dispute and the claims are similar, the others will not need to comply with this obligation.

When can the employee bring the claim?

The claim cannot be brought until the CO has provided a unique EC reference number. The EC period can give the claimant a longer time period in which to bring a claim of up to one extra month, with a possibility of a two-week extension.

As we have lots of minor tribunal claims each year, do you have any tips for managing early conciliation?

We would recommend that you have one point of contact in your HR Department or at a senior management level for dealing with ACAS. This should be publicised as it is possible employees may give their line manager’s details to ACAS.

You can of course nominate your legal representatives to deal with the CO. This may be advisable where the claim is likely to be complex or the amount of money involved is high. In any event, legal advice may assist at any stage of the EC process to help you understand the merits of the potential claim and decide whether settlement is the right way to proceed bearing in mind ACAS cannot advise you. Not all cases will be suitable for settlement but where they are, EC provides an early cost free mechanism for doing so on a confidential basis.

Contact Details

For more details about Early Conciliation please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 1604 871143

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.