SUMMARY: Learn more about protected conversations with your employees
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:
- 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/
- 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.
To explore how protected conversations and settlement agreements can provide solutions to workplace problems – please contact:
+44 (0) 808 172 93 22
This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.