I recently advised an employee client. She had been the subject of what I call the ‘Dirty Harry school of HR’, where one person is judge, jury and executioner. After years of unblemished service, her manager had called her into a room, told her that her face didn’t fit any more and handed her a severance agreement with the idea that she would sign quickly. They had offered her £20,000.
I pointed out to her that her former employer had made two mistakes. The first was that, even if they did have good grounds to dismiss her (which I don’t think they did), they hadn’t followed any process at all. Their other big mistake was that they had tried to save money on lawyers’ fees by drafting the agreement themselves.
The upshot was that I advised her that the agreement didn’t effectively settle any of her Tribunal claims. Also, because of the shoddy drafting of it, I pointed out that she had a good argument that she was entitled to two payments of £20,000, double what her employer had intended to offer.
On my advice, she signed the agreement, accepted the £20,000 and then once it was safely in her bank account asked for her former employer for a second payment of £20,000. With some further advice from me she secured that second payment. The client was understandably delighted and oddly enough her former employer instructed solicitors to tie up the second payment.
There are many homemade things that are wonderful (my thoughts instantly turn to a chocolate cake made by my very talented daughter). However, settlement agreements are definitely not one of them. My advice would be: always take advice!
I appreciate that some of you may feel that you understand settlement agreements very well but there is always a danger if a lawyer doesn’t have at least a ‘walk on’ part at some stage in each one. Are you 100% confident that the amendments you’ve made to the agreement (which may have been originally created for another employee in the past) are definitely legally water-tight and beyond misinterpretation or argument? Are you 100% confident that the way in which you are introducing and offering the agreement to the employee is legally the most appropriate and lowest-risk approach? Sometimes the wording of a settlement agreement can be perfect, but the situation in which it is offered can be disastrous and can cause a constructive dismissal all on its own.
When I am not delighting clients or thinking about cake, I can be found chugging up roads around the South West on my road bike, or occasionally in the Pyrenees. I also enjoy watching cycling: I have been to see the Tour de France a few times and for the last 2 years I have been to Paris to watch the finish, which is a really splendid way to spend a day.
Good food, a decent red, thousands of cheering people on the Champs Elysees, good weather and some very exciting racing. What’s not to enjoy?