Employment

We give advice and assistance to individuals on all areas of employment law, whether it be at the beginning of a job when your contract terms need reviewing or negotiating, or at times when there are disputes or disagreements which may or may not lead to the end of your employment.

When your job is in jeopardy, or you are being made to feel uncomfortable at work, it can be both lonely and stressful, for you and those around you. In those circumstances, we believe you need support and practical, decisive advice on your rights and the best way forward.

If you are having difficulty with your employer and feel that you have been discriminated against, or treated unfairly, our specialist employment solicitors can quickly provide you with legal advice and assistance. Our employment lawyers offer practical and cost-effective guidance, will clearly explain what your legal options are, including formally take up the matter with your employer on your behalf, and if necessary, take the matter to an Employment Tribunal for you.

We have been helping both employers and employees with employment law issues for many years and our experience in dealing with both sides of an employment problem means we have extensive knowledge and understanding of what is required to achieve the best outcome to an employment dispute.

Alexis Lane
Partner & Head of Business Services
Direct Dial: 01491 570 909
Settlement Agreements

A Settlement Agreement (previously known as a Compromise Agreement) is a voluntary legally-binding written contract, where an employer and employee terminate employment on agreed terms. It is a legal requirement that you receive specialist legal advice before signing a settlement agreement, from an independent solicitor of your choice, which is normally paid for by your employer.

What is a Settlement Agreement?
At some point in your career, you may be faced with your employment being terminated through no fault of your own, or by mutual agreement. You may be offered a sum of money to facilitate less complicated and swifter termination of your employment, and in those circumstances your employer will seek to protect its business by asking you to sign an agreement.

A Settlement Agreement (previously known as a Compromise Agreement) is a voluntary legally-binding written contract, where an employer and employee terminate employment on agreed terms.

How do Settlement Agreements work?
Employers may wish to offer a Settlement Agreement to employees they are making redundant, or to avoid going to an Employment Tribunal, as it is much quicker and simpler procedure, which also means the employee will have a reduced time to wait for compensation payments. However, Settlement Agreements also ensure those dismissed will be unable to make a claim against their employer about any type of claim which is listed in the agreement, such as unfair dismissal. In essence, it financially compensates the employee whilst limiting the employer’s liability so that a line is drawn under the end of the employment relationship with a “clean break” being achieved.

Because of this, the law states that employees should seek independent legal advice to have any Settlement Agreement offered to them reviewed and, if appropriate, negotiating the terms. This legal advice is normally paid for by the employer in terms of a financial contribution.

How we can help
It is important that you understand the terms of the compromise agreement. Our wealth of experience will help you to understand the agreement and ramifications of signing it. We also offer advice on whether the settlement proposed is a reasonable one in light of the background to the termination of your employment, and will negotiate on your behalf where necessary. If you would like more information on Settlement Agreements or have one reviewed by a solicitor to check it is fair, please contact Alexis Lane in our Employment Department.

It is a legal requirement that you receive specialist advice before signing a settlement agreement, from an independent solicitor of your choice, which is normally paid for by your employer

Redundancy

Unfortunately, you might find yourself in a redundancy situation if your workplace closes or your employer wants to restructure their business or reduce overheads as a result of a downturn in the economy. If you’re at risk of redundancy or have been made redundant, there are employment laws to ensure you are treated fairly.

Reasons for Redundancy
Being made redundant isn’t the same thing as being sacked – it isn’t a result of anything you have done wrong and should only happen when your role within a company ceases to exist. If you are facing redundancy situation the responsibility is on your employer to make sure you are treated fairly, which ranges from exploring possible alternative employment to ensuring you receive the full redundancy package you are entitled to.

Redundancy Process
Before starting the redundancy process, your employer has to be completely sure there are no alternatives to solve the issue causing the potential redundancy, including changes to your terms and conditions that, for example, reduce working hours or pay.The redundancy procedure is a legal requirement for all businesses, and employers need to follow it carefully. This includes:

  • being clear on the reasons for redundancy
  • outlining how it was determined which roles are at risk
  • fair selection
  • the criteria used to ‘score’ staff against
  • various rounds of employee consultation
  • written notification and dismissal notices
  • the right to appeal

Redundancy if you are on maternity, adoption or paternity leave
You are on maternity, adoption, paternity, or shared parental and are part of the redundancy pool, you may have some preferential rights over other employees on any suitable alternative vacancies that are appropriate to their skills.

What happens if a Redundancy is unfair?
Even if a redundancy situation is genuine, failure to follow the correct procedure can result in a finding of unfair dismissal at an Employment Tribunal. While the right to claim unfair dismissal only arises after two complete years of service, selection for a discriminatory reason can also result in a claim from the beginning of the employment relationship.

There are some situations where an employer may wish to offer you a Settlement Agreement– a voluntary legally binding contract that can be used to end an employment relationship on agreed terms between the employer and the employee. A much quicker procedure that the formal redundancy route, Settlement Agreements also ensure that if you are dismissed you will be unable to make an employment tribunal claim about any type of claim which is listed in the agreement such as unfair dismissal. Because of this, employers are normally required to contribute towards the legal costs of their employees as a Settlement Agreement must be ‘signed off’ by an appropriate legal adviser.

How we can help
We can provide you with advice and guidance on the redundancy process to ensure you are treated fairly, advise if you can bring a claim against your employer, assist in approaching your employer, and if required, help you make a claim to the Employment Tribunal. Whatever the situation, you can rely on our experience and knowledge to give you the right employment advice and resolve your individual circumstances. For more information please contact Alexis Lane in our Employment Department.

If you’re at risk of redundancy or have been made redundant, there are employment laws to ensure you are treated fairly

Unfair Dismissal & Constructive Dismissal

If you have worked for an employer continuously for at least two years, you have a number of legal rights, including that you cannot be dismissed without a fair reason. UK employment law states that employers must have a fair reason to dismiss an employee, otherwise the termination of the employment may be viewed as an unfair dismissal. There five fair reasons for dismissing an employee:

  • Conduct/Misconduct – your behaviour amounts to misconduct, serious or gross misconduct at or outside of work.
  • Capability/Performance – your health or abilities make you incapable or unwilling to do a job to a required standard.
  • Redundancy – your role ceases to exist and there is no alternative employment.
  • Breach of statute – where your continued employment would contravene a statute e.g. if a lorry driver lost their driving licence.
  • Some other substantial reason – this will depend on the facts of each case but an example might be a serious personality clash with someone at your workplace.

Unfair Dismissal

If you have been dismissed and your employer did not have a fair reason for dismissing you or they did not follow the company’s formal disciplinary process, you may have an opportunity to bring an unfair dismissal claim.

It is important to ask your employer for a written reason for your dismissal – legally, they must provide an explanation within two weeks of your request.

You only have three months from the date your employment was terminated, so if you have been dismissed or threatened with dismissal and you don’t believe that any of these reasons apply, please contact us as soon as possible. If you have recently been unfairly dismissed (either for a fair reason or through a fair procedure) then we can help you make a claim at the Employment Tribunal.

Constructive Dismissal
If you have resigned from your job because you felt unable to work due to your employer’s actions, we may be able to help you make a claim for constructive unfair dismissal, as long as you’ve worked there for your employer for least two years.

Constructive dismissal occurs when your employer has treated you so badly, or hasn’t stopped others in the workplace treating you badly, that you have no choice but to resign. This can situation can arise for a number of reasons, for example:

  • you’ve not been paid
  • you’ve been demoted without reason
  • your employer has made fundamental changes to your working conditions
  • you feel unsafe at work
  • you’ve been subjected to victimisation, bullying or harassment in the workplace
  • the trust and confidence in the employment relationship has fundamentally broken down.

It is important to note that your employer must have breached a fundamental term of your contract of employment, leading you to resign – it is not sufficient that your employer has just acted ‘unreasonably’. That being said, the fundamental breach can be a continuing course of conduct which culminates in a “last straw’ and the final incident does not in itself need to be a fundamental breach. You must also act quickly, even if just to get legal advice before you resign, as if you do not leave quickly after the incident(s) your employer may argue that you have accepted the treatment and a constructive dismissal will not have occurred.

If you feel you are getting to the stage than you have no choice but to resign because your employer won’t act to help you, or have recently resigned, it is good to talk to an employment solicitor to find out if the events and actions that have led you to this decision mean you can bring a claim of constructive dismissal claim.

How we can help
If you feel that your dismissal from work was unfair, or that you have been forced to resign by your employer, our employment solicitors will be happy to discuss your case with you and let you know your options. We will help you throughout the whole process, handling the legal complexities so that you can concentrate on getting back on your feet. For more information please contact Alexis Lane in our Employment Department.

There are several things to check to see if you have grounds for an unfair dismissal case, including the nature of your employment

Dismissals & Disciplinaries

If your employer is taking disciplinary proceedings against you, it’s important to know all of your rights before attending a hearing.

Disciplinaries
If you are disciplined at work for performance, conduct or absence issues your employer needs to ensure that the correct processes are followed in order to remain compliant with their legal obligations. If they do not follow the proper process a dismissal that might otherwise be fair could be considered unfair, or even if a fair process is followed, a dismissal might be judged too harsh or being inconsistent with the way others have been treated for the same offence.

How disciplinary procedures work
Your employer should put their disciplinary procedure in writing, and make it easily available to all staff e.g. in a staff handbook. It should say what performance and behaviour might lead to disciplinary action and what action your employer might take. It should also include the name of someone you can speak to if you do not agree with your employer’s disciplinary decision. If your employer does decide to discipline you they should follow a prescribed process:

  • a letter setting out the issue
  • a meeting to discuss the issue
  • a disciplinary decision
  • a chance to appeal this decision

If your employer does not follow this process that in itself does not give you reason for a claim, but if you do take them to an Employment Tribunal and win, it may mean could get a larger settlement.

Your employer may also have put their disciplinary procedure in your employment contract – if that is the case and they do not follow these procedures you may be able to bring a claim against them for breach of contract.

What is the grievance procedure?
By law employers must set out a grievance procedure and share it in writing with all employees, eg in a staff handbook. It must include:

  • who the employee should contact about a grievance
  • how to contact this person
  • if the problem can’t be resolved informally, there will be a meeting with the employee, called a grievance hearing
  • set out time limits for each stage of the grievance process
  • identify who to contact if the normal contact person is involved in the grievance
  • explain how to appeal a grievance decision
  • state that employees can be accompanied in any meetings by a colleague or union representative
  • outline what happens if a grievance is raised during disciplinary action

Your employers does not have to include information about the grievance procedure in your employment contract but if they do, they must follow the procedure, or you may be able to bring a breach of contract claim against them.

How we can help
If you feel you have been unfairly disciplined at work and want to know the steps to protect or assert your rights, we can help. We can advise you as to your employment rights, and assist in agreeing a resolution with your employer. For more information please contact Alexis Lane in our Employment Department.

If you feel you have been unfairly disciplined at work and want to know the steps to protect or assert your rights, we can help

Contracts

Have you received a contract of employment? Do you understand all the terms included? Does your employer wish to change your existing terms?

If an employer asks to change your terms and conditions the situation can become can be stressful and difficult, as often the employer is asking you to make changes you may feel are detrimental to you personally.

Your employer needs to be clear from the outset why they are seeking to change your contractual terms and show evidence they can be justified. Changing your employment contract is not a simple procedure and has a number of serious legal implications if your employer does not do it correctly.

Contract Changes
Your employer may wish to alter your existing contractual terms and conditions, due to a business reorganisation or economic reason, for example, the financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Changes an employer may wish to make to the terms and conditions of your contract include pay cuts, changing hours or place of work, job duties and entitlement to certain benefits.

Contractual terms in an employment contract cannot be changed without your agreement, unless this is permitted by the contract itself with a variation clause. Even if such a clause exists, it may not be effective unless carefully worded and a fair procedure followed – any ambiguity will likely be construed in your favour as Courts and Employment Tribunals often view such clauses as undermining trust and confidence considerations.

If no agreement can be reached, your employer can terminate your existing contract and offer continued employment on new terms. However, this constitutes a dismissal in law and you will be able to bring unfair dismissal claims if you have 2 years’ service. Whether the dismissal is fair depends on why the changes are needed and if your employers can establish that they had a reasonable substantial reason. However, a tribunal would always expect there to have been consultation and an attempt to reach agreement first. If your employer plans to change the contracts 20 or more employees and/or considering dismissing and re-employing these staff on new terms, collective redundancy regulations will apply.

Restrictive Covenants
Most terms of a contract of employment cover the usual provisions of job title, salary, holidays, sick leave, and notice periods. However, your employer may wish to restrict your actions post-termination, by including restrictive covenants within the contract. Should you wish to move to a new employer, it is important that you are aware of any such restrictions and understand their implications.

How we can help
If you need your employment contract reviewed, or your employer has asked you to accept changes, you should seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure the proper legal procedure has been followed and the contract is fair and reasonable. We will review the terms of your contract and advise you on the provisions before you agree to them, and provide you with the opportunity to query any element with your employer. For more information please contact Alexis Lane in our Employment Department.

If an employer asks to change your terms and conditions the situation can become can be stressful and difficult

Discrimination

The law seeks to provide a level playing field at work so that people are employed, paid, trained and promoted only because of their skills and performance. There are laws in place to protect you from discrimination in the workplace and if you feel you have been discriminated against at work, our employment law solicitors may be able to help you make a complaint and claim compensation.

There is no minimum length of employment requirement for a discrimination claim and protection starts from when a role is advertised through to the last day of employment and beyond, including references.

What amounts to discrimination at work?
Discrimination at work can be direct or indirect but whatever form it takes, it should not happen regardless if you work part-time, are on a fixed-term contract, or large or small your employer is. Under the law there are 9 protected characteristics and discrimination occurs when you’re treated unfairly because of:

  1. age
  2. disability
  3. gender reassignment
  4. marriage and civil partnership
  5. pregnancy and maternity
  6. race or colour
  7. religion or belief
  8. sex
  9. sexual orientation

Forms of discrimination
The Equality Act 2010 sets out four main types of discrimination:

  • Direct Discrimination: This is discrimination against an employee because of one or more of the protected characteristics named above.
  • Indirect Discrimination: This is where a policy or practice in the workplace causes a considerably smaller proportion of those with a protected characteristic to be unable to comply with the policy or practice than those who do not have the protected characteristic or who have a different protected characteristic.
  • Victimisation: This is where an employee is treated less favourably because they have or might complain about discrimination or support someone else’s complaint about discrimination.
  • Harassment: This is when an employee is subjected to unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct related to a protected characteristic which violates their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. It can include behaviour that individuals find offensive even if it’s not directed at them, and even if they do not have the relevant protected characteristic themselves.

How we can help
We will provide you with guidance and advice on the steps to take when faced with discrimination at work. This includes assisting you in raising the issue at work, both informally and formally, through the company grievance procedure. We will also represent you in a claim to the employment tribunal, in the event that your employer fails to take the necessary steps to resolve the discrimination issues. For more information please contact Alexis Lane in our Employment Department.

There is no minimum length of employment requirement for a discrimination claim and protection starts from when a role is advertised through to the last day of employment and beyond, including references

Flexible working

With many of us seeking a work/life balance, the government originally introduced the right to apply for flexible working in April 2003 to parents of children under the age of five. This right was extended over time and the current position is that in addition to parents with young children, employees are now entitled to seek the right to work on a flexible basis where they have disabled dependents under the age of 17 or 18, and also if the employee has caring responsibilities for a partner or family member.

Flexible working rights
If you want to switch from full-time to part-time hours and you’ve been employed for 26 weeks, the law says you have the right to make that request of your employer. They don’t have to agree to your request, but they must consider it in a reasonable manner.

You will have to follow a specific procedure should you seek to work on a flexible basis, and your employer will be obliged to consider your request in accordance with statutory timescales.

How we can help
We will advise you on your rights and guide you through the procedures in applying for flexible working hours, from assisting you in completing the written application, right through to conclusion. If your employer has denied you request to switch to part-time hours, and you feel their reasons are unfair, you may be able to appeal against the decision. For more information please contact Alexis Lane in our Employment Department.

If your employer has denied you request to switch to part-time hours, and you feel their reasons are unfair, you may be able to appeal against the decision

Employment Tribunals

Bringing a claim to the employment tribunal can be a daunting event, with forms to be completed and submitted within required timescales, and thereafter the steps that need to be taken to comply with Tribunal Orders. You can make a claim to an employment tribunal if you think someone has treated you unlawfully such as your employer or a potential employer or a trade union. Unlawful treatment can include:

  • unfair dismissal
  • discrimination
  • unfair deductions from your pay

You usually have to make a claim to the employment tribunal within 3 months of your employment ending or the problem happening.

Employment Tribunal Process
Before you make a claim to the Employment Tribunal you must tell the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) that you intend to make a claim. You’ll be offered the chance to try and settle the dispute without going to court by using their free ‘Early Conciliation’ service. If early conciliation does not work, Acas will send you an early conciliation certificate to use when you make a claim to the tribunal.

If you decide to press ahead with your claim the process is as follows:

  • Make a claim – you have to fill in an ET1 claim form, which is about 15 pages long, to make a claim to an employment tribunal. It can be completed online or by post. It is important you fill this form in correctly. The person you are making the claim against is referred to as the ‘respondent’.
  • The Response – respondent usually has to reply to your claim in writing within 28 days of getting your claim form. They will give their side of the case. Once they’ve replied, the tribunal will decide whether there will be a full hearing to decide on your case. If they do not reply, the tribunal may decide on your case without you having to go to a hearing.
  • Preliminary hearing – You may be asked to go to an initial hearing (called a preliminary hearing) with the judge to decide whether part or all of your claim can go ahead, the date, time and how long the hearing should take
  • Arrange documents – You can ask the respondent for documents that will help you with your case, and they can request documents from you e.g. contract of employment, pay slips, pension scheme, notes from relevant meetings you attended at work. Usually the tribunal will issue an order setting out a timetable for when you should exchange documents.
  • Organise witnesses – You can bring witnesses to the hearing if they can give evidence directly relevant to your case. If you ask a witness to attend and they do not want to, you can ask the tribunal to order them to come.

How we can help
We can help put your mind at ease by representing you in bringing a claim to the employment tribunal, completing the necessary application form, and complying with the steps you need to take to reach the final hearing of your case. We will also guide you through the procedure for the hearing day and represent you at the final hearing. See our guides to Employment Tribunal fees here. For more information please contact Alexis Lane in our Employment Department.

We can help you bring a claim to the employment tribunal,  guide you through the procedures and represent you at the final hearing

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