This is a guest blog written by David Plotkin, Founder of Plotkin & Chandler Ltd, an employment law and HR consultancy firm that provides services to employers and employees.
Our work and employment experience can be affected by many factors outside of our control.
Most of us don’t expect to have employment problems, but what happens to us at work is affected by many factors that are not in our control.
Firstly, there are the internal factors… the people we work with, our colleagues and our managers, new policies and systems, perhaps company mergers and acquisitions, that can have an impact on how we experience working life. Then there are the external factors such as politics, the economy, and technology and automation…all of which can create unexpected issues for our employment.
Of course, some of these factors can have a positive effect on our job, but the opposite is also true and even though we are doing the best job we can bad things happen…
Bad things that happened to good employees
Like the case of a senior compliance advisor, Jagruti Rajput, who was working for a large bank and thought everything was great…in May 2014 she became deputy to the head of department, and in October 2014, in her appraisal, she was told that she would be ready for promotion in two years… then a year later she fell pregnant…
During her maternity leave her duties were shared out and a more junior member of the team was given her work to do. Always intending to return to her job she asked to have her ‘keep-in-touch’ quarterly meetings but was discouraged from coming in because of a perception about what people ‘should’ be doing on maternity leave!
When she eventually returned to work in September 2016, she found that her deputy duties had gone from her role, the junior member of the team was no longer her ‘junior’ and the period of time before she was ready for promotion had increased from the two years she had been told it was in late 2014, to two to three years…two years later!
In 2018 she won her case in tribunal, where her claims of sex-discrimination, maternity discrimination and harassment were upheld.
Or Mr D Nolan, a tanker driver who was sacked for spilling petrol onto a Tesco Garage forecourt, even though the tank he overfilled had a sensor malfunction that his company had been informed of, but that no-one had told him about.
So…what do you do if you find yourself in a situation where you feel you are being bullied, harassed, discriminated against or in any way mis-treated at work?
What to do if you feel you’re being mistreated at work…
Here are the top five practical things you need to do right away:
1) Know your rights:
You need to understand whether the law protects you against the treatment you are receiving. For instance, do you have the service qualification for protection against unfair dismissal, or are you being discriminated against or harassed for a reason that is covered by the legislation?
It is so important to be able to get access to this information quickly because you only have a certain amount of time after something happens to do something about it in law.
2) Consider what you want to happen:
Do you want to resolve the situation informally?
If you do, there are a few options. If the problem is with a colleague, and you feel able to, you could talk to them, tell them how you feel and ask them to stop. Other alternatives are to talk to your line manager, a member of the HR team, a union rep, or an employment law support line if you have access to one, to get advice on next steps.
Do you want to raise the matter formally?
Most companies will have a grievance policy and process, which will allow you to raise the issue and get it investigated. In this scenario it’s important that you include everything relevant in the grievance complaint, and again this is where it’s good to get advice if you can. If your grievance is not upheld after the investigation, then you will have the right to appeal.
Do you want to leave your employer?
It is really important to say here that whilst you might want to leave straight away and bring a case after doing so, this is a bad idea without getting some expert advice first. For instance, one of the key things you will need to do in this scenario is state in your resignation letter very clearly, that you believe that your employer has breached your employment contract and that you have been constructively dismissed, (which is a legal term for ‘made it impossible for me to keep working here).
3) Keep a diary of events
Writing down dates, times and conversations or events that are connected to the problem you are having, at the time is important because it will make it easier for you, or your representative to recall and argue your points. Also keep a record of emails and any other relevant documents that might be useful for you to refer to at a later date.
4) Seek advice
Although I’ve mentioned this before in this blog, this is so important that it deserves its own point. Employment law can be complicated, so it’s really critical that you get advice from an expert, so that you are doing the right things at the right time, in the right way to protect your employment and your future.
The key places that will be able to offer you advice, (or funding for advice), are:
· Trades Unions
· Citizens Advice Bureaus
· Solicitors that have an employment law team
· Legal Expense Insurance
· Employment Protection Membership Scheme (Plotkin & Chandler) (if you were a member before the problem happened)
(I’ll cover the pros and cons of each of these options in the next section.)
5) Go to the Doctor (if your health is being impacted by the problem)
In my experience however small the issue is, people find problems at work stressful. If the level of stress you are feeling is severely impacting on your physical or mental health, then it’s important you visit your Doctor to get some help. This might mean being signed off or getting some medication or treatment to help you cope.
Options for Advice...the pros and cons
Getting reliable, helpful employment law advice as soon as you can when you are having a problem at work can save you time, money, stress and potentially your future. Here are the pros and cons of each of the options I’ve mentioned:
· Trades Unions:
o They know the company and the key stakeholders
o The advice and representation are free if you are a member
o They can support you all the way to the tribunal
o The onsite reps are not employment law experts
o They have a wider responsibility to the entire membership and a political agenda, and this may impact on the support they are able to give you.
o You can only get access to a legal advisor if it is signed off by the Union, and this will be based in some part on their perception of the merits of the case.
· Citizens Advice Bureaus, CAB:
o Advice is free
o They will be able to advise you of your basic employment law rights.
o They are often very busy.
o They may not have an employment law expert on duty.
o They will not be able to support you with your case beyond giving you initial advice.
· Solicitors that have an employment law team
o Initial consultation is usually free.
o They will be able to support you all the way and represent you at tribunal.
o They may consider working for you on a no win no fee basis.
o They will only consider a no win no fee arrangement as long as there is a strong chance of success and the value of the claim is sufficiently high.
o They will take up to 35% as a fee from any award you get.
o If they don’t offer a no win no fee arrangement, then the hourly rate is likely to be up to £250 per hour.
· Legal Expense Insurance
o If you have this as part of another insurance policy, (e.g. household insurance), your legal fees for employment law matters may be covered. (We would recommend checking you have this for peace of mind)
o You will keep 100% of damages.
o Your claim will need to have a 51% chance of success to be covered.
o To show that your case has merit, you will need to take care completing your application form, making sure that you:
§ Clearly identify all the claims that you may have in the application form.
§ Make the details of your claim or claims as clear and comprehensive as possible.
§ Include all relevant documentation (if requested) in a manageable bundle.
§ Cite the witnesses in your case who may give evidence to support your claim(s).
o You may not be able to choose your own solicitor
· Plotkin & Chandler - Employment Protection Membership Scheme
o You get unlimited legal advice and support, including representation at the tribunal for a low monthly membership fee.
o You get access to a professional employment law expert whenever you want.
o You can only use the scheme for issues that arise after you become a member.
(In the event that you have a problem but aren’t a member then at Plotkin and Chandler, we can also offer a potential ‘No Win No Fee’ arrangement and will often take cases that the union or solicitor firms turn down. Our commission for this work is 30%. If ‘No Win, No Fee’ support is not possible then we can also offer to help on an hourly rate basis at a cost of £60 per hour.)
· Do It Yourself!
The other option is that you could have a go and do it yourself.
Although, there is much more information and guidance available today, and it is not unheard of for employees to represent themselves at tribunal, it is not something we would recommend, because of the complexity of the law and the stress of the situation.
However, if you want to find out more about what you would need to consider and do if you were doing it yourself, then we are putting together a ‘Guide to Claims and Employment Tribunals’ blog which will be available soon.
If you would like to be notified as soon as it’s available, then please email firstname.lastname@example.org