The Christmas and New Year period is one of the busiest times for employment lawyers with many reflecting on the past year and setting future goals. Meanwhile, employers will be musing over that very same sentiment and this can often trigger personnel changes. Whether due to a business restructuring completing at the end of the year, or an employer’s determination to shake things up, the fact is that many employees can find themselves unexpectedly unemployed around this time. So what should you do if you get an unexpected call from Human Resources inviting you to discuss your “future employment”?
If your employer wants to speak with you on a “without prejudice” basis, this means they want the conversation to be "off the record". If your employer broaches the subject of a without prejudice discussion with you, then the hard fact is that your employer is likely to want to terminate your employment on the basis of a financial settlement.
You may find the prospect of such a meeting daunting and stressful. However, there are some steps that you can take in this situation, to help you feel more in control and prepared for such a meeting.
Know your contractual entitlements.You should locate your employment contract and review its terms. Your employment contract will be the point of reference in determining what you are entitled to in the event of the termination of your employment. In particular, make a note of:
Find a good solicitor. Taking initial advice before the meeting with your employer will help you to understand your rights and think about what you want to achieve. Bear in mind that, whilst more junior lawyers will have a cheaper hourly rate, they are also less experienced and are still training, so this may be a false economy.
Once you have identified a solicitor, I would recommend checking their firm website profile and LinkedIn profile, to give you a better understanding of their background and whether they are the right fit for you. I would also recommend that you speak with that solicitor before instructing them, to ensure they understand what you want to achieve and can support you to achieve this. Many reputable solicitors will be prepared to have a short, initial, complimentary discussion with you.
Be prepared. Ask yourself, what would I do if I knew my employment was going to end tomorrow? Would you want to have an opportunity to clear your personal possessions? Have you stored personal documents on your work laptop? Are there certain tasks you need to complete? Are you undergoing any private medical treatment under your employer’s private medical scheme, which you need to complete? It is very unusual for an employee’s employment to be terminated immediately at the first meeting, but you may be placed on garden leave or simply asked to stay at home while you consider any offer made by your employer.
Sit and listen. In my experience, other than expressing your disappointment and sadness about the situation you find yourself in, it is usually best to simply sit and listen to what your employer has to say at the first meeting. Your employer may provide you with a “settlement agreement,” which sets out your employer’s financial proposals in return for you agreeing not to take action against your employer. You will need to obtain legal advice on a settlement agreement in order for it to be binding, but an employer will usually make a contribution to your legal fees to assist you with this.
My advice is usually then to say that there is a lot to think about and that you will need time to consider it. Certainly, it is usually best not to make any decisions at this meeting. If you have already taken legal advice, my advice is usually not to mention this to your employer at this stage, as it may make the situation more acrimonious.
Talk to your solicitor. From this point onwards, your solicitor should be able to advise you on any potential claims you may have against your employer and your prospects of success. Moreover, they should be able to set out a clear strategy to help you achieve your aims. Key things to think about include:
Manage your legal costs. It can be expensive to obtain legal advice, but in an ideal situation your solicitor will seek to manage your case so that their legal fees are outweighed by any increase in financial settlement which they are able to achieve for you. To help minimise your costs, bear in mind the following:
By taking the steps outlined above, you can work towards feeling far more in control of what is happening and can start to plan for the future too.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.