Employees who experience difficulty at work can frequently feel crushed and despondent; they may even be declared unfit to work by their GP due to workplace stress. Individuals frequently feel it unjust that their only option is to ‘walk away’.
The current financial climate has been credited for increasing workplace tension, as employees are driven hard to achieve targets . This can lead to undue pressure which can create uncomfortable working conditions. When a situation does cause difficulty at work, there are certain options one can consider.
Informal discussions with a line manager or an HR representative on the matter are a good start point, but may be insufficient to resolve the situation. If conditions do not improve, the employee may next consider lodging a formal grievance, and if the situation is particularly severe taking legal advice regarding constructive dismissal.
Employment solicitors receive a significant number of calls from employees who are seeking help with negotiating an exit rather than tender their resignation. If the situation has become untenable, then the employee may want to look into mutual termination and settlement.
Settlement agreements (legally binding agreements) were introduced in the summer of 2013 (formerly they were called compromise agreements). They are legally binding contracts, and they record the payment of severance to an employee in consideration for the employee undertaking not to pursue claims in the employment tribunal or courts.
Settlement agreements can be deployed in various work situations, including where there is a redundancy or reorganisation need or if there have been allegations of discrimination and bullying.
Employees as well as employers are now afforded the opportunity to promote negotiations in confidence with a view to terminating the employment relationship. However such confidentiality will not apply if there is any ’improper behaviour’ during the negotiation process. This applies to both parties. If an employee were to demonstrate improper behaviour by threatening to undermine the employer’s reputation unless a settlement agreement is forthcoming, then the tribunal would be able to decide whether or not the pre-termination negotiations are to remain confidential.
Negotiating an exit could be an appropriate course of action to take if an employee feels that their working conditions are unbearable. It is certainly a step forward for individuals who wish to have open discussions about a mutually agreeable exit, but it may require a step change for HR professionals who have hitherto driven the process.
Sue Ziegler is the founder of Aeon Solicitors, London settlement agreement solicitors. Sue has experience in all areas of employment law and advises both employees and employers.