"Sign this settlement agreement, or you will be fired at your disciplinary hearing next week"
Workers faced with this pressure used to be able to complain to an employment tribunal. The government decided to stop protection for workers in these situations, and in July 2013 introduced "protected conversations".
I believe the thinking behind this change was to bring about back door "Beecroft proposals" so as to enable no-fault dismissals.
Thankfully, solicitors for the employers have tended to advise caution, and the impact of "protected conversations" isn't as widespread as I feared.
But when I do come across it, I really feel for the worker concerned.
I've seen three this year. Not many, perhaps, but for me that was three families too many thrown into unexpected turmoil and distress.
The last one was typical of all that I've seen. The conversation went like this,
"Look...you've been implicated in an investigation. Things aren't looking good for you. I really like you...you know I do....but I can't see any other outcome other than dismissal if this gets to a hearing. Look John, none of us want that....please take a look at this and take legal advice. "
The worker is then handed a lengthy settlement agreement, which includes a payment. The payment varies. The ones I've dealt with have mostly been for workers on average earnings, and the settlement agreements have tended to be for about five grand.
The family then has some horrible thinking to do. What on earth could the disciplinary situation be? In the cases I've seen, the worker genuinely didn't know. In two of the cases I've seen this year, the worker had stress/mental health issues, and was unable to face the prospect of being the subject of a disciplinary investigation.
I am very sceptical that these workers genuinely had committed any misconduct. In the cases I've dealt with, the workers had absolutely no idea of what they'd supposed to have done.
A "protected conversation" leaves the worker in no doubt that the employer doesn't want them anymore. That hurts. A lot.
So yes, I can assure them of full support. I can point out they can't be forced to accept the settlement agreement. I can assure them that the union will fight any disciplinary proceedings as strongly as we can.
But in the cases I've dealt with.....leaving the company feels inevitable after the "protected conversation". Who wants to work for a company that doesn't want you?
"Protected conversations" : not nice, and not necessary.
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