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Case Study – Successful Negotiated Exit of Employee

An estate agency sought the help of Walker Foster’s employment team when relations with an employee had broken down. With Walker Foster’s help, the employment relationship was brought to an end quickly and on terms acceptable to both parties. The employee entered into a settlement agreement and the agency avoided potential Tribunal claims being issued against them.

A problem employee

The estate agency had significant concerns regarding the conduct of a senior, long-standing employee, both in terms of professional work and their conduct towards others, having received complaints of bullying from other employees in the past.  When the estate agency received a grievance from that employee whilst signed off sick, which included various allegations against the directors and other employees, they felt that the relationship had broken down.

Whilst they were carrying out an investigation of the employee’s grievance, they wanted to adopt a commercial approach and bring the employment relationship to an end as quickly as possible.  It was felt that the employee presented a risk to the business’s reputation, their client relations and the stability of their workforce going forward.  The agency wanted to act quickly, but also needed to avoid Tribunal claims being issued against them.

Practical, step-by-step help

An urgent telephone consultation was arranged with Walker Foster’s employment lawyer, so that all details could be obtained and urgent, practical advice provided.  Walker Foster assessed and explained the legal risks of dismissing the employee, in terms of potential unfair dismissal and discrimination claims.  We explained the concept of a “protected conversation”, as a means of having a relatively low-risk discussion with the employee about leaving on agreed terms.  We also explained the benefit of the employee entering into a settlement agreement, which would prevent them from issuing any employment claims against the agency in the future, creating a ‘clean break’ between the parties.  This was done by telephone and followed up in a clear, bullet-point advice e-mail for easy reference going forward.

Draft “protected conversation” wording was provided, to give the agency confidence in having that conversation and to ensure they did not stray into high risk or unhelpful areas.  We helped them adopt the correct tone in their dealings with the employee, to provide the best chance of constructive and successful negotiations, keeping legal risks low.  This was important, as emotions were running high for both parties, due to the allegations that had been made and the lack of trust that had developed.

The estate agency came back for advice at each stage of the process, and as the situation developed and changed.  This included advice on an appropriate exit package, advice on the employee’s counter offer and help in strengthening the agency’s negotiating position by informing the employee of their concerns regarding her conduct and performance.  

The employee was initially reluctant to reach agreement and was clearly building a case for a Tribunal claim, so it was essential that the agency responded and managed this process with care and precision at each stage.  Avoiding knee-jerk reactions was key, as that would have given the employee strong grounds for a Tribunal claim and risked them walking away from negotiations.   Expert and timely advice from Walker Foster helped them to navigate these challenges.

When an exit deal appeared likely, Walker Foster provided a draft settlement agreement for use by the agency, together with draft e-mail wording for them to use when corresponding with the employee, to maximise the prospect of achieving a resolution.

Exit terms agreed and settlement agreement signed

With Walker Foster’s help, the estate agency was able to obtain the employee’s agreement to a sensible, commercial exit package, and to ensure that any and all potential Tribunal claims were settled by means of a settlement agreement.

They had achieved the employee’s exit from their business quickly (without them returning to work from sick leave) and were able to move forward and re-focus on their business without fear of any further grievances, letters from lawyers or Tribunal claims.

Prior to contacting Walker Foster, the agency had been told that it may take up to a year to be able to bring the employment relationship to an end.  This did not seem commercially viable, given the risks they felt the employee brought to their business.  They were delighted that, with focused help and advice from Walker Foster, and an understanding of their commercial needs and priorities, they were able to achieve this in as little as 2 weeks, whilst keeping legal risks to a minimum.

“We recently had the pleasure of working with Claire Collinge on a difficult employee situation. Claire was incredibly helpful in providing sound advice and helping us to minimize risk and protect the interests of both ourselves and the employee.

Claire is knowledgeable about employment law and was able to explain the legal implications of the situation in a way that we could understand. She was compassionate and understanding, and always made sure that we felt comfortable and informed, minimizing any risk to ourselves. I would highly recommend Claire to anyone who is in need of legal counsel.”

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If you need help to manage an employee’s exit from your business, or advice and help with any other employment law issue, get in contact with us today.

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