“My manager said I could try the new job and if I wasn’t happy with it I could go back to my old role. Now they’re saying that this assurance was never given and that my transfer is permanent.”. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that routinely we receive calls from members who have been given verbal assurances by their employers, only to find that later those assurances were worthless. Pay, job changes, working hours, time off for care reasons and leave arrangements are the most common issues. But when does something that’s said verbally become a contract between employer and employee that can be relied upon by the employee?
A recent case heard in the High Court (Christie v Canaccord Genuity Ltd  EWHC 1130 (QB)) considered the issue of an oral contract. Mr Christie, an investment banker, argued that he should have received a financial award of £1 million from his employer because an oral agreement was made with his employer that he would receive it; Mr Christie argued that the oral agreement amounted to a contract which he could rely upon.
The Judge ruled in Mr Christie’s employer’s favour because he came to the view that the industry in which Mr Christie worked was document heavy and he expected that such an agreement would be documented in some way, and he could find no such evidence. He applied several tests to the circumstances of the case, such as whether there was intent to create a legal relationship, and whether the agreement was confirmed in subsequent correspondence, but he could not find enough evidence to support Mr Christie’s case.
Whilst every situation will be fact specific, what’s clear from the Christie case is that if an agreement is made orally, the sensible thing to do is to confirm what’s been said in writing so that there’s clear evidence should the agreement be in dispute at a later stage. A case (whether that’s a court hearing or simply a grievance) will be far easier to prove and therefore win if there’s some form of written evidence.
If you’re given a verbal assurance about something and you want to make sure that assurance is acted upon at the appropriate time, follow up what’s been said to you in writing. If you find a letter or email difficult to write or you’re not sure what to say, contact the Advice Team on 01234 262868 (choose Option 1) and they’ll be able to help you prepare what needs to be said.
Christmas Parties and The Lack of (or too Much) Christmas Spirit
Much in the same way that young children send letters to Santa, every year we advise members to take great care at work parties or when driving. Here goes!
First of all, lest this should be seen as more ‘nanny state’ advice let me say that every year we deal with cases where people have been accused of some sort of impropriety at Christmas parties. Usually these cases involve ordinary, decent members who didn’t set out to offend anyone but who had too much to drink or were said to have become overly friendly (or aggressive) with colleagues, leading to complaints about their behaviour.
It’s worth pointing out here that although many complaints involve score-settling of existing personal disputes and some pretty reprehensible behaviour by complainants, employers can be placed in situations where they have to show that that they have taken complaints seriously and have carried out thorough investigations. Thus, relatively trivial problems can expand into show trials in which the accused members of staff are dragged through stressful investigations and disciplinary action as they struggle to prove negatives; i.e. that they didn’t do what they are accused of.
Now, proving a negative can be tough, particularly when vexatious complaints are backed up by conspiracies amongst friends, all of whom are more than ready to put the knife into the chosen victim. Then, evidence that is carefully contrived can look damning. Add into the mix the tendency of some bank hearing managers to carry out manifestly incompetent investigations or behave as though an accusation is proof of guilt, and the people accused of bad behaviour at parties (or during the normal day for that matter) can find themselves up against it. And explaining to a partner that you are innocent of alleged sexual harassment at work isn’t going to be easy either!
If you are a manager, you are particularly vulnerable!
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
It’s stating the obvious to say that if members are determined to attend work parties, they need to be extremely careful and if you have any reason to suppose that a complaint could be fabricated against you, you would be well advised to go somewhere else.
If You Have A Problem
If you think that you will be able to talk your way out of a complaint about your behaviour you will find yourself much mistaken. The Bank can and will pursue these complaints with vigour and dismissal is always a possibility.
We can help members most when they contact us immediately an issue arises, not after any allegations have been investigated and disciplinary charges laid. By that stage members have often compromised their own cases by appearing to admit things they didn’t do or by allowing themselves to be ‘verballed’ i.e. deliberately misquoted. Quite obvious flaws in investigations or clearly dishonest evidence needs to be challenged professionally very early on. We can’t do that if members don’t involve us.