Bullying and Settlement Agreements

I was being bullied, and now they’ve offered me a Settlement Agreement…

It’s sadly a scenario we’ve come across many times. An employee mentions they feel they’re being bullied, and a few days later they’re called into HR. They’re offered a Settlement Agreement, and it feels like a fait accompli. But what’s going on? Let’s take a step back…

What is bullying?

There’s no particular definition of bullying at work, but common sense dictates that it can be anything from explicit rudeness and repeated arguing, to getting the silent treatment and being ignored. Both ends of the spectrum are unpleasant.

The important point to note, though, is that bullying is not an actionable complaint in its own right. It’s more a supporting piece of evidence for a claim for constructive dismissal, discrimination, or harassment. So what’s going on?

Why have you been offered a Settlement Agreement?

There are many answers to this question, but there is often a basic rationale that sits behind those answers. An employer may be worried that you’re going to raise a grievance and possibly an Employment Tribunal claim in the future. In taking the decision to offer you a Settlement Agreement to leave, they may be trying to prevent you from lodging a grievance and making any claim at all. They’ll be worried that the working relationship has broken down to the point where parting on agreed terms is deemed the best approach. And at this point, a Settlement Agreement is possibly the route they’ve decided to take.

Things to be aware of:

  • It’s likely that your employer will wish to have the discussion as a ‘protected conversation’ (we’ve written an article on this, click here).
  • There are very clear requirements that they must meet in order to have this conversation with you without falling foul of employment law.
  • They must ensure you get independent advice from a qualified solicitor.

Protect yourself with knowledge

The important thing to note is that if you sign the Settlement Agreement you cannot then lodge an Employment Tribunal claim… full stop. But even if you don’t immediately sign the Settlement Agreement, because of the fact that the discussion is a protected conversation it’s possible you won’t be able to raise details of the conversation, or even that you’ve been offered a Settlement Agreement, at a later date at a Tribunal if a claim were to arise.

The moral of the story, therefore, is to take advice from a solicitor who has experience in dealing with Settlement Agreements as soon as there is mention of such a meeting. You will then be armed with the right knowledge and questions for when that meeting takes place…e


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