LEGAL & FINANCE: Take note of staff resignation letters.
Many West Midlands businesses are facing higher costs for claims for unfair dismissal at employment tribunals, it was claimed today.
It follows a failure to recognise correspondence from employees as statutory grievance letters.
Tim Lang, partner and head of employment at Black Country law firm George Green, says that, under new rules introduced in October 2004, employees must send a formal grievance letter to their employer before they are allowed to bring certain types of tribunal claims, including constructive dismissal and most types of discrimination.
"The problem is that when many employers get letters from disgruntled employees, particularly when they are resigning, they tend to ignore them," he said.
"Most only remember actually getting a letter with they receive notice to appear at the employment tribunal.
"Certainly very few employers actually instigate a formal grievance procedure and initiate a meeting with their employee to discuss matters. However, failure to do this can be a costly business. It means that compensation can be increased by up to 50 per cent."
In a series of recent decisions, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has provided guidance on what the courts see as constituting a formal grievance letter under the Employment Act 2002.
A claimant in Shergold v Fieldway Medical Centre wrote to her employer setting out her reasons for resignation, but she did not ask for the document to be treated as a formal grievance. The employment tribunal held that it did not amount to such, but the EAT disagreed, stating that "there is no formality required in a statutory grievance letter - all the employee must do is set out the complaint in writing".
In Commotion Ltd v Rutty, the claimant claimed constructive dismissal after her employer unreasonably refused a written request to vary her working pattern. The EAT upheld the employment tribunal's decision that her request amounted to a formal grievance letter.
In Thorpe & Soleil Investments v Poat & Lake, the EAT repeated that it does not matter whether or not the employee intended to raise a grievance within the body of the letter, adding that the employee does not need to comply with a contractual procedure for the letter to amount to a valid grievance.
"Basically any type of letter, or even hand-written note, sent by a disgruntled employee to an employer should be regarded as a statutory grievance letter," said Mr Lang. "It does not need to be formal, or even say that the employee has a grievance.
"Employers have to treat every letter very seriously. An employee can issue a claim against them after 28 days and argue they have failed to follow the statutory grievance procedure.
"Our advice to our clients is to treat every correspondence as if it is a statutory grievance letter and invoke the grievance procedure.
"You dismiss it as the thoughts of a whinging employee, at your own risk."
The problem is that when many employers get letters from disgruntled employees, particularly when they are resigning, they tend to ignore them
Organisers and pupils on the Your Day in Court programme - a project spearheaded by law firm Eversheds and the Birmingham College of Law