Today I visited a lawyer. Today I found out that I had a cats chance in hell of successfully taking my former employer to an Employment Tribunal. Today I will drink gin.
Those of you who read my previous blog Redundancy at 40 - Is this the End of the Road? will know that on March 17th 2017 I was called into a meeting room and informed, completely out of the blue, that my role as Operational Support Manager was now redundant. I also detailed in this blog that I felt that my employer had not followed correct procedure and that I was raising an Early Conciliation Case with ACAS. Well I did do that and today I learnt something very important that I want to share with you. Before I do that I want to outline why I felt the need to contact ACAS, as you may be wondering why I wanted to go to all that effort, so here are my reasons why I felt my former employer did not act correctly.
I worked as Operational Support Manager for my former employer for four years on a part time basis, working 20 hours a week. I always felt I worked above and beyond the call of duty and worked extra hours whenever it was needed - I never had a negative word said to me about my performance or attitude. I know I was well thought of by the majority of staff and I was passionate about making the company a success. In August 2016 a full time member of staff (let's call them Ms X) started with the business and despite being told before they started that this would have no impact on my role, by the end of September 2016 this person was now my line manager. Over the next 5 months all of the responsibility I had built up over four years was systematically removed from my role - if I questioned any of this I was accused of "defending my patch" or being negative. In January 2017 a large part of my job role was taken from me and given to Ms X and I was told that the board had decided more full time focus was needed for this area of the business - my direct report now also reported into Ms X. I asked at the time if this was happening because I was part time and I was told "yes". I also stated that I felt the next time I would be called into a meeting like this that I would be handed my P45 - that is exactly what happened.
Now this is my word against theirs - I get that - but this is how they then treated me once I had been told my role was now redundant. You decide if it is the actions of an employer that wants to keep a member of staff employed with them:
I was given one week's consultation
I was escorted back to my desk so that I could clear it and then formally escorted off the premises
All of my passwords were changed
All members of staff were called into meetings and informed that my role was now redundant and the reason being that Ms X was now doing everything that I had done previously
I was informed 4 days after the original meeting that I was on Garden Leave - this was not mentioned in the original meeting and not on any paperwork I was given.
The job roles that they gave me as an option to consider on my week's consultation were all full time roles, one was based in the Australian office and two in the London office - I am based in Shropshire.
I was told I had no right to appeal
When I enquired about applying for the Office Administrator role (and was then told "well it is a very junior role") I was informed my application would be subject to "successful" application.
My role was the only role made redundant across all offices and the company were actively recruiting.
I met with my former employer one week after I had been told my role was redundant and I arrived at the meeting well prepared with a list of questions I wanted to work through. One question I asked was "why was I not asked if I would like to increase my hours to provide the full time focus they wanted for the area of the business I had lost the management of, as I had requested to increase my hours three times in the last two years?" Their answer. "Well, you are a mother and we know you like picking your children up from school so we didn't think you would want to work full time". Did they ask me? Did they consult with me, someone who had worked on this project for four years and built it up from nothing, when they were making the decision about the future of this part of the business - no they did not.
So yes, I believe they engineered my redundancy over a period of months. Yes I believe they did not provide meaningful consultation or adhere to their redundancy policy and yes I wanted to take them to an Employment Tribunal.
BUT - do you know how much it costs to go down the Employment Tribunal route?? £250 just to fill in the online claim form and then £950 for the first court hearing!!! It could cost upwards of £10000 to keep pursuing the claim through court. Er, I have just lost my job so not exactly rolling in cash at the moment!!!
A few years ago there were no upfront charges for people wishing to make a claim but that led to the courts being swamped with tribunals, so a decision was made that if people felt that they really had been wronged then they needed to put their money where their mouth is and pay upfront. And employers know this - they know that disgruntled former employees will not want to pay that money out when they have no income coming in - so they count on it now and people without any cash flow to help them with a claim just have to put up with abominable behaviour.
I had decided I was going to go for it - I wanted justice for being treated unfairly, I wasn't interested in a settlement figure (although don't get me wrong a bit more cash in the coffers won't go amiss)- I just wanted the people involved to know they had made a hash of it so that they cannot do this to someone else again. I promptly started my conciliation case and waited. And waited. And waited. Now I think I may have had a run of bad luck as the conciliator assigned to me at ACAS went on holiday, so no-one was keeping on top of my case and chasing it through with my former employer or advising me on what I should now do. So I dutifully waited.
A chance meeting with someone at a networking event while promoting my new business led to me being referred for a free consultation with a lawyer - which is where I have been today. I was informed that while I had been dutifully waiting my former employer had also been playing the waiting game and waiting for my time to log an Employment Tribunal claim to run out - which it does on 17th June. The claim form will take hours to complete and ideally needs to be completed by a legal person to ensure that it has the best possible chance of making it to a hearing - I don't have that time.
So this is what I wanted to share with you; as soon as you start the Early Conciliation process submit the Employment Tribunal Claim too. This can be done online via the Gov.UK website but you should seek advice to ensure you go into enough detail. You can always withdraw it if things progress with the conciliation process, but at least you will have it prepped and ready to go should things not go to plan. I am so annoyed that I wasn't aware of this, because just one week ago I would have enough time and I would have carried on with submitting an Employment Tribunal Claim.
So, I am hoping that by writing this today I can start taking the step to putting this all behind me so I can focus all my energy on my new business EmblemVA - Virtual Assistant.
But first,a message to my former employer: I had a case - the lawyer confirmed it today. You treated me badly and deep down, especially those of you who have known me a long time, you know this - and you have to live with this on your conscience for a long time to come. I have no doubt you will be a success and you will all earn a pretty penny when you finally take the company to sale - so enjoy it. I am under no illusion that I was irreplaceable but there will be a slight shift in attitude now - the family feeling that was there will be gone because everyone will be thinking "if they did that to her they can do it to me". I enjoyed my time at your company - but I am actually quite relieved to leave it all behind.
And lastly, to my former colleagues: I asked if I could say goodbye to you
all and I was told I wasn't allowed - that was the final hurt. No leaving card, no leaving drinks and no nice message circulated about all the great work I had done and how everyone wished me well.
I wish each and every one of you success in your future careers, it was a pleasure to work with such talented people and I miss being around you all - and never forget "Cymru am Byth"!
And now, to the gin!