Botched settlement agreement offer led to unfair dismissal of employee (Mr P James v Huisman International (UK) Limited 3307490/2018)
In the case of Mr P James v Huisman International (UK) Limited 3307490/2018, the Employment Tribunal held a botched settlement agreement offer had led to the dismissal of a Claimant (and a subsequently successful unfair dismissal claim in which the Claimant was awarded £30,000).
The facts in Mr P James v Huisman International (UK) Limited
Mr James commenced employment with Huisman International (UK) Limited (“Huisman”) in October 2004. Mr James ran Huisman’s depot in Corby, coordinating the warehouse and transport activities.
It was decided that the Corby depot needed a warehouse supervisor to be recruited. Mr James commenced the interview process for recruiting a supervisor but was then told to pause that process until he heard further from Mr Janssen. A warehouse supervisor was then sourced, a Dutch person personally known to Mr Janssen (whose name was Tim van Haren).
After Mr van Haren commenced working at the Corby depot an atmosphere of tension was created, provoked by Mr van Haren’s view that his approach was the better approach. This tension resulted in problems with existing customers and deliveries.
In January 2018 Mr James was on holiday when he received a WhatsApp message from Mr Scholten asking whether he was having a nice holiday, and stating that he was planning to visit Mr James the next Monday.
Mr James returned to work from his holiday on 12 February 2018 and, upon his attendance at the office at 6am, noted that all of his files relating to a company customer had been removed from his desk and were on Mr van Haren’s desk.
Mr Scholten arrived at the warehouse at approx 10am that day and invited Mr James to a meeting for “a chat”. When Mr James entered the meeting room he was told that “this was not going to be a good conversation” and that his services were no longer required. Mr Scholten slid some documentation towards Mr James and informed him that this was a settlement agreement, and that Mr James would need to obtain professional advice on this. Mr Scholten stated that Mr James would have ten days in which to sign the settlement agreement, that he should leave the warehouse at once, and that he should not come back. Mr Scholten later stated in evidence that this conversation had been held on a ‘without prejudice’ basis; Mr James disagreed.
After the ten days passed Mr James wrote to Mr Scholten (on 19 February 2018) to state that he believed that he had been dismissed from his employment, that he believed that the dismissal was unfair, and that he was entitled to compensation. He stated that he would not be accepting the settlement offer that had been made. Neither Mr Scholten nor the company’s solicitors wrote back to Mr James to state that he had not been dismissed. The company also stopped paying Mr James on 2 March 2018.
On 19 March 2018 a further meeting took place by way of Skype. Mr James attended this meeting, as did Mr Janssen. Mr Janssen did not produce any evidence of poor performance but by Mr James, but alleged that complaints had been made about him
Mr James subsequently wrote to Huisman again on 23 March 2018 to reiterate that he believed that he had been dismissed as of 12 February 2018, that he believed that the disciplinary meeting on 19 March 2018 was a ‘travesty’ and a sham, and that if he had not been dismissed as of 12 February 2018 then he believed that he had been constructively dismissed as a result of both the conduct of Mr Scholten on 12 February 2018 and the failure to pay him since 2 March 2018
Huisman then wrote to Mr James on 23 March 2018 purporting to send him a letter in which he was given a final written warning.
Mr James subsequently made a claim in the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal and, in the alternative, constructive unfair dismissal.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET)
The Employment Tribunal held that Mr James had been dismissed by Huisman as of 12 February 2018, and that it was clear that a dismissal had taken place on that date: Mr James was told to leave and not come back, that he was offered a settlement agreement, that he would have ten days in which to sign the settlement agreement (in which time he could retain the company car and credit card, but not after, the subsequent correspondence from Mr James confirming this, and the fact that Huisman stopped paying Mr James as of 2 March 2018.
The Employment Tribunal further held that the meeting of 12 February 2018 was not privileged, as they did not find that Mr Scholten had stated that the meeting was ‘without prejudice’ at the start.
The Employment Tribunal found Mr James’ dismissal to be both procedurally and substantively unfair.
At a subsequent remedy hearing the Employment Tribunal noted that the parties had agreed an agreement on remedy, that Huisman would pay Mr James £30,000 as compensation, and that settlement terms would be agreed in full and final settlement of Mr James’ claims.
Our solicitors’ views on the case of in Mr P James v Huisman International (UK) Limited
Chris Hadrill, partner in the employment team at Redmans, commented on the case as follows: “This case shows, among other things, that botched settlement agreement offers can come back to haunt a Respondent. The failure to carry out a competent without prejudice meeting and to carry out a fair disciplinary process ultimately sealed the company’s fate in the Employment Tribunal claim”.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Mr P James v Huisman International (UK) Limited ET/3307490/2018 can be found here.