Should I hire a solicitor?
In a job loss or redundancy situation, there are a number of reasons why you might want to hire a solicitor. Here is a list of several of them:
Possible claim for unfair dismissal
If you lose your job because you've been made redundant, you might nevertheless have a claim for unfair dismissal. Although a genuine redundancy is not regarded as unfair dismissal, to make you redundant your employer must follow certain procedures. If your employer fails to follow those procedures, you may have a claim.
Sometimes, an employer has to select certain employees for redundancy. If your employer has selected you for redundancy in an unfair way, that could serve as the basis for an unfair dismissal claim as well.
If "redundancy" was only a pretext for dismissal for some other reason (say, for instance, you are a shop worker and you refuse to work on Sundays) then you might have a valid unfair dismissal claim based on the real reason that your employer terminated your employment.
A solicitor can take a careful look at the circumstances of your lob loss and advise you as to whether you might have a claim.
If you think you may have a claim for unfair dismissal, you should bear in mind that you must bring your claim within a short period after termination of employment (generally 3 months less one day). So if you are thinking about consulting a solicitor, you should do so without delay.
Possible claim for wrongful dismissal
Wrongful dismissal (as contrasted with unfair dismissal) is, in effect, where your employer ends your employment in a way that breaches your employment contract. Perhaps the most common basis for a wrongful dismissal claim is the employer's failure to take into account the contractual notice period. In other words, if an employee's contract provides that she is to be given three months' notice of dismissal, and her employer gives her only two weeks' notice, then she will likely have a claim for the earnings she lost as a result of not having been able to work for the full three-month notice period.
A solicitor can examine your employment contact and provide advice on whether you may have a claim for wrongful dismissal.
Possible claim for redundancy pay
If you have been continuously employed for over two years and are below the normal retirement age, then in most circumstances you will be entitled to statutory redundancy pay if you are made redundant. The amount you can get is based on your weekly rate of pay and the number of years you have worked, and there is a cap on the total amount payable.
If your employer has failed to pay some or all of your statutory redundancy pay, a solicitor can help you make a claim. As with an unfair dismissal claim, however, you will forfeit your claim if you do not bring it within a short period after your employment ends.
Some employment contracts provide for redundancy pay above the amount guaranteed by statute. If you're not sure whether you are entitled to contractual redundancy pay, it may be a good idea to ask a solicitor.
You may be asked to sign a compromise agreement
A compromise agreement is an agreement that an employer will often ask an employee to sign when the employee's job comes to an end. The main purpose of the agreement is to protect the employer from any future legal claims by the employee. In effect, the employee agrees to "compromise" any claim he may have in exchange for money from the employer.
Employers sometimes use compromise agreements in redundancy situations, and they are widely used in other circumstances -- such as where someone is dismissed for cause or sacked because the employer and employee don't see eye to eye on things.
Ordinarily, when an employee signs a compromise agreement he must do so with the advice of an independent solicitor. Employers generally understand that requirement, and in most cases will agree to pay the employee's solicitors' fees (or part of them at least, up to a certain amount).
If you are asked to sign a compromise agreement, you should be able to specify which solicitor you use for your advice -- if your employer tries to steer to you to his approved "independent" solicitor, there might be a question as to whether you really did have the benefit of independent advice when signing the agreement.
Job loss can bring a tax benefit
Up to £30,000 of certain payments that an employer makes to an employee on termination of employment are tax-free. The basic rule is that a payment must be "ex gratia" in order to qualify for the tax-free treatment; that is, the payment cannot be something that the employer is contractually obliged to pay.
Sometimes the question whether a particular type of payment qualifies for tax-free treatment can be complicated. A solicitor or other professional tax advisor will be able to provide guidance about this.
There are a number of places where you can get advice if you are made redundant or otherwise lose your job. If you are a member of a trade union, you should definitely consult your union representative. You may also want to check out the ACAS website or call their helpline (08457 474747).
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help you too.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also want to speak with a solicitor. You can find a quality-assured practitioner who specialises in employment law in your area for free via a solicitor matching service like Contact Law .
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