As with much of employment law, many of the small businesses I work with have heard of Settlement Agreements but aren’t quite sure exactly what they are. Recently I’ve had a couple of cases where clients have had concerns that discussing a settlement with an employee will be interpreted as a sign of “weakness”. This is the first part of a two part post (second part later this week), which looks at what they are and when and how they can be useful.
Firstly, you may be more familiar with their old name – Compromise Agreements – which was changed a couple of years ago as many people felt that “compromise” suggested that they had somehow “given in”. They are a legally binding agreement between an employer and an employee to end an employment contract, usually in a situation where there is some dispute between them.
The advantages for employers in this situation are:
- No risk of a subsequent employment tribunal
- Ends the relationship swiftly, allowing you to concentrate on running the business not dealing with an employee problem
- Avoids any potential issues of bad publicity or reputation damage
There are disadvantages however
- You may have to pay out more to the employee than you would contractually be obliged to
- You may be expected to contribute to the employee’s legal fees
- You may have to make certain commitments (e.g. provide a reference) that you might not otherwise want to
- It is voluntary – you cannot force an employee to agree to one
To be legally binding, a Settlement Agreement must be in writing, contain certain clauses and most importantly the employee must have received independent advice from a qualified solicitor*, who must also countersign the agreement. Employers do not have to have employment law advice on the agreement (though many do) and there’s no requirement for their adviser to sign. A settlement agreement does not have to be a long winded legal document however – it’s perfectly possible to create a valid one on a side of A4.
But hang on, you may be thinking – “why don’t I just dismiss the individual? After all, didn’t you say in this post that it wasn’t as complicated and scary as many employers think?”
Clearly, you can just do this – but in many situations Settlement Agreements can be the better solution for both parties. And in part 2 of this blog post we’ll show you how to negotiate one.
*A qualified solicitor is one who has specific insurance which allows them to advise on employment matters. It is designed to protect the employee in the event of negligent legal advice. There are also certain others who are allowed to countersign settlement agreements such as CAB legal advisers, or some Trade Union officials