In an awkward situation at work...

(54 Posts)
Gingersstuff Thu 27-Feb-14 11:05:22

Will try to keep this short. I was/am employed 4 days per week in a very small company. I have had a health issue recently which culminated in surgery and meant a couple of periods of sickness for around 2-3 weeks each time (first period for illness, second for surgery/recovery time). Had a conversation with employers just before surgery in which they informed me they were cutting my hours down to 2.5 days per week (other people were having this done too but not as drastic as me) verbally telling me it was due to my illness. I was a bit hmm about this but looking it up it appeared I couldn't claim discrimination as other people were having their hours cut too. Officially it was because there wasn't enough work around. I was told that this period of reduced hours would be kept to a minimum and reviewed monthly.
So given that I couldn't afford to work 2.5 days/wk I started looking for another job, found one and handed in my notice. Completely overlooked the fact that my notice period was 2 months and could have sworn it was one month (which is industry standard). Yes, big cock-up on my part. I explained to employers that I'd messed up and offered to work out some sort of compromise. Employers have dug their heels in and are not only holding me to every second of the 2 months notice but won't let me take my annual leave which would have effectively cut my notice down to 6 weeks. New employers are withdrawing their offer as they can't wait til end April for me. So now I have no job at the end of April.
The people that have secured me the new job are suggesting that I just tell them I'm leaving at the end of March and that's that. However that would mean breaking the contract.
The final piece of this is that mysteriously enough now that I am back from sick leave and fit for the job again I've been put back up to 4 days per week. Just in case you're wondering, new job was secured in a telephone interview on one of my non-working days.
Any advice please? Am in a quandary as to what to do. Still want new job which I can't go to unless I break my contract. No guarantee that I'll get anouther job when I leave in April which would really leave me up a certain creek. Thanks.

PrimalLass Thu 27-Feb-14 12:00:35

Just take it and leave. It is very unlikely that they will sue you. Did they not change your contract anyway by changing your hours?

MistyB Thu 27-Feb-14 12:06:27

Have you spoken to ACAS?

You could possibly argue constructive dismissal due to their reducing your hours below that which is reasonable for you to continue working, and now that you have found another job, they are preventing you from accepting it.

Get on the phone for some qualified advice quick!! 08457474747

Gingersstuff Thu 27-Feb-14 12:22:06

Have spoken to ACAS and they have no advice really except to say I could be sued if I don't work out my notice, but at the same time they can't force me to work 2 months. New employer have just phoned saying that they can be a little bit flexible but can't wait beyond the first week of April. So now I need to try and negotiate with current one but I know in my gut they won't. Bugger.

flowery Thu 27-Feb-14 12:25:46

The risk of them suing you for breach of contract is very small. The real risks for you are reputational damage and a bad reference, which you may not need for this new job but may need in the future.

WottaTheOdds Thu 27-Feb-14 12:27:58

But would it be the worst thing in the world to stay where you are back at 4 days a week (and look for another job) or have they withdrawn that option?

It seems to me though (and it looks like ACAS agree) that although they are being a bit harsh regarding the notice thing, your current employers have not treated you all that unfairly. If they are tiny then they probably do need to specify a longer period of notice and similarly one body away for longish periods (however unavoidable) may well have got them used to managing without you (which in fact makes it all the harsher that they are not prepared to let you go earlier than your contract says)

But, as you have said, the mistake is all yours, and much as your current employers may sympathise with your illness, they still have a business to run and other people to keep employed.

WottaTheOdds Thu 27-Feb-14 12:29:36

Having rambled on as much as I did, did you make this point to ACAS

You could possibly argue constructive dismissal due to their reducing your hours below that which is reasonable for you to continue working, and now that you have found another job, they are preventing you from accepting it

Because it seems to me that it's your strongest line of defence (although maybe not if thay have now reinstated your 4 days....)

Goldmandra Thu 27-Feb-14 12:34:19

What would be the likely result of the old employer suing?

My guess is that the fact that they reduced your hours so drastically, especially as it was a bigger cut than others experienced, mean that they would be advised not to bother taking you to court. From their point of view there is a lot to lose and very little to gain. Even if they won, they wouldn't get a large lump sum from you unless you have a lot of savings stashed away.

I wouldn't bother trying to negotiate with the old employers. Tell them that you've extended the period you are able to work as far as you can and will be leaving on that date.

if you lose the new job you could also lose a load of hours from your old one again in a couple of weeks and be back to square one.

EBearhug Thu 27-Feb-14 12:37:20

Ignoring things like notice periods and job offers, if you suddenly had enough private ibcome or something that being unemployed wouldn't be an issue, would you still be interested in doing either job, and if so, which?

I think probably I wouldn't want to stay with the current one after the way you say you've been treated, so I would accept the new job and take the risk of the breached contract. It seems a better risk than staying with a job that finishes in April anyway. I've never heard of anyone being sued for breach of contract for leaving early, so while they could, I wouldn't expect it. And the new job clearly wants you, as they're trying to be a bit flexible.

Gingersstuff Thu 27-Feb-14 12:37:33

I think given what's happened the last couple of days, and their attitude about it (and I've been nothing but polite and pleasant) my withdrawal of notice is not an option - and I'm not sure they would accept anyway. I think my best bet is to say that I will be leaving at the end of March as I'm in a position where really that is my only option. Yes, it's my fault but on the other hand if they hadn't put me in a position where I couldn't afford to live on 2.5 days/wk, then I wouldn't have had to look for another job in the first place, and I'm not sure I couldn't argue that it was very sneaky of them to reduce my hours when they knew fine I was about to go on sick leave for a few weeks due to pre-planned surgery...

buttercrumble Thu 27-Feb-14 12:38:08

Just leave or phone in sick

BikeRunSki Thu 27-Feb-14 12:39:26

They havn't got enough work to go round. What possible benefit do they have in paying you for an extra month?

Abbierhodes Thu 27-Feb-14 12:41:36

Just walk at the end of March. They won't take you to court.

AnnabelleLee Thu 27-Feb-14 12:42:09

They aren't going to sue you for breach of contract, they can't even keep the staff they have on full hours. Just leave.

newfavouritething Thu 27-Feb-14 12:43:00

Maybe I'm missing something, but you need an 'extra' 4 weeks, the new employer has given you a week, so 3 weeks needed. Your old employer could sue you for the 3 weeks, but also owes 2 weeks holiday, therefore 'only' one week to pay them if they are shits. Is that possible?

OTheHugeManatee Thu 27-Feb-14 12:43:14

Just leave after a month. Take the new job. You will hate working there after all this anyway and they sound too skint to sue you.

Nomama Thu 27-Feb-14 12:48:40

Leave.

One thing you have to remember is that, in almost any tribunal, a court will not agree to you having been made unemployed for such a trivial thing as a couple of days/weeks - given that they choose not to apply accrued leave and would probably not suffer overly by your leaving. That would be deemed as overly harsh.

Also in your favour is that a tribunal may well decide that your more swingeing hour cuts were illegal, you were ill, and the fact that your days have suddenly gone back up might be seen as them being manipulative, in advance of you bringing a case.

If they choose to charge you for monies lost they will HAVE to go to a tribunal - you just go for it - and you could always pay at a pound a week!

So leave. Take the new job and enjoy it.

CrumblyMumbly Thu 27-Feb-14 12:49:19

Do you have any witnesses to the conversation where they told you they were cutting your hours due to your sickness - I think they would be on very wobbly ground if they tried to make it difficult for you to leave to get another job where it is their fault in the first place! You could subtly allude to this in your letter to them. Say that you are very sorry to be leaving with reduced notice but it is because they have made the position untenable by cutting your hours so much. Hope new job works out for you.

Gingersstuff Thu 27-Feb-14 12:52:44

Thanks all. Good to have some impartial advice. I don't think i'm being unreasonable to tell them I'm leaving end of March.

WottaTheOdds Thu 27-Feb-14 13:03:40

Yes you have been given impartial advice Ginger but with every possible respect to my fellow MNers you haven't really been given expert advice apart from your call with ACAS who seemed a lot more circumspect and and lot less gung ho.

Someone else has mentioned the possibility of bad future references and all that that means. I think s/he has a point. I must say I probably agree with those who are saying that it is most unlikely that your current employers will sue you but as ACAS have said, they can. You c ould of course raise a counter claim for constructive dismissal but it seems to me that your current employers have their backs covered here and the fact that you didn't check your notice period before accepting another job will not count in your favour. Additionally I think (could be wrong) that you would have to put around �400 up front to enter a tribunal.

As you say, awkward for you....

SuburbanSpaceperson Thu 27-Feb-14 13:04:43

I'm a bit hardline about people messing me around but what I would do is accept the new job, then go to the current employer and tell them what you want you last day of work to be. Tell them that you would rather leave with their agreement, but if they are intending to sue you anyway then you might as well leave at the end of next week. So their choice is one more month of you and leave with their agreement, or one more week of you and take their chances in court.

Gingersstuff Thu 27-Feb-14 13:08:47

Suburban that sounds like a good approach.

myrubberduck Thu 27-Feb-14 13:09:40

Just go when you need to go- even if you break the contract they will still have to prove loss to sue you. How will your leaving 2 weeks early cause loss? It won't .

I think Suburban is right that you should try and negotiate.

Most companies aren't interested in forcing people to work in this sort of situation - basically because it gives the disgruntled employee unfettered access to the business for two months during which time they can (in a good case) do bugger all while being paid or (in a bad case) actively undermine the business and their reputation.

lanbro Thu 27-Feb-14 13:17:35

My dh and I both handed our 4 week notice in to leave to start our own business. We then got offered a job we couldn't afford to turn down so spoke to our manager and whilst he wasn't happy as he couldn't force us to work our notice he agreed to us leaving just days after handing the notice in. We then both got paid our full months wage at the end of the month, then holiday pay the following month! We weren't on mega money but amounted to over £2500 for both of us. Friends who worked in hr said it was unlikely they would try and get it back as it wasn't worth the effort for such a small amount!

I would just leave at the end of march, I doubt they would try to sue you for breach of contract.

OPyou have already had one HR expert on here saying that they have never heard of anyone being sued for this. If you had posted in "Employment" you would have got several HR specialists giving you similar expert advice - it may be worth asking MNHQ to move this or re-posting it in the relevant section.

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