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Chris Hadrill, the partner in the employment team at Redmans, gives his analysis of what he thinks are the top 10 pitfalls to employees negotiating settlement agreements

  1. The timing of the termination – making sure it works for you
  2. The value of the ex-gratia payment – increasing it as much as possible
  3. Dealing with notice pay properly
  4. The proper use of confidentiality clauses
  5. Dealing with bonus payments
  6. Checking your contract of employment for restrictive covenants
  7. Making sure you’re paid benefits (pension contributions, healthcare etc.)
  8. Provisions relating to confidential information
  9. Not obtaining independent legal advice from a suitably-qualified adviser
  10. Not getting a contribution to your legal fees from your employer

The timing of the termination – making sure it works for you

If you’re being offered a settlement agreement then you should ensure that the timing and method of the termination works for you. There are generally three methods of terminating employment via a settlement agreement: 1) working out your notice period; 2) going on ‘garden leave’ for your period of notice; and 3) your employment terminating (almost) immediately and you being paid in lieu for your notice period.

Carefully review your situation and determine what’s best for you: one mistake that employees make is often just accepting that their employer will make them work out their notice period; you may be able to negotiate being placed on garden leave for a period of time or, alternatively, that your employment terminates asap and that you be paid in lieu of your notice pay.

The value of the ex-gratia payment – increasing it as much as possible

The principal benefit of a settlement agreement to an employee is normally the amount of tax-free compensation that they will receive under the settlement agreement. This ex-gratia amount may not always be negotiable, but it normally is: the fundamental principle of negotiating settlement agreement payments is generally “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. It’s therefore generally worth approaching your employer to see whether the value of your ex-gratia payment can be negotiated (your solicitor may be able to help with this).

Dealing with notice pay properly

On 6 April 2018 the law relating to taxation on notice payments changed: employers must  now tax as “general earnings” a portion of a termination award equivalent to the basic pay an employee would have earned had the employee served his or her notice in full (this has been called “post-employment notice pay” (or “PENP” for short)).

A failure to deal with the new tax provisions properly in settlement agreements could potentially cause tax problems for both the employer and employee in the future, so it’s normally important that the settlement agreement identifies the sum that would have been earned had the employee served their notice in full and states that this will be subject to tax and National Insurance.

The proper use of confidentiality clauses

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal a great deal of focus has been placed on the proper use of confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements – for example, the SRA has recently issued guidance that confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements shouldn’t allow law firms to hide discriminatory or harassing behaviour.

If your employer has engaged in serious misconduct (whatever this is) and you are being offered a settlement agreement then you must consider whether the confidentiality clauses in the settlement agreement are right for you in your circumstances – the best thing to do is to discuss this with your legal adviser.

It should also be noted that settlement agreements cannot and do not prevent employees from making protected disclosures (e.g. disclosures showing that their employer’s conduct has breached the criminal law, breached a civil legal obligation or breached environmental standards) in the public interest.

Dealing with bonus payments

If you normally receive a bonus payment in the course of your employment then you should check your contract of employment (or bonus scheme, employment handbook etc.) in order to determine what criteria you need to meet in order to qualify for a bonus payment upon termination: a lot of employers impose a condition on bonuses that you must be in employment as of a particular date in order to qualify for a bonus in a particular tax year, so if your employment terminates prior to that date it can sometimes make it difficult to argue that you should receive a bonus. It is normally worth approaching your employer, however, to see what you can negotiate regarding your bonus.

Dealing with shares, share options, and RSU’s

If you are entitled to shares in your employer (or you have share options or Restricted Share Units (“RSU’s”) then it is normally a good idea to reference the terms relating to those shares, share options and/or RSU’s in the settlement agreement, as well as how they will be dealt with post-employment, so both you and your employer are clear on how the shares will be dealt with and what will happen.

Making sure you’re paid benefits (pension contributions, healthcare etc.)

A mistake that employees often make with settlement agreements is not checking their contract of employment to see whether they are entitled to be paid in lieu for benefits (if they are being paid in lieu of notice): most contracts of employment state that the employee will normally only be contractually entitled to salary payments if they are paid in lieu of notice, but some contracts of employment are silent on this point or expressly state that the employee is entitled to both salary and benefits (pension contributions, healthcare etc.) if they are paid in lieu of notice – this could involve the employee being entitled to use these benefits for the period of notice that they would otherwise have served (e.g. use of company car, healthcare coverage) or being paid in lieu in respect of some benefits (e.g. employers’ pension contributions, car allowance).

Checking your contract of employment for restrictive covenants

“Restrictive covenants” are, to give a rather brief summary, clauses that restrict an employee’s ability to undertake alternative employment (both during employment and post-employment) or that restrict employees from being able to poach clients of their employer or former colleagues after their employment terminates.

Sometimes employees are unaware that they are subjected to restrictive covenants , or they don’t know what effect restrictive covenants in their contract of employment may have. The first thing that you should do is check your contract of employment (and any other relevant documents) to see whether you are bound by restrictive covenants and, if so, what those mean. It’s a good idea to speak to your legal adviser about the covenants.

Not obtaining independent legal advice from a suitably-qualified adviser

There is a legal requirement that you obtain independent legal advice from a legal adviser on the terms and effect of your settlement agreement in order to render the settlement agreement enforceable; a failure to obtain independent legal advice from a suitable legal adviser will generally render a settlement agreement unenforceable.

If you’re offered a settlement agreement then it’s normally recommended that you approach a solicitor (or another suitably-qualified independent legal adviser) to discuss your settlement agreement with them – specialist employment solicitors will generally have a great deal of experience advising on settlement agreements, and should be able to help you considerably with advising your agreement.

If your employer tries to force you to sign a settlement agreement without making you aware that you should receive independent legal advice first then you should immediately point out to your employer that you should have the benefit of legal advice prior to signing.

Not getting a contribution to your legal fees from your employer

It is not a legal requirement that an employer make a contribution towards your legal fees, but in practice most employers will (for a number of reasons) offer a financial contribution towards the cost of you receiving legal advice on your settlement agreement (this contribution will normally be between £250 plus VAT and £500 plus VAT in value, although it may be more in some circumstances). If your employer is not offering a contribution towards your legal fees then approach your employer and negotiate this.

About

Redmans Employment Team deal with employment matters for both employers and employees, including drafting employment contracts and policies, advising employers and employees on compromise agreements, handling day-to-day HR issues, advising on restructures, and handling Employment Tribunal cases for both employers and employees Call 020 3397 3603 to speak to one of the members of our employment team or email us on enquiries@redmans.co.uk. Redmans have offices in Richmond, Chiswick, Hammersmith, Fulham, Kingston, Wimbledon, Ealing, Kings Cross and Marylebone (meetings strictly by appointment only).

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    Testimonials

    4.80 Average

    312 Reviews

    Anonymous

    I have been very pleased with the support I got from Redmans Solicitors on my case with my employer. Caroline has always helped me to put things in perspective and showed me different scenarios ultimately to help me taking the right decision. She was very professional and always available when I needed, and at the same time also emphatic which I found also really important to establish a strong relationship. Will definitely recommend!

    Posted 1 day ago

    Anonymous

    Prompt and efficient response to my enquiries. Excellent negotiating skills with my employer which considerably improved the terms of my settlement agreement.

    Posted 1 day ago

    Anonymous

    Very quick and professional service , Rana was very helpful

    Posted 2 days ago

    James G

    Very professional, knowledgeable and kept me informed at every stage of my case. I would highly recommend Redmans.

    Posted 3 days ago

    Pravina P

    Chris was really good and help solve my issues with current company. I would recommend him to anyone.

    Posted 1 week ago

    Paul L

    Sacha was extremely helpful in my matter. I would not hesitate you use Sacha or Redmonds again. Everyone was very helpful.

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    Monique N

    I had Mel Chin helping me with a settlement and she was very professional and reliable throughout my case. Mel provided me with a good understanding of what was happening and gave suggestions on routes I could take. My case was resolved and closed promptly although the opposing side were very difficult to deal with. A very big thank you to Mel and Chris.

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    Jackie C

    My first ever experience needing the services of a solicitor; cannot speak highly enough of Mel and Chris’s personable, reassuring and straight to the point advice in dealing with my settlement agreement. They put me at ease during an extremely stressful time. I am equally as happy with the outcome, as l am their professional services.

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    ""

    Really happy with the service. All very efficient. Mel rattled through things very fast, however was great whenever I needed to stop and ask a question! Would definitely return to Redmans if I ever needed Legal advice.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Peter F

    Very helpful and clear advice, would highly recommend.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    William A

    Second time I have had to use Redmans. They did not disappoint. They are fast , efficient and friendly. I have already recommended them to friends and colleagues. I hope I dont have to use them again but if I have to , they are the solicitors for me.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Fleeta C

    Great service with tantastic communications. The solicitor responsible is extremely knowledgeable and was responsible for bringing a timely and desired solution.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Veronica M

    Extremely helpful, starting from a request for advice at very short notice, to dedicating time for me to understand and review all documents thoroughly.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

    Sophie R

    Very efficient and professional service. Chris was very empathetic, knowledgeable and personable. Highly recommended.

    Posted 4 weeks ago

    Melanie M

    Very happy with the detailed advice provided from Redmans. They also helped me to secure a higher settlement than originally offered by my employer and were extremely diligent. I first spoke with Chris at relatively short notice and then Sacha dealt with my case. Would definitely recommend and use again in the future if needed.

    Posted 4 weeks ago

    Anonymous

    Redmans helped me with a work related issue, which was resolved quickly and professionally. I would definitely recommend this company.

    Posted 1 month ago

    James F

    Great people, really friendly and professional helped with everything that I needed.

    Posted 1 month ago

    Anusha S

    My case was handled by Sacha who was very thorough and helped me to achieve a good outcome with my employer. Sacha was very personal, professional and helped me during quite a stressful time, so I am hugely grateful to her and to Redmans. This was my first time engaging with a law firm so I wasn't sure what to expect but I can definitely say that it was a good experience overall and I ended up better off due to having the help of an experienced and proactive solicitor on my side.

    Posted 1 month ago

    Diane P

    So grateful that I contacted Redmans to deal with my Redundancy Agreement. Everything from the initial call to the completion of the matter was professional, efficient and effective. I was listened to, had everything explained simply and kept informed of every step. I received super advice and the costs were very competitive. I would highly recommend them to anyone seeking similar help. First class service - thank you

    Posted 1 month ago

    Chris L

    It was a very efficient and effective service - Would recommend.

    Posted 1 month ago

    Anonymous

    Exceeded my expectations. Very professional and proactive. I highly recommend them.

    Posted 1 month ago