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Watch Out! Assurances Given to Employees Can Have Contractual Force!
Promises made and assurances given to employees can have contractual force, so it is vital not to make such commitments without taking legal advice. That point was made by one case in which a council went back on an assurance that a group of workers would have the opportunity to apply for voluntary redundancy.
The council was subject to severe budget cuts and had informed the review and monitoring officers over its intranet that they would be contacted and invited to make applications for voluntary redundancy on generous terms. They were, however, subsequently told that voluntary redundancy was not available to them and they were made compulsorily redundant. Their complaints of breach of contract were later rejected by an Employment Tribunal (ET) on the basis that the intranet announcement did not give rise to contractual rights.
In upholding the workers’ challenge to that ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that the ET had made a number of errors of law. It had, amongst other things, wrongly focused on an irrelevant issue as to whether the council had a policy, or custom and practice, of offering voluntary redundancy. The intranet notice, on the face of it, committed the council to inviting applications for voluntary redundancy and questions as to whether these would in fact have been granted went to damages, not liability.
The EAT remitted the case to the ET for reconsideration of whether the workers had a contractual right to apply for voluntary redundancy and, if so, the amounts of damages, if any, they should be awarded. Subject to argument to the contrary, the EAT was minded to send the matter back to a differently constituted ET.