Arnold Clark Automobiles Ltd v (1)Stewart (2)Barnetts Motor Group Ltd

Solicitor’s letter counts as grievance note
Arnold Clark Automobiles Ltd v (1)Stewart (2)Barnetts Motor Group Ltd, EAT, 20 December 2005

Background

Mr Stewart was the general manager of Barnetts Motor Group. Barnetts sold its business to Arnold Clark Automobiles (ACA), which proposed to appoint a different general manager. There was, according to Stewart, no consultation or discussion with him about the proposal, so he resigned.

Stewart’s solicitors wrote a letter to ACA, which was marked ‘without prejudice’. It detailed the ways in which it was alleged that ACA had breached Stewart’s contract of employment and quantified his potential claims. The claims were refuted and Stewart presented his complaints to the tribunal.

The issue the tribunal had to consider was whether a grievance note had been sent. If Stewart had not raised a grievance, he would not be entitled to proceed with his claim.

Decision

The tribunal said the sending of the letter amounted to a grievance note for the purpose of the statutory grievance procedure. ACA appealed, alleging that the letter was a letter of claim and nothing more.

Appeal

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) confirmed the tribunal’s decision and held that:



  • a claimant’s grievance can be set out in a letter of claim

  • the letter does not have to contain the word ‘grievance’ or spell out that a grievance procedure is being invoked

  • a ‘grievance’ can be sent by a solicitor instructed by a claimant

  • the fact that a letter is marked ‘without prejudice’ will not prevent it from being a grievance for the purposes of the statutory grievance procedure.

Comment

It is irrelevant that a complaint is contained in a letter that also doubles as something else – in this case, a ‘letter of claim’. Also, it does not matter that such a letter is marked ‘without prejudice’. Employers must scrutinise written correspondence from employees (and their solicitors) to see if it raises a complaint that could form the basis of a tribunal complaint.

An employer that fails to respond to a written complaint may risk an increase in any compensation awarded by a tribunal.

 

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