Don’t Assume, Read.

Letters, especially letters based on pre-written templates in an employer’s HR policies frequently look and read the same. So much so that there is sometimes a temptation to assume we know what is written in the letter without needing to read the whole thing. There is a danger though for trade union reps that that that assumption leads us to miss vital information.

Let me give an example. I have recently been assisting an employee who had previously been given a final written warning for misconduct. He was alleged to have committed further misconduct which was found proven and so because of that further misconduct whilst still on a warning he was dismissed for repeated misconduct, even though the misconduct was stated to be minor. It is common knowledge that where a employee is dismissed for repeated misconduct then, since there has been no fundamental breach of contract, the employee is still entitled to any contractual notice pay; in this case this amounted to over thirteen week’s wages. The manager however decided he did not want to give this and so dismissed the employee without any notice pay. After reading the ‘juicy’ bits of the letter a few times it was only when I read the ‘boring bits’ that I assumed were just a copy and paste job that this decision (I am not sure it was an ‘error’) was identified.

This is not an isolated occurrence. I fairly regularly (maybe 1 in 30 letters?) find reading ‘standard’ letters which have been drafted to ensure the employer complies with the law have been changed by a local manager that when pushed places the employer in legal difficulties and helps protect the employment of union members.  And yet, even knowing that, caseloads and the familiar look of letters still prove a temptation to me when seeing this letters gloss over the contents assuming they say what policy tells them to say. And so, this post is written simply as a useful tip to union reps when receiving letters make sure you read the whole thing from beginning to end – sometimes this can make a huge positive difference to a case.