By Juliet Phillips-James, Director, Gomer Williams (as featured in the Llanelli Star)
Q: I have worked for a company for over 15 years. Due to family problems I have been on a career break for the past two years. I was invited to a restructure meeting with the company and was offered redundancy. I queried if I was entitled to redundancy due to the career break and I was informed I was. A redundancy figure was put forward to me verbally which I accepted. Is this legally binding as I verbally accepted the offer and I am concerned that they could go back on the agreement?
A: Unless your contract of employment provides otherwise, a career break, although normally unpaid, is still classed as continuous employment and therefore given your length of employment with the company you will be treated the same as other employees eligible for redundancy.
The problem you are faced with is that you have yet to be issued with a formal notice of redundancy. You should firstly contact the HR department to ascertain when you can expect the notice. However, even after a notice has been issued, if your employer offers you suitable alternative employment or your old job back (during the notice period), under the same terms and conditions of employment but you refuse it, your employer can seek to argue that no statutory redundancy payment is due because you have unreasonably refused an offer of suitable alternative employment.
If you decided to take this to an employment tribunal, you would need to persuade the tribunal your refusal was reasonable in the circumstances.
At first instance it would be sensible to endeavour to try to get this notice of redundancy in writing. If you secure this and then encounter the above problems, or alternatively they refuse to provide it, it would then be prudent for you to seek the advice of a solicitor specialising in employment law.