s111A of the Employment Rights Act 1996

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Evidence about ‘protected conversations’ in an unfair dismissal case?

Yes, if the date of termination is in dispute, held the EAT in Basra v BJSS Limited.

Pre-termination discussions between employer and employee are protected under section 111A Employment Rights Act 1996 and cannot therefore usually be referred to by either party in an unfair dismissal claim, unless there has been “improper behaviour”. In Basra, however, the EAT held that there is an exception to this rule if the date of termination is in dispute.

The Claimant wrote an email to the Respondent in response to a without prejudice offer letter it had sent saying “today will be the last day at BJSS”. The Claimant then stopped attending work, and later brought a claim for unfair dismissal. BJSS argued the Claimant’s employment had ended by mutual termination and, in the alternative, the email was a resignation. The Claimant denied resigning and said he had been dismissed by BJSS at a later date. The tribunal, following Faithorn Farrell Timms LLP v Bailey, noted that s111A protection cannot be waived (unlike without prejudice negotiations) and excluded BJSS’s offer letter as protected under s111A ERA.

The EAT held that as the protection under s111A only applies to pre-termination negotiations, “the chronological line between what is, and what is not, admissible therefore lies on the point at which the contract is terminated”. The EAT went on to say that “where there is a dispute as to whether or not the contract was terminated on a particular date, the tribunal would not be in a position to say what evidence should be excluded until that dispute is determined”. Thus the tribunal needs to determine the termination date before applying s111A

Can an employer rely on parts of without prejudice or protected conversations?

Can a Respondent employer rely on parts of a ‘without prejudice discussion’, or protected conversation, whilst at the same time using the rules as a shield?

No, held the EAT in Graham v Agilitas IT Solutions Ltd.

The Claimant was facing termination of employment. During talks which the Respondent characterised as being without prejudice and/or protected under s111A of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Claimant made comments which the Respondent subsequently used to form the basis of disciplinary action. The Claimant alleged improper conduct/unambiguous impropriety by the Respondent in the form of bullying and threatening behaviours in the same meeting.

The EAT held that the Respondent could not waive privilege on parts of the meeting and rely on privilege in relation to other parts to shield its conduct.

The Claimant was entitled to have the employment tribunal examine the improper conduct. The case has been remitted.