When trade unions negotiate settlements of employment disputes, employers usually assume that they are acting with the authority of their members. As an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, however, there is a difference between an assumption and a certainty.
The case concerned a healthcare assistant who, throughout a redundancy process, was advised by her trade union. After she and others lost their jobs, the trade union negotiated with their employer via Acas. A full and final settlement, whereby each employee was to receive £750, was in due course agreed.
In the meantime, however, the woman had instructed her own solicitors to pursue an independent ET claim on her behalf. Her employer contended that the claim should be struck out in that she was named as a party to the settlement and bound by its terms. There was thus no ongoing dispute for the ET to resolve.
Ruling on the matter, the ET noted the woman’s uncontested evidence that she was on holiday in Spain at the relevant time and had no knowledge of the settlement. She first became aware of it when the employer responded to her claim. She contacted Acas asking for her name to be removed from the compromise agreement but, by that time, the settlement had been formally executed.
In declining to strike out her claim, the ET found that the trade union had no actual or ostensible authority to reach a settlement on her behalf. She had not, by her words or conduct, granted such authority. She had informed the employer that she was instructing her own solicitors and the employer should therefore have been on notice that she was no longer represented by the trade union. The ET’s ruling opened the way for her claim to proceed to a full hearing on its merits.