Additional FAQs will be added as we received queries.  If you have any additional questions please contact the branch office for guidance: ucu@abdn.ac.uk

1. Is this even legal for the University to have these conversations?

Yes, it is.  We understand that Heads of School and senior liner managers have been given specific training on holding Protected Conversations.

2. Where can I find information about protected conversations?

The Acas guidance is very helpful and we recommend you have a read of it.  In addition, there is a useful and clearly written legal blog which explains key points on protected conversations.

3. Can I refuse to take part in a protected conversation?

You can refuse to take part, and you can leave the meeting at any time if you feel that you are being put under pressure or bullied in any way. 

4. When a manager / HoS initiates a protected conversation, is it the case that they are obliged to give the staff member a chance to have another member of staff in the meeting to support them?

It is just “good practice” and they are not legally obliged to allow you to have a colleague or TU rep with you for support. Paragraph 13 of the Acas guidance covers this. 

5. What if I’m away at a conference abroad and my Head of School insists of having this conversation by phone?

We can’t see any explicit reference to telephone meetings being ruled out in either of the above sources. Paragraph 13 of the Acas guide states that the parties may find face-to-face meetings helpful. Our feeling is that, if the member of staff is normally based on a University campus in Aberdeen, then it would be unreasonable to expect them to make a decision before they have returned and been able to make any consultation that they wish to make (see paragraphs 4(c), 12 & 18(e)(i) in the Acas guidance). 

6. What if I am still on probation?  Do I have any additional protection?

We are awaiting guidance on this

7. What if I am on maternity leave? 

We are awaiting guidance on this

8. What if I am off sick when my HoS wants to meet me?

If you are signed off sick you should not be coming into work.  Ask your HoS to defer the meeting till you are well and have returned to work.  

9. If I refuse to sign off on an offer made in course of a protected conversation what will happen? 

If there is no extant dispute between employer and employee, and the employer has stated (bearing in mind that this will need to be proven) that the employee will be made redundant if the offer is not accepted, then that would appear to be undue pressure (paragraph 18(e)(ii)). Where that intention (will be made redundant) has not been stated clearly, however, the situation is not clear-cut. Your HoS might be able to argue, on the basis of paragraph 19 in the Acas guide, that they are simply laying out, in neutral terms, what might happen if you don’t take the package.The Acas guidance states unequivocally that “The employee must have received advice from a relevant independent Adviser” (paragraph 4(c)). Our reading is that no agreement can be binding if this is not permitted. If the employee was not able to take a colleague (who does not have to be a union member) to the meeting, then it might be worthwhile asking the HR rep who was present to draw up a note of the meeting and to send it to both parties for their approval.UK law covers these matters - the relevant legislation is “section 111A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA)”.Our understanding of the Acas guide suggests that any agreement could possibly be invalidated if it was improperly arrived at (eg if you were put under unde pressure to accept the offer), but we suspect that doing so would be very difficult. 

10. I understand that any settlement will be kept confidential.  I have agreed to the settlement package but I don’t feel comfortable lying to my colleagues about why I am leaving so is there a form of words I can use that lets people know why I am leaving without being dishonest, but also not breaching the confidentiality element of the settlement?

Extract from Law at Work, 2018 (Labour Research Dept), p471

 “Settlement agreements often include promises to keep the terms confidential, especially the settlement sum, only disclosing it to immediate family.  A claimant who breaks this kind of term risks losing the whole settlement sum (Fahim Imam-Sadeque v Bluebay Asset Management Services Ltd [2012] EWHC 3511 QB)”

It’s pretty clear – it is best not to discuss your exit from employment if that’s agreed via settlement, with anyone other than a spouse or your immediate family.  If you are leaving employment having signed such an agreement, you could explain it to colleagues by saying that it was a personal decision to move on… perhaps to take up new career challenges or completely change direction career-wise. 

11. Can I refer to a Settlement Agreement being offered to me if I reject the offer?

If you have a potential claim for any type of discrimination due to a “protected characteristic” – such as age, disability, maternity, pregnancy, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation – or claims for automatic unfair dismissal such as whistleblowing or for raising health and safety issues then these “off the record” conversations and documents can be brought to the attention of an Employment Tribunal. For example, if you are offered a Settlement Agreement because you informed the employer that you were pregnant, or because you are an older employee who has reached a certain age and the employer is trying to encourage you to retire, then all of your discussions would be admissible at Tribunal, however much the employer insisted they were “off the record” or “without prejudice”.In addition, if there has been “improper conduct” by the employer, then they cannot keep these offers and negotiations secret. Improper conduct covers a number of situations, including putting undue pressure on you. Examples of this are all forms of bullying, harassment and intimidation, all forms of victimisation, and not giving a reasonable period of time for you to consider whether to accept the offer of a Settlement Agreement – Acas recommends 10 calendar days.

12. If I agree to a settlement offer, should I have it checked by a lawyer? How much will this cost?
Yes, any settlement agreement should be checked by a lawyer.  UCU has a firm of lawyers that we recommend but you can use your own lawyer if you prefer.  It is normal practice for the University to agree to meet the cost of getting this check done so it shouldn’t cost you anything.