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Court dismisses £10,000 compensation claim

Court dismisses £10,000 compensation claim

Sunday 02 August 2020

Court dismisses £10,000 compensation claim


The States withdrew a job offer to an ex-employee after there were "eruptions" from civil servants who ordered HR to stop processing her contract.

Deirdre Dudley-Owen took the States of Guernsey to Court, saying that she had lost the opportunity to earn money during a four-month period and had been "discriminated" against by the island's largest employer.

The States of Guernsey accepted there had been a breach, however Ms Dudley-Owen was only due one week's wages, totalling £795.73, as compensation, because of a statutory fallback option in Guernsey's Employment Law. 

Following a job interview on 28 February, Ms Dudley-Owen was offered a four-month job as a Business Continuity Officer by email. She accepted that offer the next day. 

However on 4 March, five days before she was due to start work, there was a change of heart. One of the States' HR Directors told the Court that there had "been eruptions from those above me" upon hearing of Ms Dudley-Owen's job offer. 

"I found out an offer had been made and told them to stop processing the contract and to reverse the appointment," he said. 

frossard house home working remote digital virtual

Pictured: Ms Dudley-Owen had accepted the job by email, only for it to be later withdrawn.

Crown Advocate Jason Hill, representing the States, said the email offer did not amount to a contract. It was normal practice that there would be an offer by email and, later, a written contract containing all the terms and conditions. 

Advocate Hill said the email was clearly not a contract since it contained none of that information. 

Any offer of employment would also be subject to satisfactory references, police and vetting bureau checks and any other pre-employment checks as appropriate.

Ms Dudley-Owen's perception was the job offer was the contract at that point in time.

"The terms and conditions were those in the email dated 28 February," she contested. "There was no reference to a separate contract with different terms and nothing mentioned in the interview. It is not for the employer to seek additional terms otherwise I should be allowed to do the same."

Having been offered the job, Ms Dudley-Owen said she had stopped looking for other employment. When the offer was withdrawn, she had been unable to find employment suitable for her skills and experience locally and could not go to the UK because of the start of lockdown restrictions. 

What the law says

The Employment Protection (Guernsey) Law 1998 sets out the default position for when an employer has not specified the terms of notice. 

It reads that: "The notice required to be given by an employer to an employee, or by an employee to an employer, to terminate the contract of employment of the employee shall be-

(a) not less than one week's notice, where the employee has been continuously employed for a period of one month or more but less than two years"

This case required a certain amount of discretion from Judge Gary Perry, since Ms Dudley-Owen did not necessarily qualify, under the law, for any compensation, let alone a sum equivalent to almost her entire four-month contract. 

"It is important that no formal contract was ever sent or signed prior to termination," he said. "[Ms Dudley-Owen] agrees she never had a formal contract to sign."

He said that one week's notice was the correct legal approach to take. 

"There is no scenario in which Ms Dudley-Owen was entitled to what she was claiming, and there are scenarios that could reasonably involve no compensation whatsoever."

Having ordered the States to pay Ms Dudley-Owen £795.73, Advocate Hill asked for some of that to be deducted. Ms Dudley-Owen had reportedly turned down a £1,000 settlement offer from the States, and he argued that she had wasted people's time pursuing £10,000 compensation, the maximum available in the Magistrate's Court. 

He asked the Judge to deduct two-and-a-half hours of legal costs from the States' bill. 

In a notable judgment, Judge Perry rejected the application, saying people need to have a way to challenge decisions when they feel they have been mistreated. 

Pictured: The case was heard in the Magistrate's Court. 

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