Biting The Hand That Feeds? Claiming Against An Employer.

In and around Kettering and Corby there are many large employers, particularly in the manufacturing, food production and logistics sectors.

I love my job and, although it’s not terribly cool to say it – I genuinely love the firm I work for – Why?  Well I’m not sure really; I do love the work – but I think it’s the people that make the firm such a special place to work.  I accept that the colleagues who I work closely with are an odd bunch – There’s Shona – Corby’s answer to Erin Brockovich, Leanne – without whom Elizabeth Arden, Estee Lauder and Lulu Guinness  would be struggling to make ends meet.  Then there’s Eileen who is lovely but has a tendency to dress her dog up as a pirate (complete with cutlass) and Amanda who types quicker than the wind and plays Candy Crush to Olympic standard.  There are other blokes down our end of the office – There’s James who has taken car cleaning to Jedi skill level and keeps his white Audi (with private reg) completely spotless and our great leader Adrian who owns the firm and as our boss, is of course perfect in every way (there is a small chance he may read this)…and those are just the inhabitants of one small corner of Seatons.

I spend more time with these people than I do with my own family – day after working day we share the same 8 meters squared of carpet – working together, sharing domestic gripes, sponsoring each other’s kids to raise school funds etc.

So if I had an accident at work – would I sue the firm?  I accept that a law firm is a pretty safe environment and I am struggling to think of any potential accident that could happen – although Leanne has been known to consider legal action after chipping new acrylic nails on the photocopier paper feed tray.

It is a question we are often asked – “If I sue my firm, will they be funny with me?”.  And there is no ‘right’ answer.  But going back to the larger employers in Corby and Kettering – warehouses, factories, manufacturing plants can be very dangerous places.  Some of the injuries we see are life changing – and at such times the question has to be “can I afford not to sue my employer”.  Where an injury means that your ability to support yourself and your family is affected – the only way to ensure you survive financially is to seek compensation for your losses.

We have had some firms in Kettering and Corby who have shared our client’s concerns about how injured employees are going to cope in the future  – and are totally on-board when it comes to settling compensation claims – we notify them of the accident and they put their hand up straight away and admit fault – and good on them.  They continue to pay the Claimant their salary during time off and assist in providing rehabilitation.

Others are not so supportive and will not only deny an accident is their fault -but go to great length to prevent relevant records being disclosed  and treat Claimants less favourably than they did before the accident.  Of course, after an accident can be a very difficult time – financially and emotionally.  Sometimes previously close colleagues will not stand by a Claimant – sensing that the employer will take a dim view of any assistance given to a Claimant by providing a witness statement in support of their account of events.

Legally, if you have been employed for two years or more, your employment is protected and if you are dismissed for spurious reasons or treated less favourably because of the accident you have redress at law in the form of a claim for unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal – but in my experience these circumstances rarely arise – but if they do we can deal with it for you with the help of colleagues from our Employment Law team.

The two case studies below highlight the different attitudes that clients can face:

The Supermarket:

Our client suffered a rather nasty fracture when she tripped over a cage that was used to move stock around.  The Supermarket (which I cannot name but it is the high end posh one that sells artisan pork pie, starfruit  and tarte au citron), immediately after the accident advised their employee (or associate as they are known) to seek legal advice about making a claim.  They were efficient in dealing with the matter and offered rehabilitation in the form of physiotherapy.  They worked with our client to put in place a gradual return to work program and made the whole process far less stressful for the Claimant.

As a result our client was happy to return to work after her time off and the Supermarket was not put to the trouble of sourcing and training a replacement.  There was no bad feeling either during the lifetime of the claim nor on the return to work.  It wasn’t that the Supermarket simply ‘rolled over’ in fact they denied the accident was their fault initially but disclosed all records and eventually (in my view) listened to sense when arguments as to why the accident was indeed their fault were put to them.

Whilst the resolution was in favour of our client – the process was entirely lacking in malice or ill will.  The accident and subsequent claim was unfortunate but viewed by the firm as ‘one of those things’ – nothing to get personal or vindictive about – and as a result both employer and employee were happy to move on together when the client was well enough to return to work.  In my view – everyone benefitted from their approach.  Not all employers are the same…

The Warehouse

This case could not be more different – and the claim is still on-going so I have to be a little careful about what is said here – but our client has given permission for his case to be discussed.  After a fatal accident in which our client was also injured, the firm closed ranks.  They offered our client a small sum of money to, as he sees it, ‘go quietly’.  They pointed out that his mother had recently been made redundant and that he had a holiday booked – so this small sum may ‘come in handy’.  Our client initially came to us to ask if his acceptance of the money was right and proper – and it most certainly wasn’t – it represented a gross undervalue of his damages.

In response to receiving the claim the firm was obliged to disclose all records to us so that we can  form a view on exactly where the fault lies.  These documents contain things such as accident reports and records, health and safety reports, electronic communications concerning the accident.  Some months after notifying the firm of the claim the documents remain undisclosed.  On receiving notification of the claim, they sacked our client – who with less than 2 years’ service had no rights to claim unfair dismissal.  As it happens and unsurprisingly he was happy to leave as they had treated him so badly.

Our client is struggling.  In order to get the paperwork from the firm we  have been forced to make an application to the Court to Order the relevant papers to be disclosed and I have every faith that the Court will indeed take a dim view of the employer’s stance and conduct of the claim to date.  It is a case that has attracted wide reporting in the press and in the ‘comments’ section in the online versions of some publications our client has been named and disparaged by people who were clearly still employed within the firm – not nice.  To the absolute credit of one of the publications they agreed to remove any disparaging reference to our client.

We are however standing shoulder to shoulder with our client and fighting hard to see that his claim is seen through to a successful conclusion.

Conclusion

I possibly shouldn’t say this – but there are accidents that happen which you can maybe afford to ignore – you have a car crash and suffer a few weeks’ pain and soreness from whiplash; no permanent damage.  But serious workplace accidents with ongoing grave implications should be pursued – no matter what the relationship is like with the employer.  Poor treatment in the workplace of Claimants by the employer is false economy and bad practice and if the employer/employee relationship breaks down during the claim then so be it – at Seatons we will fight every step of the way to ensure your employer does not take more than they may already have taken by reason of the accident.

So if you have suffered an accident in the workplace that has resulted in injuries – give us a call.  We will see you free of charge and work on a no win no fee basis.  We can’t guarantee that your employer will behave reasonably or responsibly – but we will do all we can to make sure you don’t face an uncertain future and we will help in any way we can.