Solicitor wins unfair dismissal claim over transfer to new firm

Tribunal: Employment relationship fractured

A solicitor has won a claim for constructive unfair dismissal after his employer tried to transfer him to a new law firm without notice or consultation.

Employment Judge Beyzade found London personal injury firm Charles Gregory Solicitors in “fundamental breach” of the implied term of trust and confidence and that Eduardo Grazioli resigned as a result.

He said those breaches included the threat of dismissal – and the failure to carry out any reasonable investigation – as well as suspending him and unreasonably alleging he was absent without leave.

Further, the firm failed to inform and to consult Mr Grazioli in accordance with TUPE, attempted to vary his contract unilaterally, threatened to discipline him separately due to his non-attendance at a disciplinary hearing, and failed to acknowledge a grievance he sent shortly before the disciplinary hearing.

The tribunal said the firm decided to continue with that hearing without considering whether this was appropriate in light of the grievance.

“We decided the breaches of contract by the respondent were fundamental (or serious) breaches of contract because the employer’s had, by their actions destroyed the claimant’s trust in them.

“They had an opportunity to resolve matters, but they did not take it, and instead compounded the situation by threatening further disciplinary action.”

Mr Grazioli had worked for 12 years for Rider Support Services Ltd, initially as a paralegal and later as a personal injury solicitor on a salary of £30,000 a year.

In 2018, the sole practitioner running the firm died and his non-lawyer wife became responsible for it as his executrix.

The practice obtained a temporary registration for initially one year from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and a supervising solicitor was appointed.

Rider Support Services applied to become an alternative business structure in summer 2019. The SRA rejected this in September and decided to remove Rider’s licence to provide reserved legal activities.

As a result, the firm had to stop operating and work began to transfer files and staff to Charles Gregory.

Mr Grazioli was then off sick for a period “as a result of a suspected allergy”, and then said he believed he had been made redundant, a view not shared by the firm.

However, a few days later he was suspended, initially for a number of matters, “but this later changed to a single allegation of non-attendance at work”, the tribunal said.

He did not return to work until he resigned, during which time he was told that his employment had been transferred to Charles Gregory in accordance with TUPE.

On 11 December 2019, two days after he had submitted his grievance, the solicitor attended a disciplinary hearing.

Ms Hussain only sent an email acknowledging receipt of the grievance after the hearing and told him he had to return to work immediately. Instead, Mr Grazioli resigned.

The tribunal found that Charles Gregory had not sought to ascertain the terms of the solicitor’s employment – he did not have a written contract with Rider – had not consulted him about the transfer and proposed significant unilateral changes to how he worked.

These were the reasons why he resigned, Judge Beyzade said, along with the way the grievance was handled.

The law firm had “fractured the employment relationship [and] done nothing to try to repair it,” he went on. “The respondent simply wanted the claimant to put it all behind him and return to work immediately… without understanding that the claimant had lost trust in his employer.”

While the law firm may not have intended to repudiate the contract, he went on, its conduct meant that Mr Grazioli “could not reasonably be expected to put up” with what had happened.

There will now be a remedy hearing.

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