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Personal injury solicitor awarded £32,000 for unfair dismissal

A personal injury solicitor who was transferred to a new law firm without notice or consultation has been awarded just under £32,000 in damages by an employment tribunal.

Employment Judge Beyzade said this included a 10% uplift on Eduardo Grazioli’s compensation for unfair dismissal because Charles Gregory Solicitors failed to follow ACAS guidelines.

The judge found in March that the solicitor had resigned following “fundamental breach” of the implied term of trust and confidence in his employment contract, including threatening him with dismissal without investigation and unreasonably alleging he was absent without leave.

Mr Grazioli 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.

The firm had to stop operating in 2019 and work began to transfer files and staff to Charles Gregory. Mr Grazioli was 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.

He did not return to work at the firm, 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 a grievance, the solicitor attended a disciplinary hearing. Mr Grazioli received an email acknowledging receipt of the grievance after the hearing. He was told to return to work immediately. Instead, he 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. He eventually started a new job on 1 January 2021.

In the ruling on remedy, the judge rejected the suggestion of “culpable or blameworthy conduct” on the part of the solicitor, while it was “difficult to decipher” the basis on which the firm asserted that he had been absent without leave.

Nor should there be a deduction because Mr Grazioli had been able to claim loss of earnings under a private insurance policy, though the state benefits he received before finding a new job last year would have to be accounted for.

The tribunal also rejected any deduction from damages on the grounds that the solicitor would have been dismissed in any event. But it did find that he failed to mitigate his loss from June 2020 in the way he went about looking for another job.

Judge Beyzade said Charles Gregory Solicitors failed to take steps to consider the solicitor’s grievance until after the disciplinary hearing two days later.

There was “no appreciation during the disciplinary hearing” that Mr Grazioli’s grievance “could be important enough to pause the disciplinary matter, in order to consider the issues that the claimant was raising”.

By failing to acknowledge Mr Grazioli’s grievance and set up a grievance meeting before the disciplinary hearing took place, the law firm “missed an important opportunity to discuss the claimant’s issues with him and thereafter to take any appropriate remedial action”.

As a result of this unreasonable failure to comply with the ACAS code of practice, Judge Beyzade ordered a 10% uplift in Mr Grazioli’s compensation.

The judge awarded him £22,439 in compensation for unfair dismissal, including the uplift, £5,250 for failing to inform and consult the solicitor under TUPE, wage arrears of £3,333 and holiday pay of £971, making a total of £31,993.

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