Employment law case of the week: The Partners of Haxby Practice v Collen UKEAT/0120/12/DM

Summary

Ms Collen (“the Claimant”) applied for a job with The Partners of Haxby Practice (“the Respondent”). She was told over the telephone that the salary was £22,427 but subsequently received a written offer of employment which stated her salary and start date. She raised questions regarding the start date but not regarding the salary offer. She subsequently commenced the job and was told that the salary was the original verbal offer, not the latter. After a period of negotiation her employment terminated and she submitted a claim for wrongful dismissal. She was successful and was awarded damages for her notice period at the £30,762 level of salary. However, the Respondent had concerns regarding potential procedural impropriety and bias on behalf of the Employment Judge. It therefore appealed but the Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected the appeal, stating that:

  1. The parties had agreed to be bound by the written offer;
  2. Even should an agreement have been reached via the telephone it would have been superceded by the written offer letter;
  3. The discrepancy between oral reasons and written reasons given by the Employment Judge did not constitute an error of law; and
  4. The conduct of the Employment Judge had not impaired the fairness of the hearing

The facts of The Partners of Haxby Practice v Collen

The Claimant was verbally offered a salary of £22,427 on the telephone. At a later date she received an offer letter which stated her salary was actually £30,762. Upon commencing work the Claimant and the Respondent disputed the amount of the salary and this resulted in the termination of the Claimant’s employment. The Claimant subsequently issued a claim in the Employment Tribunal for wrongful dismissal. She was successful at the Employment Tribunal but the Respondent appealed on the following grounds:

  • The parties had in fact agreed to be bound by the verbal offer of the lower salary
  • As an agreement had later been reached at the value of the lower salary the later offer letter was therefore irrelevant
  • The Employment Judge’s written and oral reasons contained discrepancies; and
  • The conduct of the Judge was sufficiently biased to jeopardise the Respondent’s chance of a fair hearing

The law relating to the formation of contracts

In order for a complete contractual agreement to be reached the following elements have to be present:

  1. Offer
  2. Acceptance
  3. Consideration
  4. Intention to be bound by the contract
The crucial issue here was whether the Claimant had accepted all of the Respondent’s terms in the telephone call. In order for a contract to be formed all the terms must be agreed to. If parties reach agreement on essential matters of principle but leave important points unsettled then the agreement is incomplete and the parties are not bound by it.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal’s judgment in The Partners of Haxby Practice v Collen

The Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected the Respondent’s appeal, holding that:

  1. The parties had agreed to be bound by the written offer;
  2. Even should an agreement have been reached via the telephone it would have been superceded by the written offer letter;
  3. The discrepancy between oral reasons and written reasons given by the Employment Judge did not constitute an error of law; and
  4. The conduct of the Employment Judge had not impaired the fairness of the hearing

Chris’ thoughts on The Partners of Haxby Practice v Collen

This is clearly an interesting case, mainly because the particular points of law addressed don’t often reach the Employment Appeal Tribunal. This case clearly shows that what one party perceives to be an agreement may not be so if the other party(‘s) to the agreement reject particular terms – such as, in this instance, the level of salary. Further, even if the parties reach an agreement this agreement can be superceded by different later written (or verbal) terms if they agree that these terms will constitute a new contract.

About Chris Hadrill

Chris is a specialist employment lawyer at Redmans Solicitors, a law firm based in London. He writes on employment law on a variety of websites, including Direct 2 Lawyers, Lawontheweb.co.uk, LegalVoice, the Justice Gap, the Redmans blog, and his own blog.

Contact Chris by emailing him at chadrill@redmans.co.uk

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