Summary: How a lack of communication and understanding evolved into legal proceedings over breach of contract.
This breach of contract dispute concerned a self employed engineering contractor. Mr S was placed by a specialist recruitment company for a 12 month assignment with a large engineering company.Within a very short space of time Mr S was at loggerheads with his immediate superior.
An informal lunch was arranged by the regional director, together with Mr S and his supervising manager, to see if they could iron out the problems.To say the lunch did not go well, is an understatement; after a short time, Mr S jumped up and said “right, I’m off!”.
The contractual termination period was three months. With that in mind, three months later the regional director approached Mr S and asked him to leave his security pass and company laptop on his way out that evening. Mr S asked why and was told that he effectively resigned at the lunch three months ago. By saying at the lunch “right, I’m off”, the regional director and the supervising manager took it to mean that Mr S was giving them the required three month notice period. Mr S denied that was what he meant thus the start of proceedings for breach of contract and constructive dismissal.
The mediation was a complicated affair which included not only the Claimant, Mr S, but also the Defendant, the engineering company, together with the recruitment company who demanded the return of their placement fee from the engineering company.
It was argued that if Mr S intended to resign, surely he would have written a formal letter of resignation? Equally, the engineering company personnel department failed to instigate any procedures following the lunch acknowledging Mr S’s resignation.
Following a number of hours at the mediation, agreement was reach and the settlement agreement papers drawn up by the parties’ legal representatives with a view to halting legal proceedings. However, when it came to Mr S signing the settlement agreement, he refused to sign claiming he wanted “to have his day in court, win or lose”. Hours of negotiation and drafting of settlement papers was effectively all for nothing!
The lesson to be learned is that it helps if parties to a dispute approach the mediation proceedings with an open mind. As I once had to point out to Queen’s Counsel, the mediation is an arena to explore the possibilities of a negotiated settlement. The court, on the other hand, is where the law is debated and legal precedents set, and ultimately where the court settles the dispute for the parties.