Help Desk: I don't want to give in to these bullying tactics

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Dear Help Desk

SOME TIME ago I agreed redundancy terms with my boss after eight years with the same company. The agreement was that if I worked for a further six-month period I would get certain benefits. This was confirmed in writing. Now the period is over and my boss is saying that, since I have had time to get another position, he has reduced the amount to be paid. My attempts to argue my case for what was agreed have only resulted in several bitter rows. He has told me that if I fight his decision not only will he withdraw his reduced offer but he will also make it difficult for me to get another job. I have a week to agree or face the consequences. I am not sleeping due to anxiety about this situation and, at 50 years old, I am finding getting another job very hard. My wife thinks I should accept what I am offered and go without making a fuss. What would be your advice?

George N

Phillip Wood, head of Employment Unit, Maxwell Batley Solicitors, says:

Your boss is misguidedly relying upon an established legal principle, that following his breach of the agreement it is up to you to mitigate your loss. If you fail to do so to a reasonable extent, any compensation which a court awards you could be reduced to reflect that failure. That duty to mitigate only arises, however, once the breach has occurred. You will not be penalised for failing to look for or find another job during the final six months of your employment. You have two choices. You could refuse the reduced amount and sue your employer for the original agreed amount, or accept the reduced amount now and then sue for the balance on the basis that you only did so under duress. Given your employer's threats (which could constitute blackmail), it may be better to pursue the latter course once you have found and started another job.

Nick Shannon, occupational psychologist, Acker Deboeck & Company, says:

Your boss is playing it tough in the hope that you will go quietly for less money than was agreed. He is pressuring you to accept his revised offer by imposing a time limit and threatening to make it difficult for you to find another job. However you have the upper hand as you have written evidence of the original agreement. What your boss is doing is not only unethical, it is illegal. Why is your boss attempting to do this to you? Perhaps his own situation is not secure and he thinks that by saving some money on your redundancy he will establish some credit. You can turn the tables and avoid the unpleasantness of confronting him again by referring the matter upwards. Set out your situation clearly in a letter to your boss's superior, enclosing a copy of the original terms that were agreed, with a copy to your boss. Insist that the company stick to what was agreed, and ask for a prompt resolution. In the meantime you might contact your solicitor to find out what the legal proceedings are should it become necessary.

Andrew Marshall, agony uncle and president of the British Men's Counselling Association, says:

Some people relish a fight, finding it brings out the best in them, while others feel ground down and depressed. It sounds like you belong in the second camp, and if you are not sleeping now, how will you feel if this dispute takes 18 months to grind through the courts? I was in the same situation where I was made redundant and not being offered what my contract stipulated. Believing that each of us has only so much emotional energy, I thought I would do better using mine to look to the future. It is on old cliche, but as one door closes another opens; I decided I could not move on if the old door was left ajar by litigation. So I asked a lawyer friend to negotiate on my behalf. He significantly improved the offer and I was able to leave with my dignity intact. The crisis made me reassess my working life and I have changed direction into something far more personally rewarding. Good luck at turning your problem into an opportunity.

Compiled by Carmen Fielding

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2451; e-mail .fielding@independent.co.uk

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