Should I stay or should I go?

I have been working as a secretary in the private sector since March last year. My contract states that my salary grade will rise after the first six months then again after a year. The contract was signed by my manager on behalf of the general manager.

I received my first pay rise, but have been refused the second. I have a new manager who refuses to authorise it, with the backing of the general manager who claims my contract is invalid because he did not sign it. I have also been told that I am no longer needed in my current office and will be transferred to another office in London.

I feel the reason for this unfair treatment is due to the fact I called off sick in the week after my holiday leave due to a bad case of flu. Do you think I should stay or resign?

Phillip Wood, Employment Unit, Maxwell Batley Solicitors:

You have less than two years' service. If you resign, you will not be able to claim compensation for constructive dismissal. However, whether you resign or stay you will still be able to claim the extra salary due to you.

You can bring a County Court claim for breach of contract or, better still, a claim in the Industrial Tribunal for unlawful deduction of wages. The tribunal claim is preferable because by bringing the claim (or indeed complaining to your employer that wages have been unlawfully deducted) you gain unfair dismissal protection as if you had two years' service if the reason for dismissal is your claim for the shortfall in your wages.

As far as the office move is concerned, this can only be forced upon you if your contract has a mobility clause. However, if you do not co-operate, you will probably be made redundant. Without your two years' service, you will have no remedy if your selection for redundancy is unfair or if the procedure is handled unfairly. If you are made redundant or dismissed for any other reason, you should bring a tribunal claim for unfair dismissal and negotiate the two-year rule by claiming that the real reason was your "assertion of a statutory right", ie to be paid your wages without unlawful deductions.

Jean Balcombe, Head of the Information Service, The Industrial Society:

A contract of employment is between an employer (in this case, the company) and an employee. Your previous manager who signed it would be deemed in law as an "authorised agent" of the company. Your contract is, therefore, valid and, by not increasing your salary grade after one year, your employer is in breach.

You could sue for breach of contract while remaining in the job and you would be legally protected from any resulting victimisation. However, the treatment you describe makes your company sound a rather poor employer, so my advice would be to look for a better one!

Paul Roscorla, Occupational Psychologist, Acker Deboeck & Company:

Enforcing the contract is a last resort. Your aim must be to get what you can from the situation. This includes learning from it. The contract issue sounds like a technicality. You suspect this yourself I sense.

If you want to stay, then I suggest speaking to your new manager with a view to trying calmly to understand any underlying reasons, including how your work is viewed. I think you should take the fact that the second pay rise has been refused as a signal that there is a problem.

The air needs to be cleared and this can only be achieved through openness rather than confrontation. If it is possible to clear the air, then you may be able to agree a basis on which to stay. Otherwise, the best option would appear to be to find another job before resigning so you at last remain in continuous employment.

In the end, staying is only an option if you want what is on offer and your employer wants your services. In conducting yourself do not forget that behaving correctly is important because you are likely to need references.

Compiled by Carmen Fielding

l If you have a 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 2182; e-mail