As W H Smith employees, fearful for their jobs, will attest, rosier economic forecasts are no guarantee of job security. Sarah's tale of instant dismissal is being retold all over the country.
Stunned employees are often asked by embarrassed employers to accept a final cheque in return for acknowledging they have no further claims against the employer.
Most are too shocked to take in the details of settlement proposals at a dismissal interview. They should resist committing themselves until they have had time to consider whether better terms might be negotiated.
It is often possible to put together a severance package that offers a better deal to the employee and creates no extra burden for the employer.
Employees usually have a number of cards to play. They can offer not to divulge matters relating to their dismissal to other employees or clients. They can also offer to assist in a smooth handover of their responsibilties. Most employers are anxious to avoid the expense, publicity, and loss of management time involved in legal proceedings.
Richard Monkcom, a partner and employment specialist with City solicitors, Druces & Attlee, says: "When dealing with a termination of employment, I advise employers that it is wise to part company with an employee as far as possible on amicable terms.
"Disaffected former em-ployees can cause serious damage to an employer's business reputation. It is always worth bearing in mind the former employee may well turn out to be a future client or customer."
Beyond employees' strict legal rights, there are a number of ways in which a termination package may be improved.
It is usually cheaper for an employer to purchase private medical and life insurance cover than for employees to buy their own. It is often believed that these benefits cease on termination of employment. However, in many cases it is possible for former employees to remain a member of the scheme at no extra cost to the employer until the poicy renewal date.
For many employees, a reference is a crucial tool in the search for a new job, although employers are under no legal obligation to provide one. Employees should seek to settle the wording of any reference before a departure date is agreed.
Employees provided with cars should investigate the possibilities of buying the car. Some employers may be prepared to sell a car to an employee at its book value, which is often considerably less than its market worth.
It may be possible to persuade an employer to part with items of office equipment, such as personal computers and fax machines, which have a limited resale value.
In addition, the departing employee should explore the possibility of obtaining out-placement assistance or the use of office facilities.
If the employer wishes the former employee to agree to any restrictions on his or her activities following dismissal, the employee should seek to negotiate an additional payment in return for compliance.