back to article £10k offer to leave firm ASAP is not blackmail, Capita told by judge

Offering disgruntled workers a fat cheque to quit is not blackmail, a court has told Capita. Capita accountant Mowe Saha claimed she had been retaliated against by the infamous outsourcing badass after whistleblowing and refusing to accept a roster that included working for 12 days straight (a total of 76 hours) immediately …

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  1. macjules Silver badge

    Not Blackmail?

    Simon Mayall stated that he "couldn't have me escalating issues to you", and if I didn't take the £10k offer then I would be managed [presumably out] via my sick records.

    I do not think that I have ever heard of someone being given a couple of hours notice and a rounded offer to quit.Then again this is Crapita we are talking about ..

    1. Geoff Campbell
      Pirate

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      I was, some years ago. I and another Director were called to a board meeting at an off-site location, and told that we could either resign and get six months salary, or be sacked for bringing the company into disrepute and get nothing, and they wanted the decision there and then.

      Naturally, as in all such situations, I took the money and ran. I figured I needed the exercise.

      GJC

      1. The Vociferous Time Waster

        Re: Not Blackmail?

        I was once sacked for gross misconduct (very weak case) but given full redundancy payout and notice if I agreed not to appeal. Was even guaranteed a pre agreed reference.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: Not Blackmail?

          IT staff tend to be given very short offer notices with payoffs too, saves the havok that can be caused by disgruntled IT workers.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not Blackmail?

          If your employer doesn't want you (as mine have from time to time) there's no point fighting them. Doesn't matter whether its because your post is genuinely redundant, whether it is being falsely claimed as redundant, whether you're being fitted up....its always best to take any good offer and get on with your life and career somewhere new. You might be able to stress yourself out and use your energy to force them to keep you, but they'd only do that reluctantly. And from there on in you're marked. Nobody with career ambitions in the company wants to be seen with you. You have to watch your own back, and know that a single unintentional mistake could be used to cleanse you. You'll never get given any decent tasks, never be trusted by the hierarchy. Not to mention, you're actually working with the schmucks who wanted to throw you under a bus.

          I've worked with a boss who was CEO, and offered £5m to leave a company quietly - in a broader corporate disaster that did feature in the Reg columns at the time. The chap refused, ostensibly on the grounds that he believed this implied acceptance of guilt in a situation of corporate insolvency (and to be fair it wasn't his fault, he'd joined mere weeks before the brown stuff splattered). He still got forced out. Because of the insolvency he couldn't easily sue, and the banks who held the security (and rinsed the assets through a corrupt pre-pack) stymied his efforts to pursue them in court until the statute of limitation cut off the case. Many years later he's not worked again in any director level capacity, and he's £5m poorer than he might have been. Consider that if you're ever offered hush money in any shape or form.

          1. HashimFromSheffield

            Re: Not Blackmail?

            I'm gonna be the one to ask. What company? I'd like to read up on this case.

    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      Near instant notice for accountants isn't that unusual., I've seen it happen once or twice, directors asking if I would be 'available to perform some 'account management at x o'clock'.

      All of the rest smacks of knowing exactly where the legal line is when dumping on staff from a great hight.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not Blackmail?

        yep had to do it a few time myself

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      this is Crapita we are talking about

      ...so we could expect it to go wildly over budget, and end up being £50,000 and several weeks' notice

    4. 's water music Silver badge

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      I do not think that I have ever heard of someone being given a couple of hours notice and a rounded offer to quit.Then again this is Crapita we are talking about ..

      Well they say a couple of hours, to get your attention, but scratch the surface and I bet it would have turned out to be more like six months unless you pay a service enhancement penalty.

    5. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      I have - its quite a common practise, although I haven't experienced it myself. I have heard from sources that I believe that its quite a common practise in the Big 4 consultancies. Basically the bottom 10% performers are pulled individually into a room and offered a compromise agreement (basically mutually agreed redundancy with an NDA) in return for waiving their notice period and usually with a decent wedge of cash/benefits at prevailing rates (ie much better than statutory) and a good reference and a list of clients to whom they will put in a good word for you. The catch is that there is usually a strong time limit on the offer, up to and including decide the same day or its withdrawn.

      Not saying whether it's wrong or right but I have heard the same from multiple peeps. For me the "unreasonable" bit not sure its blackmail but its sure extreme pressure is the timeline attached.

    6. Angry IT Monkey

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      That explains 2 or 3 sudden "retirements" while I was working there. Wish they'd offered me £10k, I had to leave for free!

      1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

        Re: Not Blackmail?

        Offering 10K is not blackmail.

        "Take the 10K now, or we'll find a reason to sack you anyway" (paraphrased)

        That *IS* Blackmail

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      Being offered money to leave your employment is not blackmail it is covered under a compromise agreement. However I am very surprised at this finding as there are many safeguards in place for a compromise agreement, including a period of time to consider the offer, making sure you take independent legal advice to review the agreement, etc.

      However maybe this was the first step and if she had agreed in principle to the £10k offer then there might have been the safeguards in place to enact it fully. Still the line manager would normally just pass the employee over to the HR department first to discuss everything, including the settlement and so to not make sure anything undue was said.

      The comment of "we'll manage you through sickness", I would suggest she would have been better to leave under constructive dismissal rather than try for blackmail and then headed down the whistle-blower route.

    8. Velv Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      More common than you might think with "problem" employees.

      Managing them out through the correct HR process might take 6-12 months. You still have to pay them, manage them carefully and have them around causing headaches where ultimately you will succeed in the employee leaving with no case for tribunal.

      Or you can offer them money to just go now, as they know they will be managed out. Saves the employer money and time in the long run.

      Last time I saw it was a senior manager who's departure was communicated by the IT Director as "we had a meeting and he agreed his career aspirations lay elsewhere"

    9. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      "I do not think that I have ever heard of someone being given a couple of hours notice and a rounded offer to quit.Then again this is Crapita we are talking about .."

      I've also not even heard of blackmail where the victim is given money. Normally it's the other way round.

      "We are going to fire you anyway, but here's £10k to leave quietly" is just not blackmail, unless I've been labouring under a misapprehension of what blackmail is. Bribery at a stretch, yes. But then being offered money to do things at work would then be classed as bribery. And being offered money for early retirement, and so on.

      1. Cpt Blue Bear

        Re: Not Blackmail?

        ..."blackmail where the victim is given money..."

        That might be why this bit was described as bribery. Threatening to sack her if she didn't accept it was the blackmail bit. The email is pretty explicit even if the judgement seems to confuse the two.

    10. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Lawyers are sticklers for meaning

      I've never heard of it happening. And it's sounds really improper. But the OED says blackmail is:

      The action....of demanding money from someone in return for not revealing compromising information which one has about them.

      So for it to be blackmail, she would have to be demanding the money and threatening to "go public" if she didn't receive it.

      But she's already gone public and doesn't want the money. So it certainly sounds coercive, and it might have been bribery, but it wasn't blackmail; it's the wrong way round.

    11. wabbit02

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      Probably because those people get a decent offer that's worthwhile and they take it and run. Reading through the Judgment it amounted to 6 months NET pay which isn't bad.

      It's more commonplace in American companies but I have definitely seen it happen a few times.

      Again reading through the Judgement it seems that they ruled she was unfairly dismissed because of the method of dismissal and its procedures rather than the reason and this, therefore, decreased the payout.

      So the claimant is appealing on that.

    12. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not Blackmail?

      Really?

      I've witnessed it a lot.

      The phrase you're looking for is probably "garden leave" - this is a way to "pay" someone their regular salary to serve out their notice at home (i.e. no obligation to come into work). In other words "I owe you three months, take it and get out and leave your access card with reception".

      Now, usually there's a bit more warning, but such warning is often informal and not recorded on their HR profile. It's a "go quietly, and you can have 3 months of paid job-hunting at home", as opposed to fighting through tribunals, involving HR and lawyers, having to state explicit reasons, etc.

      Quite often they are announced to staff as "by mutual agreement", i.e. we would gladly pay for them to go away , and they didn't want to stay once we said we'd pay them some money.

      I've actually seen it used several times, coming quite the shock to the people involved, who were expecting long tribunals, union action, etc. and when faced with several months of wages for leaving, without argument, with no negative HR record, and time to job-hunt something else, they often jump at it.

      To my eyes, it's a way to cover poor HR processes. Taking things to court would reveal that they weren't trained, instructed, disciplined, etc. properly, and it's easier to just give them money to go away so that those weaknesses are revealed to all, or opening the door to other claims by other members of staff with similar grievances who might decide to take the "on principle" action.

      It's not entirely without merit. However, I'd be incredibly dubious of both what she says and what the company in question say.

      1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

        Re: Not Blackmail?

        The whole "blackmail" thing seems to me somehow related to a unionized environment with tribunals, etc. I have no union experience at all, so I can't judge how "cruel and unusual" it may seem.

        In the union-free "at will" employment contracts I see (including my own) the normal stipulations include a "termination notice" followed by a "notice period" during which the employee is required to work as usual, including possibly transferring knowledge and/or training a replacement, while getting the salary and all the benefits. In addition, at the sole discretion of the employer, the employee may get everything he/she is owed for the "notice period" and be asked to never come to the office again. I don't think anyone sees this as "blackmail" or "discrimination" or "offense". In general, it is understood by everyone that an employee who has just been made redundant will have no motivation for working hard through the notice period, and this will not be good for staff who have kept their jobs, either.

    13. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Coat

      Sounds like a bung to me.

      A classic case of the "The squeakiest wheel gets the most grease*"

      *Old engineering expression.

  2. phuzz Silver badge
    WTF?

    Terminology

    When someone blackmails you, doesn't that usually involve you giving them money, not the other way around?

    If they were (as she alleged) 'paying her off', wouldn't that be bribery rather than blackmail?

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Terminology

      According to the quoted email, that's what she described it as - she described a perceived threat to get rid of her if she didn't take it as blackmail.

      "Simon Mayall stated that he "couldn't have me escalating issues to you", and if I didn't take the £10k offer then I would be managed [presumably out] via my sick records.

      Is that not bribery to keep my mouth shut and blackmail to take the offer?"

      The two things seem to have become confuzzled by the time it reached the court, AFAICS.

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Terminology

      The Pirhana Brothers only hit on that sceme on the third attempt.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Terminology

        s/sceme/scheme/

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, judge & jury appointed by Capita then ?

  4. Wellyboot Silver badge

    First thoughts

    Meeting with any senior management (Dept. Finance Director here) is never informal.

    I suspect the line manager has many other reasons for needing blood pressure tablets.

    In France this chain of events would have had the company management nailed to a wall for flagrantly breaking the law.

    Capita never fails to earns the missing 'r'

  5. Jonathan Richards 1
    WTF?

    Accountants

    How are transactions like this accounted for? If you're a finance director, do you have a slush fund that you can just tap for £10k to get rid of an employee you consider to be troublesome? Do you need board approval? So many questions.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Accountants

      Employee headcount teduction programme. No slush fund needed. 100% standard business accounting.

    2. Geoff Campbell

      Re: Accountants

      The tax system files it under "compensation for loss of office", at which point it becomes a tax-free payment up to certain limits (used to be £30k, but may well have increased since then).

      No doubt there's an account somewhere in the HR section of the system for severance payments.

      GJC

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Accountants

        Director level positions tend to come with hire/fire discretion.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: Accountants

          it also goes the other way with retention bonus too.

      2. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: Accountants

        The tax system files it under "compensation for loss of office", at which point it becomes a tax-free payment up to certain limits (used to be £30k, but may well have increased since then).

        Still the same I think. Certainly applies to for example redundancy payments:

        Payments that are made between an employer and employee are normally subject to tax as they will be described as ‘arising out of the contract of employment’ by HMRC. Ex-gratia payments are an exception to that rule and fall under a tax exemption from s.403 Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003 for any amounts under £30,000.00. This is because the payments made are not made for the work that has been undertaken or for a provision of services; they are a “voluntary” payment made by the employer and are “compensation for loss of employment”.

        Payments in lieu of notice used to be too, but are now taxable since last April.

      3. Number6

        Re: Accountants

        The tax system files it under "compensation for loss of office", at which point it becomes a tax-free payment up to certain limits (used to be £30k, but may well have increased since then).

        Yes, there are advantages to both sides because of this. Neither side has to pay NI contributions on the sum, and if you're a higher-rate taxpayer, that can effectively double the effective take-home money. I got three months' pay in lieu of notice when being made redundant and it was effectively enough to fund me for six months.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Accountants

          I think HMRC have tightened up the rules on payment in lieu of notice (PILON) and these, I think, are now taxable as if they were normal pay (i.e. cannot be bundled up in to a tax-free redundancy payment).

  6. LucreLout Silver badge

    I do not think that I have ever heard of someone being given a couple of hours notice and a rounded offer to quit.

    Standard operating procedure in the City. Redundancies are (almost) always via way fo a compromise agreement, which is what this sounds like.

    I'm not specifically defending or condeming the practice, only offering that it's fairly routine for large companies and in some industries.

  7. Somerset

    Says:

    The claimant’s contract says that her normal working hours are 9 am – 5.30

    pm Monday – Friday with an hour for lunch but that in order to be flexible, she

    may be required to work additional hours from time to time, for which payment

    is discretionary. In her offer email dated 31 January 2014, Ms Dreyer said:

    ‘There are a few points … that you should consider before accepting the

    position:

     There are times in the month when the team is expected to work longer

    hours than the standard 9 am – 5.30 pm core hours.

     Financial year-end processing and reporting periods, working hours are

    extended to very late in the evening and weekends.

     We work to strict deadlines that have to be met …

    If you wish to talk to me about any of the above points, please let me know

    and I will give you a call to discuss.’

    The claimant responded that she would be delighted to accept the offer and ‘I

    completely understand the need for longer hours and the strict deadlines, and

    I am perfectly happy with that.’

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      And to be fair to Crapita - All accountants know Year End is a nightmare slog, it comes with the job. Not an accountant but have managed financial systems at Year End myself.

    2. Tomato42 Silver badge
      Go

      While C(r)apita was upfont about it, I'm not so sure if this is legal practice - 76h work week is almost 11h a day every day for 7 days a week. That is excessive by any measure.

      But that is completely different issue from the way she had her employment terminated. 6 month severance pay is entirely reasonable, and actually better than the regular termination when you still have to work for few months, instead of having ability to spend that time searching for a new place.

      1. jh27

        >> While C(r)apita was upfont about it, I'm not so sure if this is legal practice - 76h work week is almost 11h a day every day for 7 days a week. That is excessive by any measure.

        Except it wasn't. It was 76 hours over 11 days. A grand total of 6.33 hours per day. 11 days straight. So we're talking about probably 38 hours a week over a two week - it was 'after the new year holidays' (most poeple only get one holiday for new year). So that proabably amounts to 76 hours in a 14 day period, or 38 hours per week - probably with the required 48 hours rest per 14 days (the employer can chose 24 hours per 7 days, or 48 per 14 days).

        I dislike Capita as much as anyone, but this woman just seems unreasonable.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          I read this as two normal 5 day weeks plus the intervening weekend - not uncommon for I.T. or year end book keeping.

      2. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        @Tomato42 - "76h work week is almost 11h a day every day for 7 days"

        Yes, but the article states "... a roster that included working for 12 days straight (a total of 76 hours) immediately after the New Year holidays", which is only 6 hours and 20 minutes per day. Which is shorter than the core 09:00 - 17:30 which is 7 hours and 30 minutes working time (lunch hour not counted as work).

        The story indicates the complaint was she didn't want to work 12 days in a row as she needed her rest day. IIRC the law allows 14 x 14 hour days straight before it becomes a legal necessity to take a 24 hour rest period. There are other regs covering those working in the human cargo industries (pilots, drivers, rail maintenance workers, etc) but no one recognises accountants as being a safety critical group* even in those industries. (* except for skimpy budgeting on safety materials quality)

        However she does mention a 76 hour week in her email which is not mentioned the story line. So who is lying the reportee or the reporter?

        Interesting idea of being "managed by your sick leave". How is that done? Small dose of thallium tea if your annoying, escalating to polonium if you are a real PITA?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kudos

    How many people take Capita for a ride?

    Win - win. She gets out and gets paid to exit. Capita avoids a costly legal case.

    Of course, bean counters win again.

    I purposely ignore the rights and wrongs of why this happened. Sometimes it is better to just give up and move on.

  9. OlderLag
    Headmaster

    On the basis of what is reported here, I'm wondering what the judge *would* believe to be blackmail. Or do we just need a different name for what appears to be a very dodgy practice?

    1. Tomato42 Silver badge

      my understanding is that you are legally entitled to 3 months of work after termination notice*

      getting 6 months pay *and* not having to work those 3 months is not something I would call "taking advantage of an employee", so rather fine by me

      (having just few hours to decide it is a bit shitty though, but then she did get more than 24h to decide it)

      * - not familiar with UK law in particular, but I'm assuming it's an EU-wide standard for long term employment

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "- not familiar with UK law"

        obviously ... from what I investiagted recently then think legal minimum notice period (in either direction) is only something like 1 week for each year of service (for first 2 years is 1 week) with, I think, 3 months being the maximum you'd get to after 13 years. Contracts normally state longer periods and while when I first started work this was 3 months, it seems that 1 month is becoming the norm. And, as appears to be the case, the introduction of a legal minimum ends up becoming the standard value even if the legal minimum was set up as being a backstop below what had been the normal level.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ten grand AND she doesn't have to work for crapita any more?

    I'd have taken that offer with a smile on my face.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      I was wondering what the catch was. I assumed it was take 10k, work the rota and be locked into capita for longer (like a mobile contract)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Please take money; now leave"

    Is there nothing that Crapita can't botch?

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