Employment Victory for Sheffield Market Staff

10th September 2014

LETTER FROM HR COULD BIND EMPLOYER TO HIGHER PAY Sheffield Market staff has been successful in a long-running case which has now been heard in the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Twelve Sheffield Market Patrol Officers were employed by Sheffield City Council in the Castle and Crystal Peaks Markets. They lodged a grievance about their pay to Sheffield City Council. This was due to the fact that as part of the Council's Single Status Job Evaluation Study, it was proposed that they be assimilated into Grade 3 of the new system. The Council appointed an HR consultant to investigate the grievances. The employees were told twice by the HR consultant that their appeal had not only been successful but that they would assimilate at Grade 5, the higher grading, which should have resulted in a pay increase. However, their pay increase did not materialise and the employees therefore brought claims in the Employment Tribunal. The employees brought claims for unauthorised deduction from wages. Sheffield City Council argued that there was no entitlement to the wage increase because the correspondence contained mistakes of which the employees ought to have been aware. The Employment Tribunal which heard the case originally dismissed the case on the basis that the two pieces of correspondence could not and did not have contractual effect. They also said that the HR consultant who communicated the outcome had no authority to alter the decision of the internal appeal panel. However, when the case got to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, they overturned the Employment Tribunal's decision. They found that even though the HR consultant had no authority to make decisions about pay, she was nevertheless authorised to communicate the grievance outcome on behalf of Sheffield City Council. The effect of the letter was as if the employer had personally and directly told the employees of a pay rise. It was held that if the offer of higher pay could be binding, there was in fact no need for the employees to accept it formally. The Employment Appeal Judge said that if employees are notified that they are to receive an additional benefit, such as a pay rise with no apparent downside, the parties will be taken to have agreed it. The employees will usually be taken to have accepted the new terms simply by continuing to work. However, in cases where pay rises are linked to a new role with extra responsibilities something more, generally, will be required. It was therefore apparent that the employees were therefore contractually entitled to the higher rate of pay. This was unless the Council could show that there was a mistake in the grievance outcome letter which the employee recognised or ought to have recognised. The case has been returned to the Employment Tribunal to determine whether such a mistake was in fact made.

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