1. The agreement won’t be valid without one
A settlement agreement will not be valid unless a legal adviser such as a solicitor has signed it off. You will usually therefore have no option but to use a solicitor, so the question becomes, how to make the most of them once they are on board.
In some circumstances trade union representatives can sign agreements off, or legal executives, but the same process should apply to them.
The reason for this is that most employment rights are set out in legislation. The legislation that sets them out usually requires that these rights cannot be given away by employees in any agreement or in return for any amounts of money unless a legal adviser of the right sort has advised the employee as to the terms and effect of the agreement, including their ability to bring these employment claims in the future.
So, using a solicitor is usually a necessary part of any settlement agreement, and their fees, certainly in seeing the agreement through, will usually be covered by the employer in any settlement agreement. Employers will not usually cover the cost of negotiating the terms of the agreement, however, and your solicitor will need to seek theses in addition to the allowance already in the agreement.
Because such important rights are being given away in settlement agreements, the person signing off the adviser’s certificate will also have to have adequate insurance in place in case of any negligent advice. So the choice of solicitor, particularly a specialist employment lawyer, will mean that you have gold-plated insurance, plus the assurance of knowledge and expertise.
3. Negotiating more money
Here’s why a solicitor is a good choice when it comes to negotiating up the compensation available in the settlement agreement. Other than a solicitor’s letterhead often working wonders, a solicitor will have a good view as to the level of legal risk that the employer is at should a settlement agreement not be concluded. A settlement agreement will usually be offered where the employer does not feel that they could achieve a fair dismissal, and a good solicitor will be able to spot this, and put forward a compelling case that the employer is at legal risk, and compensation should the matter progress to a Tribunal would be higher than the amount of money on offer in the agreement. Much will turn on negotiating style, and the impression that is given of the strength of your case.
4. Understanding the traps and pitfalls
An employment law solicitor is also very good and well versed in the finer details in settlement agreements. This will relate to what is actually being settled in the agreement, and the terms of that settlement. Sometimes settlement agreements can be very onerous on employees, for instance in respect of what they are prevented from doing after signing the agreement, in the amount of compensation payments and in the tax treatment of them.
Furthermore, settlement agreements as they are initially drafted tend to be very one-sided in favour of employers, and a good solicitor can achieve a better balance in favour of employees. Just as an example, if an employee is not allowed to say anything derogatory about the employer after signing the agreement, why shouldn’t the employer do the same for the employee? This can be very useful to employees, because it prevents a bad reference being given about them.
5. Shouldering the pain
Potentially the most important benefit of instructing a solicitor can be that we are there to take the stress and brinkmanship away from the employee and onto our experienced shoulders.
To sum up
In summary, a solicitor who is well versed in settlement agreements and employment rights should be able to get a better deal, avoid any potential pitfalls, and make for a far less stressful process.