Confirm It In Writing!
“My manager said I could try the new job and if I wasn’t happy with it I could go back to my old role. Now they’re saying that this assurance was never given and that my transfer is permanent.”. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that routinely we receive calls from members who have been given verbal assurances by their employers, only to find that later those assurances were worthless. Pay, job changes, working hours, time off for care reasons and leave arrangements are the most common issues. But when does something that’s said verbally become a contract between employer and employee that can be relied upon by the employee?
A recent case heard in the High Court (Christie v Canaccord Genuity Ltd  EWHC 1130 (QB)) considered the issue of an oral contract. Mr Christie, an investment banker, argued that he should have received a financial award of £1 million from his employer because an oral agreement was made with his employer that he would receive it; Mr Christie argued that the oral agreement amounted to a contract which he could rely upon.
The Judge ruled in Mr Christie’s employer’s favour because he came to the view that the industry in which Mr Christie worked was document heavy and he expected that such an agreement would be documented in some way, and he could find no such evidence. He applied several tests to the circumstances of the case, such as whether there was intent to create a legal relationship, and whether the agreement was confirmed in subsequent correspondence, but he could not find enough evidence to support Mr Christie’s case.
Whilst every situation will be fact specific, what’s clear from the Christie case is that if an agreement is made orally, the sensible thing to do is to confirm what’s been said in writing so that there’s clear evidence should the agreement be in dispute at a later stage. A case (whether that’s a court hearing or simply a grievance) will be far easier to prove and therefore win if there’s some form of written evidence.
If you’re given a verbal assurance about something and you want to make sure that assurance is acted upon at the appropriate time, follow up what’s been said to you in writing. If you find a letter or email difficult to write or you’re not sure what to say, contact the Advice Team on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1) and they’ll be able to help you prepare what needs to be said.