A self evident truth omitted from the Declaration of Independence is that: Employers will go to any lengths to avoid a just outcome. They will do anything to avoid accountability and pay damages.
This I learnt from experience after facing the stark reality that my last employer 'wanted me out'. In these straightened times it is a fate that may befall others.
In employment, no matter how secure your position, once forces move against you there's no escaping the inevitable. And don't expect help from HR. The Human Remains department is there to protect the company from its employees, not the other way round. You will face a war of attrition not arbitration. If that's the case, what is your best alternative to a negotiated agreement? Critically, understand and estimate theirs. This means considering any offer they make very. So to avoid the worst outcome, i.e. going to an employment tribunal and losing - here are my guidelines.
Firstly, do not depend on your past history - years of positive appraisals, count for nothing. IT folk have a three phase life. First, you're the hero, then you're ignored, after that you're part of the problem. My time in the public sector as Head of IT for Crossrail lasted six years. In the private sector it's more often three.
When executives want rid of you (often after the arrival of a new boss who wants to bring in his or her own team) you need to read the signs - for IT people, often marginalised by senior management, this can be hard. We're often not tuned in to the subtlies of office politics. Beware of efforts to erode your position. Undermining your authority is the first step. Regardless of your line management responsibilities reporting lines can change without your consent. Even loyal colleagues, who hear a whisper or are tipped the wink will shift allegiance and betray you to protect their position.
This type of psychological bullying (is a gradual process and difficult to pin down without appearing paranoid. Meetings may be held without you and priorities changed without you being aware. Regardless of your seniority, if the intention is to make you slip up there will be lots of banana skins left lying around. The people that engage in this kind of behaviour are professionals - they've done it before. You have to resist the morale sapping pressure of the subtle coercion and not make mistakes.
A key tactic is to initiate a sudden audit of your department - if the auditor is 'brought in' (like a hit man in a gangster movie) be resigned to your fate, they will find the stick to beat you with. However, do not resign. Stand and fight! Employers have no care for your personal circumstances, particularly if you are the wrong demographic for any inclusivity box ticking (in my case a pale stale male). They want you to walk away.
Don't give them an excuse to attack you. In my case, in army terms I dropped a sweet paper on the parade ground and they hit me with the rule book. A minor infringement was trumped up by a 'kangaroo court' into justifying a two year final written warning. That was the beginning of the end. Once you're wrong footed, it's like walking on eggshells. Everyday could be your last. So if you're coming under pressure do you job - nothing more, nothing less.
If you feel threatened use internal processes like grievance procedures just to get matters on the table. In my last three months I went through two grievances, two disciplinary hearings followed by an Employment Tribunal. While I lost (even with the moral imperative and a 'no-win no-fee' solicitor on my side) what lessons can be learnt?
If you have a genuine grievance, like being marginalised, keep it simple and make its resolution -- a critical aspect -- one that moves you back into the game. When you go through any process where you have to defend yourself meeting have a document prepared before hand that you can read with comfort and confidence.
Ensure that it all stacks up. Mitigating circumstances that look convincing to you can be brushed aside if the intention is malicious - remember any document that you've submitted can be used if you get to an ET so ensure your points are legally clear.All these processes follow a timetable that once a marker is past is impossible to go back on.
Internal procedures allow you to be accompanied by a colleague (often a difficult position for someone who may feel tarred by your brush so you may have to fight your battles alone). You can use a union rep if you've got one, If not it's time to join one and do it soon because if you do it after any trouble starts they will help you but won't fund any legal support). Also check out the Terms & Conditions of any household or professional insurance you may have - they won't pay up if they can avoid it.
- Keep a record and store copies off site.
- Understand all the T&Cs of your contract.
- Appreciate all the Policies that apply to you.
- Study your company's standing orders.
If you get to an Employment Tribunal the judiciary is second rate, its bureaucracy overworked. So find a good employment lawyer and understand the Employment Act yourself - ultimately the law is the only arbitrator. Despite you winning moral victories, the ET will deal with the facts based on legal president so ensure you have a watertight case or you'll sink without trace.
Your employer will muster better resources and have the energy to fight harder. Many of the shots that get fired in the battle will miss their mark so make sure yours are accurately aimed. Don't be nice - be prepared to lie if you have to - they probably will. It's your livelihood future and possible pension that's at stake. So be as ruthless. I wasn't and lost the lot.
- Read Michael's Collaboration Technology 2.0 blog