FAQs

If you want to know more about how the law works in some of our main practice areas, please take a look at these Frequently Asked Questions. These are divided into (1) UK FAQs (2) US FAQs. 

UK FAQS

Employment

Termination: I’ve been fired from my job unfairly. What are my options?

Your employer is permitted to terminate you for poor performance, misconduct, lack of business or some other substantial reason. An employer can’t violate the terms of your employment contract in dismissing you. An employer should also not dismiss you unfairly. That means you should keep your job if your performance is good, you have not committed any misconduct, your role is still required and there is no other substantial reason for dismissal. The extent of your rights will depend on your employment contract, how long you’ve been employed, the reason for the termination and how it was put into effect.

An employer is prohibited from dismissing you because you are a woman, member of an ethnic minority or a particular religion, are pregnant, disabled or gay, too old, or have other ‘protected characteristics’.  

The law limits the period in which you can assert your rights, so don’t delay getting to grips with the situation. The majority of employment claims in England have a three-month limitation deadline. If you do not file with Acas before that deadline, you may lose the ability to bring your claim in the Employment Tribunal. Internal grievance procedures do not delay this deadline, so you should not wait until the end of an internal procedure to seek advice.

I’ve been made redundant. Can I appeal the decision? What payments am I entitled to?

Redundancy is one of the few types of dismissal you do not have a legal right to appeal. However, most employers believe it is best practice to allow an appeal. You should lodge it as soon as possible, putting in writing your reasons for why you should stay employed. What you are entitled to financially will depend on your employment contract and how long you have been employed.

I think I am being discriminated against at work. How do I prove this?

To show direct discrimination, you need to show you are being treated worse than someone who doesn’t have the same protected characteristic as you – this can be either an actual person or a hypothetical one. Protected characteristics are age, disability, sex, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership and gender reassignment.

I think I am being bullied or harassed at work. What should I do?

First decide whether or not you can resolve this informally. Can you discuss your concerns with your line manager, an HR manager, or a trade union representative? You may also be able to tell the person who is bullying or harassing you to stop, as they may be unaware their conduct is offending you.

If you can’t solve the problem informally, your employer may have a harassment procedure which outlines how to make a complaint. Alternatively, you can file a grievance, setting out the reasons for your complaint. Under either procedure, your employer should investigate and decide what steps to take. This may include moving the harasser to another department, retraining them or, if their behaviour amounts to gross misconduct, terminating their employment. Your firm should have a published grievance procedure to follow. 

If things persist, or if your employer does nothing, you may wish to seek legal advice to better understand your rights. It is best to do so promptly, because your claim is likely to have a time limit.

Victimisation and/ or Whistleblowing detriment: I am being picked on and/ or treated differently by my employer because I helped ‘whistleblow’ against illegal conduct at work. Is this illegal?

No. To make a case of victimisation or whistleblowing detriment, you need to show that you have been put at a disadvantage or suffered a detriment such as dismissal or blocking a promotion. However, there can be more subtle forms that may also be relevant, such as requiring lots of unpopular night shifts or refusing requests for annual leave.

Settlement Agreements: What are the advantages of signing a settlement agreement? When and why do I need a solicitor?

As an employee, under the terms of the agreement you will receive a termination payment, some of which (if not all) will be tax free. You may also be able to agree a reference that can be given to prospective employers. Your employer enjoys the assurance that you will not a bring a claim against it in the future. Many settlement agreements include mutual promises of confidentiality and that neither party will disparage each other. However, in some cases involving harassment or assault, a non-disclosure agreement relating to the underlying facts is inappropriate.

It is a legal requirement that you take advice on the settlement agreement, in order for it to be legally binding. By taking advice, you will understand the full extent of the legal rights and claims you are giving up, as well as whether the terms are enough to compensate you for losing your job. Sometimes, settlement agreements are not easy to understand and a lawyer will help you navigate the complex legal jargon they often contain.

Ideally, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible and as far in advance of your termination date as you can. A lawyer can help you to achieve the best possible termination package in light of your current employment dispute, and resolve issues about the proposed terms of your settlement agreement.

Higher Education

Sexual Harassment: I am being sexually harassed at my university. What should I do? When do I need a lawyer?

Sex-based harassment is considered discrimination based on sex, which is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. If you think you are being harassed, you should contact your school and file a complaint. Collect any evidence you think is relevant, like screen shots, emails and text messages. Keep a log of significant events. If there were particular incidents witnessed by other people, keep a record of their names. You can contact a lawyer at any point—when you think you are being harassed, before you file your complaint with the university or when you think about appealing your school’s decision. The time limit for bringing your claim may be as short as six months from the last discriminatory or retaliatory act, so you should not delay in seeking advice or you may lose the ability to bring your claims in court. Solicitors can help you navigate the situation and prepare you for administrative proceedings at your school. You will also be likely to need a lawyer if you decide to sue your school in civil courts.

Alternatively, or in addition to contacting a solicitor, you may wish to pursue a complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator within 12 months of receiving a Completion of Procedures Letter from your university. Solicitors can help you navigate this process too.

I don’t feel safe on campus – what should I do?

If you feel unsafe and threatened on campus because of someone who is harassing you or has sexually assaulted you, you should talk to your on-campus police or security so that they help protect you. You can also contact local police. You may be able to access campus police by calling them directly, or via a dean, advisor or counsellor. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 999.

What should I do if I think I’m being victimised?

You should start collecting evidence, for example, take screenshots of text messages, save emails and write notes whenever somebody retaliates against you in person or over a phone call. You should always start each note with date and time of the incident and names of people who were present. Having your evidence organised will help you in making a complaint, whether to your school or in court.

US FAQs

Employment

Termination: I’ve been fired from my job unfairly. What are my options?

Most employment in the US is “at will,” meaning that your employer can fire you for any reason. There are some limits on this right which vary by state.   

If you have an employment contract, an employer should not dismiss you in a manner which is inconsistent with the terms of your contract.

Employers may not fire you because you are a member of a protected class, for example because you are a woman, because of your sexual orientation, or because of your disability. The extent of your rights will depend on your employment contract, how long you’ve been employed, the reason for the termination and how it was put into effect. The law only gives you a limited time period in which to assert your rights, so don’t delay getting to grips with the situation.

I think I am being discriminated against at work. How do I prove this?

To show direct discrimination, you need to compare your treatment with that of someone who doesn’t belong to the same protected class as you – this can be either an actual person or a hypothetical one.  Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age and disability. State laws, which vary, may provide additional protections, for example based on marital or family status.

I think I am being bullied at work. What should I do?

First, decide whether or not you can resolve your work situation informally. Can you discuss your concerns with your line manager, an HR manager, or a union representative? You may also be able to tell the person who is bullying or harassing you to stop, as they may be unaware their conduct is offending you.

If you can’t solve the problem informally, your employer may have a harassment procedure which outlines the steps you can take to make a complaint. Your employer should carry out an investigation, consider if your complaint should be upheld and what steps to take. This may include moving the person responsible for the harassment to another department or terminating their employment.

If things persist, or if no action is taken by your employer, you may wish to seek legal advice to better understand your rights. It is best to do so as quickly as possible as there is likely a time limit on any potential legal claim.

Retaliation: I am being picked on and/or treated differently because I helped report discrimination against someone else at work. Is this illegal?

No. To make a case of retaliation, you need to show that your employer has taken an adverse action against you that (1) changes the terms and conditions of your employment, or (2) is likely to have a chilling effect on someone else who might consider making a similar complaint. Termination or a demotion are clear examples of an adverse action, but there are many more subtle forms of adverse treatment, such as requiring a disproportionate number of unpopular night shifts or refusing requests for vacation, that may also be relevant.

Settlement Agreements: What are the advantages of signing a settlement agreement? When and why do I need a lawyer?

As an employee, under the terms of the agreement you will receive a termination payment, and your employer gets the assurance that you will not sue. Many settlement agreements also include mutual promises of confidentiality and that neither party will disparage each other. However, in some cases involving harassment or assault, non-disclosure agreements may be inappropriate. 

By taking legal advice, you will understand the full extent of the legal rights and claims you are giving up, as well as whether the terms are enough to compensate you for losing your job. Sometimes, settlement agreements are not easy to understand and a lawyer will help you navigate their implications for your future.

If you are facing a possible termination, it makes sense to contact a lawyer as far in advance as practicable. A lawyer can help you to achieve the best possible termination package in light of your current employment dispute, and resolve issues about the proposed terms of your settlement agreement.   

Higher Education

Sexual Harassment: I am being sexually harassed at my university. What should I do? When do I need a lawyer?

Sex-based harassment is considered discrimination based on sex, which is unlawful under Title IX. Schools and universities receiving federal funds are required to have procedures for deterring sexual harassment and disciplining those who commit it. If you think you are being harassed, you should contact your school and file a complaint.

Collect any evidence you think is relevant, like screen shots, emails and text messages. Keep a log of significant events. If there were particular incidents witnessed by other people, keep a record of their names. You can contact an attorney at any point—when you think you are being harassed, before you file your complaint with the university or if you think you should appeal your school’s decision.

Attorneys can help you navigate the situation and prepare you for Title IX proceedings. It is sometimes possible to sue a university for damages if the Title IX proceedings are badly conducted, for which it also makes sense to consult an attorney.

I don’t feel safe on campus – what should I do?

If you feel unsafe and threatened on campus because of someone who is harassing you or has sexually assaulted you, you should talk to campus police or security so that they help protect you. You can also contact local police. You may be able to access campus police by calling them directly, or via a dean, advisor or counselor. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911. Alternatively, you can approach the Title IX office, file a complaint and seek a no-contact order against your harasser.

What should I do if I am being retaliated against?

You should start collecting evidence, for example, take screenshots of text messages, save emails and write notes whenever somebody retaliates against you in person or over a phone call. You should always start each note with date and time of the incident and names of people who were present. Having your evidence organized will help you in making a complaint, whether to your school or in court.

All

Online Reputation & Privacy

I’ve been a victim of non-consensual online sexual abuse, or revenge pornography. What can I do?

The law doesn’t make it easy to get images taken down or to punish the perpetrator. In a period of high stress and upset, it can be hard to weigh all the different legal and practical considerations to decide what to do next. Visit https://www.consentlawyers.com/faqs/ for more options about the next steps you can take.

Historic Child Abuse

For questions related to our child abuse practice, visit https://aoadvocates.com/faq-v2

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