Training contract holder wins dispute with firm over employment terms change

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By William Holmes on


Strong start to legal career

An employment tribunal has found in favour of trainee solicitor who brought a claim against the law firm where he was due to start his training contract.

The tribunal was told how Mr A Osvald, who completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) back in 2013, put the prospect of a legal career on hold owing to the fact that he was his family’s primary child carer.

He was working for Royal Mail in “a well-paid flexible role” that catered for his personal situation, when he decided to apply for a training contract at Sussex outfit Holden & Co in 2021.

In November 2021, Osvald met with the firm’s managing partner to discuss the role. Osvald told the tribunal that his need for flexibility, office location, child pick-up arrangements and the possibility of the firm paying for a parking space close to the firm’s Hastings office were mentioned in this meeting.

The judge explained that this discussion “set out the parameters for a working relationship” which the partner then took forward in subsequent email offering Osvald part-time employment for the annual salary of £22,000 pro rata.

The email also required Osvald to complete four tasks including informing the Law Society about the six-year gap between finishing his legal studies and starting a training contract. He duly completed these tasks two days later and informed the firm that he was going to leave his job at Royal Mail.

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Osvald only received the final contract four days in advance of his start date. Upon reading it, he raised several issues relating to terms about the location and working hours which he believed had changed from their initial agreement, stressing that he could only work in the firm’s Hastings office.

The partner responded that it was essential that Osvald could be required to work at the firm’s Ashford office and that he could not agree to all of his amendments.

In her ruling, employment judge McLaren rejected Holden & Co’s contention that the initial meeting was just “exploratory”, explaining that a contract had been offered and accepted based on Osvald and the partner’s meeting and subsequent email chain.

She noted: “As a very experienced solicitor, I would have expected [the partner] to raise some questions about this at the time if he did not consider that a contractual relationship had been formed.”

The contract’s subsequent amendment that required Osvald to go to Ashford therefore amounted to a breach of contract, the judge found.

The judge did not address the damages that would be due but said that “it would appear that the loss is attributable to the constructive wrongful dismissal itself” rather than the potential breach of any implied terms, subject to hearing further submissions from the parties.

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