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Are we all liable in employment disputes?

Q. One partner criticised the performance of one of our practice nurses who was very distressed as a result. Another partner was able to reassure her we did not share this critical attitude. He persuaded her that we all wanted her to continue working with us. If she had walked out I believe she could have claimed constructive dismissal. Would we have been responsible if our partner's criticism had resulted in such a claim?

A. If she had good grounds to successfully claim constructive dismissal, then the other partners would probably share 'joint and several liability'. If an employee, such as a practice manager, had caused the problem, then the partners would generally share the liability, unless there had been a very clear breach of procedure.

There are very clear statutory procedures for dealing with grievance, discipline and dismissal in the workplace and to act precipitately without following the correct procedures could prove expensive. It is of critical importance that your practice has very clear written policies that staff and partners must always follow in handling all employment issues. All partners and employees must be made aware of their responsibilities in this respect.

Strict adherence to proper procedure will usually help minimise the risk. In the case of an employee who ignores correct procedures, the partnership liability may be reduced. In the case of a partner, the partnership deed may cover failure to follow correct procedures.

Practices may seek insurance cover for the legal costs resulting from an employment claim, but this rarely covers any financial award made to the employee, which may be substantial. It is wise to seek early advice from a lawyer with special experience in employment law to try to limit the damage.

Dr Christine Dewbury, Wessex LMCs

Neither Pulse nor Wessex LMCs can accept any legal liability in respect of the answers given. Readers should seek independent advice before acting on the information concerned.

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