Employment Tribunal Claim - The Apprentice


Fans of BBC’s The Apprentice may have been following coverage of the recent Employment Tribunal claim brought by one of its former winners.

Employment Law

Stella English won the show in 2010 and was given a 12 month contract of employment with Lord Sugar’s firm, Viglen, with a salary of £100,000. However, Ms English resigned just 5 months into this contract. Lord Sugar then offered Ms English alternative employment with Amshold Group Limited by way of a 7-month secondment to YouView. Ms English started working for YouView but was told that her secondment would end on 31 December 2011 and that she could not be offered work beyond this date except as an independent contractor at a much reduced salary, if at all. Under cover of a letter dated 6 October 2011, Ms English resigned from her employment. She then claimed that she had been constructively dismissed. In particular, she argued that the duty of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee had been breached, citing various matters including the allegation that her secondment to YouView was a sham.

The East London Employment Tribunal dismissed Ms English’s claim. In essence, the Tribunal preferred the evidence of Lord Sugar and his colleagues to that of Ms English, also noting that there was little evidence to back up her version of events. The Tribunal held that it believed that the reality was that Ms English had in her mind that having won the Apprentice, the role would be much more glamorous and that she would be working alongside Lord Sugar as his assistant. However, the Tribunal found that it was never part of the contract that Ms English would meet with and / or be mentored by Lord Sugar. Further, the Tribunal stated that this was a claim which should never have been brought and that Ms English had been ill advised to bring a claim or continue with it.

The truth of any matter can only ever be known by those involved in the situation. Even then, different people may have different interpretations of events. However, this case highlights the importance of producing evidence beyond your own testimony if you are seeking to bring a claim. It is also crucial to identify the issues in a case at an early stage and to seek legal advice. Just because you have been treated badly doesn’t necessarily mean that a viable legal claim arises out of it.

Reports are now circulating of Lord Sugar promising to fight the ‘claim culture’ after winning this case. It is hoped, however, that he will push for both employees and employers to seek specialist legal advice at an early stage and for better case management of cases so that the parties can focus their minds on the issues sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, however, the coalition government’s current policies are likely to produce the opposite result. Reforms as regards restricted access to legal aid and the introduction of fees in employment tribunals will lead to more employees representing themselves in tribunals.

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