Trade Union Duty of Care to members in employment disputes

The case of Langley v Others has been heard in the High Court and has clarified the duty of care that Trade Unions owe to their members. They are required to exercise reasonable care and skill when providing a service to its member on employment related matters. Working in industrial relations there needs to be considerable degree of knowledge and training to give basic employment law advice and appropriately negotiate on members behalf. This is relevant both for individual and collective negotiations that may take place for its members.

The duty would include a general understanding of employment, HR, and industrial relations issues, to be reasonably well informed about employment law in general terms, to have a reasonable level of skill and expertise in persuasion and negotiation, to be able to provide strategic and tactical advice on how to seek to resolve a situation in the best interests of its member.”

The Case Facts

Langley had been undergoing steps in the disciplinary process with his employer. A settlement agreement had been offered to Langley and was signed by him and his employer after advice from his Trade Union representative. Langley subsequently brought a case against both his professional organisation (ie; the Trade Union) and others, claiming that the Trade Union Representative’s advice had been negligent.

Langley’s case was that advising him to sign the settlement agreement was negligent as he thought that after a disciplinary hearing he would have been kept on by his employer. Or, in the alternative, if he had been dismissed, he felt he could have brought a whistleblowing claim and been awarded greater amounts of money in an employment tribunal.

Outcome

Langley’s claim was dismissed on the grounds of negligence in both tort and contract.

The High Court judge rejected Langley’s claim that a Trade Union’s duty was quasi-legal. In the first instance, it was felt that this term was too vague to deduce an appropriate burden on the Trade Union. In addition, though a Trade Union Representative’s job involved representation, advice and negotiation akin to a lawyer, it did not require the same level of training or knowledge and would be unfair to infer this on a Trade Union. Their job is to assist its members in various matters.

In any event the Trade Union Representative’s role had been limited to advising on the settlement agreement terms. The judge felt that Langley had indeed benefitted from the approach the Trade Union had taken in helping Langley achieve as good a settlement as possible, because he would not have received as much relying on employment law.

Implications

This case helps provide clarity on the role of a Trade Union representative in that they are not to take on the role of a lawyer but advise the employee and negotiate on their behalf. It does however show the level of care and skill required when undertaking this role and this will be implied further going forward. This may mean further trainings may be put in place for some Trade Union Representatives, to which employers may need to allow the representatives to attend in work time.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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