How Safe Are You From Making This Costly Mistake?

workplace bullying

It’s an easy mistake to make.

I see it all the time, to be honest.

One day recently, I had to say this to a nice young woman who came to me for employment law advice:

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I think you are wasting your time with this”.

And to a man a few days before: “I have to tell you that I think you are in danger of digging a big hole for yourself. My advice is that you forget about this and go back to work, keep the head down, and do your best.”

And another: “You asked me for a straight answer and that is what I am about to give you: forget about this. Accept it, and move on, or you are in danger of talking yourself out of a job”.

And “Sometimes, you may be treated unfairly or unprofessionally, but that doesn’t mean there is a legal cause of action or claim”.

It appeared to me that there was a growing number of people who, one way or another, left my office disappointed.

It’s inevitable that you begin to second guess yourself.

I began to question myself.

Was my judgment off: was I too conservative?

Was I overlooking potential causes of action?

Was I expecting too much from employees?

And too little from employers?

But when I thought about it I noticed it was not just in relation to employment law that I’ve had to say these things, either. Family, litigation, personal injury, property, landlord and tenant.

And then I read the Supreme Court decision in the alleged bullying case involving a special needs assistant, Una Ruffley, and the Board of management of the primary school in Kildare where she worked.

And one of the Judges seemed to articulate precisely what I had been saying to the various hopeful employees who came to me.

Mr. Justice Peter Charleton, in his decision, said “Not every wrong, even one which results from unfair or unfortunate circumstances, gives rise to a cause of action.”

Another way of saying this, in plain English, is “shit happens”.

And that is what I was saying to the different people I have referred to above.

I was doing is as diplomatically as I could, but I had to call a spade a spade.

It’s human nature that nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. And nobody wants to let down or disappoint prospective clients.

But I would be doing them a grave disservice if I did not give my honest opinion about whether each person had a claim, a “cause of action”, or not.

Some people take the bad news well, some take it badly.

But one unfortunate feature that I encounter on a too frequent basis is the person who appears to have become obsessive about their issue, no matter what it is.

They simply won’t let it go, even when staring at the uncomfortable facts.

The big problem in this situation is that the biggest sufferer of an unhealthy obsession is the person who has it.

Because it can lead to their well being and mental health being seriously affected.

Not only have they suffered some distress or hardship or rough treatment at the hands of another, but now they run the risk of compounding the damage and hurt by their refusal to put it behind them and let it go.

It is striking, and sad, how some situations become so personal to the individual that they simply cannot see the damage they will do to themselves if they don’t let it go.

In conclusion, sometimes you need to stand up and fight.

But sometimes you need to retreat and live to fight another day, when the odds in your favour shift to make it worthwhile.

And don’t ever fall into the trap of winning a battle, and losing the war.

3 Questions Employers Should Ask Before Engaging the Services of HR/Employment Law Service Providers


I’m contacted regularly by a couple of “HR” guys I’ve come to know.

They invariably have a question to ask.

And a lot of the time, more than one.

They say that they just want to “pick your brains”. This is said to flatter me. And persuade me to overlook the fact that what they are really looking for is free advice.

The scary thing is that both of these guys have a lot of clients in the SME/small business sector. And some of their questions betray an appalling lack of knowledge in areas that they are supposed to be “expert” in.

They can probably acquire new clients in the SME sector because they are good salespersons. But when the crap hits the fan in their clients’ business in relation to employment law, they are on the phone to guys like me.

Because while they have a decent broad general knowledge of employment law, they don’t have the necessary expertise when the going gets really serious.

And when the employer is facing a potentially very expensive claim.

Or claims.

They operate like many others in this space-on a small monthly fee basis. That way, the employer/client doesn’t really feel the cost. But it adds up over a year. And really adds up over a number of years.

Recurring Income Model

Any recurring income model like this is a great way to derive an income for two main reasons:

  1. The apparently small cost. When you divide up a yearly fee into easily digested small chunks like a monthly payment (or even a daily payment) it looks very affordable and
  2. Inertia. Once the HR/employment law provider has the employer signed up the employer comes to accept the monthly deduction, which is small, and is unlikely to cancel it.

So it’s a great business model.

Unfortunately for the employer, lads like me end up picking up the pieces either in advising when a difficulty arises or in providing representation when a claim ends up at the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Labour Court, or the Civil Courts.

SMEs, small business owners, and employers generally should ask some searching questions at the outset-questions about their qualifications in relation to employment law, if any; about what happens if the employer is given incorrect and costly advice; about insurance for professional negligence and whether the HR expert has any.

The relatively small monthly payment should not mask the potential cost for the employer is (s)he is on the wrong end of a successful employment related claim.

Awards in unfair dismissal or equality related cases can be very high. And when you throw in the cost of getting professional legal advice and representation for these cases it is quickly obvious that not asking some basic questions when obtaining the services of a HR/employment law service, like those outlined above, can be a big mistake.