The goal of Unionise is to build a new type of workers’ union. Existing Trade Unions are heavily biased towards the public sector and have close ties with the Labour Party. For many people working in the private sector and particularly in new companies, they are just not relevant anymore.
Unionise is different. We are sector agnostic although we are initially focussing on the tech and startup industries as we believe they have particular challenges that need addressing immediately. We have no political affiliation and we just want to solve problems like these:
Thank you Unionise for giving us the confidence to stand up to HR and stop us from doing something that didn't feel right.
We were approached by Sarah and Mark* who worked at the same startup. They had both received a letter from HR asking them to sign a document that seemed to include clauses and provisions over and above their employment contract. They passed a copy of the letter to us and after reading through these conditions a few key points came to light.
The employer was stating that the employee was responsible for ensuring that all data related to work that the employee had stored on their personal devices was deleted upon leaving the company. If sensitive information made its way into the public domain, then the employee would be liable.
It also turned out that employer had not provided anyone who worked at the company with phones but had insisted that everyone should use their own personal devices for Slack, G-Suite, including Gmail, and even WhatsApp. This is fairly common in startups where budgets are tight, and the company cannot afford to equip everyone with a business phone.
The letter from HR was pretty aggressive and mentioned that signing the document was required in order to release share options to staff. However, details around share options were clearly set out as part of their original employment contracts.
We asked Sarah and Mark to try and find out whether any other staff had received these letters, and did they need Unionise to take any action on their behalf.
Once they had asked around and found out that more people had received these additional provision letters, this kicked off a discussion in their workplace. This was enough for them. Together, people felt confident enough to ask HR what the point of the additional clauses was, and with the mass of questions going into HR, the company decided to retract the document with no risk to share options.
We advised Sarah and Mark to inform HR that if they are going to demand personal electronic devices are used for 3rd party software it is unfair to expect staff to be liable if any data is leaked or gets hacked. They told us that HR were considering asking the founders for a budget to provide iPhones for all staff who worked remotely, which although isn’t a complete solution, is a step in the right direction.
Maternity leave & constructive dismissal
Suzie worked for a scaleup and was on maternity leave. She was due to return to work in a few weeks but while she was away the business had raised £10m. On the back of this capital raise it had hired its first COO who brought in a team from his old company, including someone who seemed to be performing the same role as Suzie had been.
To make matters worse, all the new hires were men, there had not been a competitive recruitment process, and the job description of Suzie’s ‘replacement’ was almost identical to her role, except it had a more senior job title with an indication that it would become a leadership role within a few months.
This was a really tough one for us as there were a few issues at play here:
- Suzie could return to work but she would be in a role with reduced potential and it is likely that her relationship with the COO would be negative.
- If she felt she had to leave then it would only be fair that the employer pay compensation.
- However, it is often hard to make a case for constructive dismissal, even when on maternity leave.
- It can also be hard to prove a case of discrimination or bad behaviour.
So we suggested Suzie seek advice from an employment lawyer. Although she had to pay some money up front, we were confident that with some well-argued communications she would get the outcome she wanted and deserved. Smaller companies often don’t expect employees to go down the legal route so this may well have worked in Suzie’s favour as she didn’t go back to work but received a compensation payment equivalent to 9 months’ salary.
I felt so stuck and didn't know where to turn. Then someone recommended Unonise to me and it was so good having people who understood and cared. Now I can relax and spend a bit more time with my beautiful baby.
This could potentially have been a really stressful time for me but Unionise were so helpful. I learnt an awful lot about the whole redundancy process. If it ever happens to me again I'll know exactly what to do. Thanks Unionise!
6 weeks before Christmas and while she was on holiday Rachel was told by her company that she along with 9 others were going to be made redundant. This was a surprise to all of them as their job functions seemed critical to the running of the company.
The people affected had been told they would receive 1 month’s notice and their statutory redundancy pay but even with this it meant they would all be unemployed at one of the worst times of year for looking for new jobs. They were also told they would not be receiving their bonuses for the current year, despite having worked for the majority of the year. Rachel turned to us to ask for help.
We told her that she should not go without a fight and she should get as many of the other people at risk together to work on a strategy to try and prolong the process for as long possible. We also told her not to sign any documentation until she was happy with what had been agreed.
Working together as a team, Rachel and her colleagues requested numerous meetings with HR that were minuted and documented, insisted on a proper consultation process, asked a lot of tough questions, and got support from some members of senior leadership who also thought the process had not been conducted in a fair and proper manner. One of her colleagues even raised a grievance against one of the founders which also bought them some more time.
We helped Rachel throughout the process, offering support and guidance, helping draft emails and letters, and directing her to the relevant information that can be found on ACAS.
The outcome was that Rachel and her colleagues weren’t made redundant until the end of January the following year, they received a significant goodwill payment as well as their payment in lieu of notice, and they all got their full bonuses. She was really pleased with how things worked out and is going to use some of the money to take some time out and go travelling while she decides what to do next.
Names have been changed