A Boss’s Tale

Bryan Seal is a salt of the earth type. A cabinetmaker by trade, taciturn by nature. He worked as a foreman. His boss was bought out. The new joinery factory owner told him to leave. He did. The thought he could take action over being unfairly dismissed never crossed his mind.

So Bryan was hard up and down on his luck. He got together some tools and had a go on his own working from his garage. Business picked up a bit, he rented premises, hired an apprentice and a subsidised worker for a while.

A Robert Gray walked into the workshop one day. An older cabinet maker looking for work. Bryan said he could give him a bit of work but did not know for how long. He started Robert on $14 an hour. Robert it turned out was not that accurate at taking measurements off drawings. Bryan and the apprentice got concerned about his mistakes. Bryan made it known “in my own easy going way” to Robert “that I was not impressed with the errors he kept making”.

Matters came to a head. They were making stairs. Robert machined the rises and treads too short. He told Bryan of this. They were fixed at some cost. Early the morning the steps were to be put in place, Bryan checked the measurements. Robert had again machined the winder steps incorrectly. When Robert came in to work he was asked if he had checked again. He said that he had.

Bryan’s story is that he told Robert that he could not afford these costly mistakes, and that he would give him “three weeks to buck up his ideas or be laid off”. Robert picked up the winder and walked to his workbench, Bryan following. “What other mistakes come on tell me what other mistakes” demanded Robert. Bryan says he told him then Robert said “Why wait three weeks I my as well fuck off now!” Bryan replied “If that is your attitude then you may as well fuck off now.”

Robert’s story is not that different. He however denies saying “Why wait three weeks I may as well fuck off now!” he says instead Bryan told him to ” Pack his bags and fuck off”

Little did Bryan think this heated conversation in the workshop, amidst the shavings on the floor by the workbench (with perhaps a shaft of early morning sunlight lighting through a dusty window!) could threaten to bankrupt him. Neither, I am sure did Bryan or Robert in this exchange of expletives for a moment think that the Employment Tribunal would be helped in it’s decision to prefer Roberts story over Bryans by a 1669 court ruling in Tuberville v Savage. In this ancient case quoted by Tribunal, the defendant whilst placing his hand on his sword, said “If it were not for assize time, I would not take such language”. What ever the devil this means!

The Tribunal awarded Robert $4,864 in lost wages. He had to go on a benefit for a while and got low paid work pumping petrol before getting back into his trade. In addition Robert was awarded $1,500 for humiliation. Tough luck one might say. It must however be considered that Bryan’s evidence was that he made little out of the business, $12,000 one year for himself which was less than he was paying staff, $30,000 the next, then business dried up and he had to close down. To rub salt into the wound it took Bryan 9 hours to remake the stairs correctly with $1,000 worth of new materials.

The Tribunal subsequently awarded Robert a further $935 towards his legal bills. In this award it talks of “the decision was almost line ball based….” A near line ball call means Bryan has to find $7,299, or be forced into bankruptcy! Who has the stress and humiliation now? He could not afford to appeal.

My Dad used to say “It his harder to make a job for someone to take, than to take a job from someone who has made one”. Employment Law rightly helps workers who get dealt to badly by bosses – but it is salutary to remember the bosses that get badly dealt to as well. Small employers particularly – caveat emptor. Get advice.

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