Guidance on duty of care owed by trade union to members in employment disputes


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The High Court has provided guidance on the duty of care owed by a trade union to its members when advising and acting in employment disputes in Langley v GMB and ors.

Mr Langley brought a claim of negligence in tort and contract against three defendants; his trade union (GMB), the solicitor who signed off his settlement agreement, and the firm of solicitors by whom the solicitor was employed.  He claimed that the advice he received from GMB and the firm of solicitors following his suspension from work was negligent. He argued that he should have been advised to reject the settlement agreement offer because, in his view, he would either have been retained in his employment following a disciplinary hearing or, had he been dismissed, would have been successful with a whistleblowing claim in the tribunal and awarded a higher sum than that given to him under the agreement.

Mr Langley's claims were unsuccessful, but in order to reach a decision the High Court was required to consider the standard of the duty owed by a trade union where it assumes responsibility for representing and advising one of its members. It concluded that the duty is to provide reasonable skill and care in the provision of practical industrial relations and employment advice. It requires the reasonable knowledge and experience expected of a trade union in both individual and collective negotiations, including a general understanding of employment, HR, and industrial relations issues; to be reasonably well informed about employment law in general terns; to have a reasonable level of skill and expertise in persuasion and negotiation, and to be able to provide strategic and tactical advice on how to resolve a situation in the best interests of its members.

Take note: As the High Court noted there is limited authority in this area, so the decision in Langley provides useful guidance on what the duty of care owed by a trade union to its members when advising in employment disputes constitutes.

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