My first guest blog post! Thoughts on the Philip Rutnam settlement from my friend and Employment Law Expert, Steve Pinder of  Stephen Pinder – Employment Law Matters 

Philip Rutnam resigned from his role as the senior civil servant in the Home Office raising allegations of bullying against his boss, Secretary of State Priti Patel. He alleged that there had been a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign against him after trying to get Ms Patel to change her behaviour. There have been wider allegations raised against Ms Patel in relation to how other staff were treated, denied by her, and a report was published some weeks ago.

My interest has involved the specific circumstances involving Mr Rutnam and what happened after he resigned. It has been reported that he pursued an unfair dismissal claim against the Government, and this must have been a constructive dismissal case. The press reports this week referred to the case being settled for £340k and payment of costs. On both sides I expect that the costs are likely to be at least equivalent to the damages paid, meaning an outlay to the public purse of nearly £700k.

An unfair dismissal case only will lead to compensation of the lesser sum of a year of earnings or the statutory maximum, currently £88519, in addition to the equivalent of a statutory redundancy payment. How then might the award be £340k by agreement, with Mr Rutnam earning around £150k each year, no doubt plus pension. Further, the Employment Tribunal does not usually award costs, and my guess is that the deal reflects certain additional factors. On costs, I expect that the Home Office agreed such generous terms simply to kill the case and avoid a hearing in public which would have likely required Ms Patel and officials to give evidence on oath.

As regards the value of the case, again there may be a premium to reflect the value of closing out a deal. I also expect that this is not only an unfair dismissal case, despite the reports. In reporting allegations against Ms Patel during employment I expect that the claim raised allegations satisfying the requirements of a protected disclosure under the Employment Rights Act, namely the whistle blowing provisions. This can involve a claim pursued against an individual such as the Home Secretary and a claim for damages for injury to feelings. Compensation is uncapped, explaining the reference to £340k.

Whistle blowing is a useful addition to an unfair dismissal claim in the right circumstances and can enhance remedy in negotiations and at Tribunal. In this case the public have ended up paying a substantial sum to cover the actions of a senior Minister, and probably double with costs. It is fine denying allegations but it is easy to use someone else’s money to back out of defending your actions in a public forum.

Steve Pinder