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I work in a small software team in the UK (so UK law applies here). I was recently informed that my colleague of over 10 years was leaving this week.

Things have been 'unpleasant' since our company bought some other companies and put them in charge. My new line manager is based in a different country. We also have new a product manager in a third country who doesn't understand our products. Both speak good English, but as a second language.

So I would not be entirely surprised if he had handed his notice in. However, some things strike me as fishy.

Normally he would have had a three month notice period. Yet he left with seven days or less notice to me. He could have given his notice in three months ago with both him and the company we work for not bothering to inform me. I don't think that is the case.

Our line manager and our line manager's manager both claim not to know whether he resigned or not. This strikes me as highly unlikely.

I asked him privately (including an offer to testify if there is some kind of employment tribunal pending) and he said only the following:

  • The official reason for his leaving is listed as redundancy
  • There is an agreement between him and the company that he cannot discuss, but as a result of which there would be no tribunal
  • He does not currently have another job to go

Given the current COVID-19 lockdown crisis it seems an odd time to 'choose to leave'.

The situation raises all kinds of questions for me:

  • Is there a genuine way that my line manager could not know if he resigned or not or why he was leaving? It seems like an obvious lie to me, but maybe there is an HR reason that would make sense.

This is my main question as it adds to the increasing distrust we have.

  • Why did he leave?

    Only speculation is possible here of course. My guess would be he raised a grievance of some kind and the company was unable to resolve it and so they parted ways with a suitable agreement to avoid a tribunal.

Why does this matter to me?

I want to know if I can trust my manager. Normally a manager will say "I can't tell you" rather than "I don't know".

I may well have similar grievances and am not as well versed in the legalities as my colleague to know how to handle them.

A related question. What can I get my HR department to help me with here?

Closest related question here is:

HR advised colleague not to notify department he is leaving


I don't think this is directly relevant to my question, but in case someone asks to expand on the 'unpleasant' I mentioned above.

  • The workplace feels hostile. (I don't know if it reaches the legal definition. I am not well versed on the legal side.)
  • We have been given work below our skill levels
  • We have been excluded from discussions
  • Our line manager rarely talked to us at all
  • Our opinions are ignored. Sometimes our e-mails as well
  • For example, I have warned about potential legal and securities problems
  • We are not given resources we need to do our jobs
  • We have been kept on to service the legacy product (which actually makes the company money) while they work on the new one which is currently just a money pit)
  • There is zero chance of advancement
  • Pay reviews are based on performance against objectives, but we have not been given any

Some other examples:

  • My manager filed an appraisal for me with HR without actually having any kind of meeting with me. In it he suggested I should change departments as I was unhappy.

This is very stressful and unsurprisingly, I have been thinking of leaving for some time myself, but I have not got around to it yet. I have an easy commute and family commitments to consider. Given the COVID-19 crisis I have deferred my decision again.

So it's a toxic workplace, but I'm not sure I would be able to prove it or prove constructive dismissal if I quit without somewhere to go first.

On the other hand I am now the only person qualified to work with the legacy products which will be here for a while. Technically I have them over a barrel, though I cannot think of a good way of using that to my advantage.

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    what is the practical problem you are trying to solve? the Q is very long right now, i suggest providing "summary" block on top – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jun 19 at 20:44
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    Alongside a lot of prose you appear to already have a laundry list of reasons to find another job. What exactly is the goal of this question? – Lilienthal Jun 19 at 20:48
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    Have you ever been told "Don't ask me, then I don't have to lie to you"? – gnasher729 Jun 19 at 23:28
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    We can only really speculate here, which isn't really a good fit for this site. Something like "How much can I expect to be told about a coworker's departure" might make for a more appropriate question that can be answered with workplace expertise as opposed to speculation. But your coworker's response should mostly answer your question. The simple fact that he's not allowed to talk about it means the company probably won't or can't either. Being "made redundant" means to be let go / fired / laid off, so he didn't "choose to leave". – Bernhard Barker Jun 20 at 5:04
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    I want to know if I can trust my manager. ...to keep your private matters private and to not spread them around to the rest of the office? It would seem you can, at least so far. – J... Jun 20 at 11:59

11 Answers 11

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TL,DR: Yes it's possible your line-manager doesn't know why, and it's possible that nothing "underhand" has happened: it may simply be a case of "amicable" redundancy.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. Nothing in this answer is meant to imply anything about the conduct of either your colleague or their employer.

The departure may have been "grievance-free"

From your description of the situation, and in particular your friend's response:

  • The official reason for his leaving is listed as redundancy
  • There is an agreement between him and the company that he cannot discuss but as a result of which there would be no tribunal
  • He does not currently have another job to go

it sounds very much like he and the company have signed a Settlement Agreement1,2.

In a nutshell, under a Settlement Agreement the employee voluntarily gives up their right to bring a legal claim against the employer, usually in exchange for financial compensation. The discussions leading up to the agreement are confidential, and the agreement usually (if not always) contains a confidentiality clause prohibiting either party from discussing its terms.

To avoid the possibility of being "bullied" into giving up their rights, the laws under which Settlement Agreements are possible require that the employee must have undertaken "independent legal advice". Often the employer will pay for this advice.

There are several reasons why a Settlement Agreement might be used (I make no implication that any of these apply in this specific case):

  • Even if the employee might have grounds for contesting a dismissal (e.g. with an Employment Tribunal), bringing such a claim can be expensive, lengthy and stressful. A settlement agreement avoids that in return for agreed compensation.

  • An employee might be "in the wrong" but the employer's evidence against them may not be sufficiently "court grade" to defend a possible case of unfair dismissal.

  • The employer might want to avoid any "negative publicity" that the case might attract should it go to tribunal or otherwise become public.

However, a Settlement Agreement can also be used for "perfectly amicable" redundancies, where there is no question of "fault" on either party. The terms under which settlement agreements operate mean that up to the first £30,000 of any payment under the agreement is free of tax and National Insurance. As such, they have been used3 to make "normal" redundancy payments more valuable (normally, I believe, only the statutory redundancy pay is tax-free: anything over that would be taxable).

So, while it is quite possible that there was a "grievance" involved in your friend's case, it is also entirely possible that was simply "made redundant" (or tended his resignation), and the company chose to use a Settlement Agreement under which to effect that.


"I can't tell you" vs. "I don't know"

Given your manager speaks English as a second language, this could simply be them not fully appreciating the somewhat subtle difference between the two. This might apply whether or not a settlement agreement was involved, and whether or not your colleague resigned, was made redundant, of "forced" out over a grievance.

Our line-manager and our line-manager's manager both claim not to know whether he resigned or not. This strikes me as highly unlikely.

If a settlement agreement was negotiated with HR, your manager might not have been party to the discussions, and might genuinely not know what the reasons were. Even if your manager had been asked to "provide evidence" (for or against a possible grievance), they may still not know whether your colleague jumped, was pushed, or was made redundant.


1 See Wikipedia article on Compromise Agreement, which was their former name.

2 See Settlement Agreements – Ten Things You Need To Know from a picked-more-or-less-at-random solictor's page.

3 My understanding is that Settlement Agreements were never intended to be used for "normal" redundancies, but someone spotted the tax-advantages of doing so. As such, the rules were "tightened" in both 2018 and 2019: see Tax Changes To Settlement Agreements: 2018/19.

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    Not only does a Settlement Agreement usually contain a confidentiality clause prohibiting either party from discussing its terms, it can also contain a clause prohibiting the acknowledgement of its existence at all. – Andrew Leach Jun 20 at 12:08
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    This is a good answer, the OP should not judge beforehand that the case is litigious. This actually happened to me, after a talk to a former boss at a hard time of my life, she accepted my leaving without defavorable conditions for me, but she didn't want others to know she was eager to do it, not wanting other people ask for the same thing. More than this, I had to pretend I left my job without notice and couldn't tell other people why I left, this was a bit sad as there were some people I liked in the job.. – Kaddath Jun 22 at 7:29
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It sounds like there was a serious disagreement between your former coworker and the company and they came to a mutual agreement to part ways with the understanding that neither party would discuss the actual reasons. Your manager may have been a part of the conversation or they might not have been. Either way, it's pretty clear that you're not going to get the answer you're looking for and to be honest, it shouldn't matter. He had his grievances and it sounds like you have your own as well so you might as well stop concerning yourself with what happened to him and start devising your own exit strategy.

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  • Just to extend, the coworker talking to OP about it, even in a private context, can be construed by the company spreading discontent (possibly of a libelous nature if the colleague cannot prove their claims). It doesn't always need to be an agreement made between the company and the colleague, it could just be an ongoing conflict where neither party wants to open themselves up to being accused of taking improper actions by spreading rumors. – Flater Jun 21 at 0:04
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From various points in your posting it is clear that you are missing information and would like more. You will need to accept the fact that you don't have a right to that information and it would be wrong of your line manager to give you that information, since it is private about that other employee.

With respect to trusting your manager based on the answer you got, your manager needs to be very careful. Depending on how they answer the question you might be able to figure out some of the information that you are missing or they could mislead you into thinking something. One of the easiest ways to avoid giving you information indirectly is to say "I don't know". While it appears you may have plenty of other reasons to have concerns about your employer and your manager, I don't think this one answer is anything to hang on to.

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  • One of the easiest ways to avoid giving you information - if he actually did know, i think it would be more appropriate, and equally easy, to say that's confidential – hanshenrik Jun 21 at 10:43
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    @hanshenrik The problem with that is that saying "that's confidential" usually means "I do know the answer, but I'm not telling you". There are things that managers need to know about employees where the employee doesn't know what the manager knows, and can't ever be told. For example, I have been the direct supervisor of an employee who for security reasons was not permitted to visit some of our company sites. Obviously I (and other managers) need to know that, to make sure he never gets an invitation to a meeting there, because security staff wouldn't let him through the main entrance. – alephzero Jun 21 at 17:13
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    ... Obviously if the employee knew that, most likely everybody in the department would soon know as well and start wondering about their own situation. And just to make the point; I don't know why he isn't allowed there because I don't need to know. I can guess, but making that guess public would be gross discrimination against the guy if it was the wrong guess. – alephzero Jun 21 at 17:17
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Is there a genuine way that my line-manager could not know if he resigned or not or why he was leaving?

The most obvious one is that your (ex-)colleague did in fact raise a grievance, specifically naming your line manager. At that point, your manager would have been effectively as cut off from the process as anyone else outside HR, and the next thing they would have been told was your colleague would not be returning.

But I question whether it really matters what your line manager knows.

Why did he leave?

You're not going to find that out. Lawyers have been involved. Move on.

What can I get my HR department to help me with here?

Nothing - HR is there to protect the company, not to protect you. Given what happened with your colleague, I think you can make a good guess as to what will happen to you if you rock the boat.

I may well have similar grievances and am not as well versed in the legalities as my colleague to know how to handle them.

So talk to a lawyer (or someone similar like Citizen's Advice).

Technically I have them over a barrel, though I cannot think of a good way of using that to my advantage.

I'll give you this one for free: don't even think about trying to use that as leverage. You would rapidly discover that 1) you don't have nearly as much leverage as you might think you do and 2) your employer has lawyers. Lawyers can make your life miserable.

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  • It matters because I want to know how much I can trust my manager. Normally a manager will say "I can't tell you" rather than "I don't know". One is honest the other is misleading at best. – AnonymousCoward202006 Jun 19 at 19:27
  • Surely in the case of a grievance the first option by HR would be mediation. How can the line-manager not be involved in that? – AnonymousCoward202006 Jun 19 at 19:29
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    @AnonymousCoward202006 If your ex-colleague was actually claiming constructive dismissal and had already lawyered up (which sounds distinctly possible here), mediation would have just been a waste of everybody's time. Also consider the fact that maybe your manager has been ordered to say what they're saying - by pushing this you are perhaps going to cause them issues. Is that what you want? – Philip Kendall Jun 19 at 19:50
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    @AnonymousCoward202006 "Normally a manager will say "I can't tell you" rather than "I don't know". One is honest the other is misleading at best." - I think you're getting way too hung up on this distinction. For this situation, I'd consider them basically equivalent. You're not entitled to know what happened, and no one will tell you. Whether someone actually knows something or not is pretty much irrelevant. Finally, it sounds like you have plenty of significant reasons to leave; it's unclear to me why you chose this relatively small issue to obsess over. – marcelm Jun 20 at 23:24
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Given the current covid-19 lockdown crisis it seems an odd time to 'choose to leave'.

But you already know he didn't choose to leave. As you say earlier in your question:

The official reason for his leaving is listed as redundancy

If he was made redundant then that means the company let him go; he didn't just quit. Otherwise it would be a resignation or early retirement.

I want to know if I can trust my manager. Normally a manager will say "I can't tell you" rather than "I don't know".

You don't have enough information to know whether your manager knows what happened. It could be he knows something happened, but not any of the details. It could be he knows exactly what happened, but has been told to say he doesn't. It could be that he thinks he's protecting your co-worker's privacy better by saying, "I don't know", which is neutral instead of, "I can't tell you", which implies that something bad happened. Maybe he thinks people will harass him for an answer if he says he can't say. Maybe he thinks "I don't know" is just a better way of shutting down discussion about it.

Given that your line manager is in another country and rarely speaks to you, it seems entirely possible that they don't know what happened. But I also think you shouldn't put too much weight on your manager giving an answer that doesn't imply something negative about your coworker even if it wasn't entirely honest.

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You don’t have the right to personal information about an (ex) employee. And that applies in many locations / countries... So the manager can rightly refuse to tell you anything.

Which is why many times people get told that “they are expanding their personal horizons” or “evaluating their career options”...

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    Absolutely. But there is a difference between saying I am not allowed to discuss it and claiming ignorance of the entire issue. – AnonymousCoward202006 Jun 19 at 19:30
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So, your first answer is that you don't get to know that information, there's really nothing you can do about it, and fishing further is only going to hurt you. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. As far as what you can do about it... well, it sounds like your current situation is unpleasant and unlikely to improve. You also have a manager who filed an appraisal for you, suggested that you should change departments as you were unhappy. Honestly, you sound unhappy. Have you considered changing departments? Just because he made that assessment before he met you doesn't mean he was, strictly speaking, incorrect.

If you change departments and the new department doesn't work out, you can look to finding a job elsewhere after that. For the moment, it looks like your current position won't become one you like having pretty much ever again.

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    Good answer. What is relevant to OP's situation is what he can do to improve his work conditions or look elsewhere, not why his colleague left. (Which has been more than clearly enough hinted at, but is apparently not legally discloseable.) – Thomas W Jun 21 at 23:25
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You are overthinking this. As a line manager I don't know many things especially when it relates to legal and HR matters. HR may have gotten rid of the man for a violation of policies and didn't give me the reason. Legal may put a gag order, so that even if I knew it's not allowed to disseminate the information.

Also, sometimes, a guy leaves and doesn't give me a reason or I suspect the reason is bogus. So, my honest answer to you would have been: "I don't know why he left."

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If you have a grievance against the company then you should present it through the proper channels. If you are simply unhappy with the company, then you should first look for and accept a new position at another company before resigning from your current company.

What happened with your coworker is solely between him and the company.

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You highly suspect that your line manager is telling a lie.

You cannot make a person lying tell the truth, if they are committed to lying to you. If they are not lying, then your efforts will do nothing but annoy the line manager.

You might want to rethink your approach, and concede that you might never get the full story from this person.

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No one has expressed concern over “The official reason for his leaving is listed as redundancy. There is an agreement between him and the company that he cannot discuss, but as a result of which there would be no tribunal”.

When I was last concerned with such issues, “redundant” has a very specific meaning under UK employment law. It means the employer no longer has need of your skills. Perhaps your colleague was an expert widget maker. The company no longer needs an expert widget maker or perhaps they have more widget makers than they will need in the foreseeable future. Having made a widget maker redundant, they cannot hire a replacement.

We were taught to be very careful with the term redundant. An example we were asked to consider was a company that wanted to downsize so they asked for volunteers. They then declared the volunteers redundant and paid them more than the legal minimum. Unfortunately, one of those volunteers was performing a critical task. Since they had declared his skills redundant, they could not hire a replacement not could they persuade any other employee to retrain for this redundant position.

If your new management is foreign, they may not be familiar with UK law. However, you say “We have been given work below our skill levels.” The one time I was made redundant, the entire department was closed two months later. You should consider how secure your position is.

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