Robert at Middle Zone Musings has launched his newest Group Writing Project - every month he does that to us! This month it's about The Law.
Now, me and my partner are fortunate not to have had many encounters with the Law, but there has been one episode in our life that still rattles us.
Some background first: middle of the year 1999 we were 'asked' to team-up with a Dutch company - freshly started with many plans -, to move to the UK and manage a retail shop in Kent. We should have checked their plans better! Anyway, in 2000 we sold up everything we had in The Netherlands, moved to Charing Kent and waited. Waited a while longer and lived of our savings until finally the word go was given to revamp the showroom our 'partners' had selected. Another 4 months later the wooden flooring shop could finally open and hurray - we received our first wages. To cut a very long, frustrating and dreadful story short (why not read my business novel for the whole story?): June 2003 we were made redundant, hadn't received wages for two months and our 'investment' - part of the arrangement with our 'partners' on a 70/30 base - gone with the wind.
Then the real fun started: the one remaining partner - the other one had to pack his bags a year earlier, like the manager of the second retail shop that was launched - thought it would be a good idea to tell everyone we were responsible, we had been the owners of the Ltd. A mounting pile of demand letters from various companies and clients in our letterbox was the result. And that at the time we were trying to go-it-alone as Wood You Like (working from home). The one option we had to stop this barrage of harassment for once and for all was to venture to The Employment Tribunal.
Now, being a foreigner in a strange land were rules and regulations are quite different than in your 'home' country is nerve wrecking, to say the least. How to go about this in the best way, no time for trial - pun intended ;-) - and error.
Fortunately with our home-content insurance came a Family Legal Insurance (costs per year for this optional insurance - a lousy £ 10.00). All it took to get the ball rolling was 1 phone call to our insurance agent. All of a sudden we had a solicitor who put in the claim for unfair dismissal, redundancy, unpaid wages and unpaid holidays etc for us. A solicitor who put a large volume of documents together to prove we only had ever been employees - and not so well treated employees to that. When the Tribunal date was set, all of a sudden we had a barrister too!
During the Tribunal our 'partner'/employer was accompanied by his accountant - one of those who's 'invoice meter' starts running the minute you think of calling him, let alone of him spending a whole day - silently, never had to say a word - in a court room. When the first nerves for the proceedings were gone we even managed to have fun - well, very quietly and mostly afterwards of course.
At the end of the day - yes, a whole day! - the chairman came back with the verdict: all our claims were honoured - our 'employer' had to pay the wages that were still due, holiday claims and redundancy reward. Of course we never saw one penny of that, no use picking feathers from a bare chicken - our 'partners' had set-up the company structure in such a way this would not costs them personal, but the most important verdict was: we were employees, unfairly dismissed! And that had been our aim all along - this enabled us to start with the cleanest slate of slates with our own juvenile company.
It has been a very wise lesson - lessons in fact:
A) never go into a partnership without knowing and being able to influence major and minor decision and
B) be sure you're insured for legal advice/help. Not only gives it 'peace of mind' but you'll never know when The Law comes knocking - or when you'll have to knock on The Law's gate.