Dawn Robertson: If you plan to take action against an employer, it may help to check your home insurance policy

A “double dip” recession affecting Scotland seems unlikely after the Bank of Scotland’s Purchase Managers Index (PMI) for February showed both output and employment at private sector businesses increased at accelerated rates.

However it would be erroneous to infer from this that workers in the private sector were experiencing an upturn in their conditions of service. All the anecdotal evidence is that bosses have cut back on terms and conditions and that this will remain in place for some time.

Despite Bank of Scotland’s hopeful message, such is the clamour for jobs from those out of work that bosses do not have problems hiring labour on terms and conditions much reduced from four or five years ago; indeed, some seem quite prepared to let go even valued staff if it means a replacement on a lower cost basis.

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Every employment grievance case is unique, yet there is an underlying theme to most of them at present: salaries and/or hours cut at the start of the downturn and never put back to their previous level; training courses and team-building sessions pared back or axed; and even low-cost perks which helped make a job palatable – free or reduced gym membership or luncheon vouchers – removed during the recession and never reinstated. As a result, our feedback shows increasing numbers of employees with pressures placed upon them that could be legally deemed unfair, and who have good reason to claim constructive dismissal. Only they don’t because of the current economic climate.

Some will be fortunate enough to have the backing of a trade union. Others, however, may feel they have no alternative but to take what their employers throw at them on the (understandable) premise that without the job there would be no mortgage, up to date clothes for the kids or annual holiday.

So for those in the latter category, now may be an opportune time to check the terms and conditions of their home contents insurance policy. Yes, the one that people take out primarily to compensate for the consequences of a chip pan fire, a burst pipe or a burglary.

Something of which policyholders are often unaware, however, is the fact that the home contents “umbrella” may include insurance cover related to legal services, which in most standard policies will include the costs incurred (usually up to £50,000) in taking a civil action against one’s employer or former employer. Many householders may be unaware that they have signed up for this protection.

Taking action against an employer is never an easy step but anyone in this situation would do well to seek clarification as to what categories of insurance cover their home contents policy actually provides, as this may include employment-related legal costs. Anyone who has not done so should seriously consider taking up this option when they renew their contents policy, even if the relationship with one’s employer is currently all sweetness and light!

• Dawn Robertson is head of Murray Beith Employment