firm news

Emma O'Connor
Emma O'Connor,
HEAD OF TRAINING
more
Constructive dismissal - An employer’s repudiatory breach has only a ‘part’ to play
04 December 2013

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 a qualifying employee may bring a claim for unfair dismissal where it terminates the relationship in response to the employer’s actions, rather than being dismissed. This is known as “constructive unfair dismissal”. The employer’s actions must amount to a breach of contract and the employee must act quickly in resigning in response - otherwise they could be said to have accepted the breach. However, does the employer’s conduct have to be the sole reason for the termination or just part of the reason? We report on the case of Wright v North Ayrshire Council.

Facts

Mrs Wright was employed by North Ayrshire Council. The Council failed to respond entirely to two of Mrs Wright’s grievances and failed to respond within a timely manner to a third grievance. In addition, the Council accused Mrs Wright of theft – a claim which was without merit. As a result of these actions, Mrs Wright resigned and claimed she had been constructively dismissed. However, at the time of her resignation, Mrs Wright was also experiencing difficult personal circumstances as she was caring for her husband who had suffered from a serious stroke. The question before the courts was – what was the reason for the resignation: personal circumstance or employer breach?

Decision

Although the Employment Tribunal (ET) initially held that the Council’s actions were clear breaches of contract, it accepted that the ‘effective cause’ of Mrs Wright’s resignation was her partner’s illness and not the Council’s actions. It held there was no constructive dismissal. Mrs Wright appealed and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). The EAT held that the ET had been wrong. By looking at ‘the effective cause’ of her resignation the ET had given too much weight to the employee’s motives and personal circumstances. The crucial question was only whether the employer’s breaches of contract played a part in the dismissal even if this was not the only reason for her resignation.

Summary

An employer’s conduct does not have to be the only reason for the employee’s resignation and, as a result, employers may find more employees claiming constructive dismissal where the main (but not only) reason for resignation is related to the employer's conduct. Employers should not delay in responding to grievances and should ensure there are effective grounds to support any serious misconduct charge – in this case theft. Singling out an employee as troublemaker or failing to adequately deal with complaints could all be seen as the ‘final straw’ – even if there are other factors in play.


Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

For more information about the issues raised in this article or to find out more about how the Employment team can help you please contact Emma O'Connor on 0118 952 7284 or email [email protected].

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

award winning law firm

Boyes Turner are proud to have received the following awards and recognition.

awards