Constructive Dismissal

An employee can lodge a legal claim against an employer if he or she has been forced to resign.

If the employer has in effect, seriously breached the contract of employment, an Employment Tribunal may find that ‘constructive dismissal’ has taken place. The Tribunal will examine whether there is clear evidence of a serious breach.

A serious breach could involve an employee who feels that there is no choice but to leave because his or her employer’s behaviour is ‘making life hell’. Otherwise, it may be that the employer forces a major, unwanted change in the employee’s work situation without prior agreement or consultation. The breach may involve a series of incidents that brings about a bad situation or one major incident.

Examples of breaches of an employment contract includes:

  • cutting significant benefits or pay without consultation or good reason,
  • creating new impossible targets,
  • demotion without reason,
  • making duties impossible to perform,
  • unreasonable changes such as a new location, longer working hours, or greater responsibilities,
  • failing to take action against serious bullying, and
  • physically dangerous working conditions.

An employee should try to resolve any problem with his or her employer or lodge a formal grievance. The employee must make it clear that the new circumstances are unwanted.

The employer will have a credible response if it can be shown that an employee’s complaints were taken seriously and he had no choice but to behave as he did. In such a situation, the employer could reasonably believe that if the employee takes no further action he or she has accepted the new situation – this is called ‘waiving the breach.’

Employees are strongly advised to seek legal advice before resigning and seeking to claim constructive dismissal.

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