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Destructive practices – are you a victim of constructive dismissal?

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 16 October 2015
  2. Employment
  3. 0 comments
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Have you quit your job recently? If it was because you got a better offer from another company or wanted to take a shot at pursuing your dreams, then read no further - but if you left because your workplace or job had become unbearable, then you might be surprised to learn that you might have a case for legal action.

Most people think that leaving a job voluntarily is necessarily the end of the matter and the decision is entirely on the departing employee. This might seem like a common-sense view, until you realise that this would give unscrupulous bosses a way to get rid of any unwanted employees without following the appropriate dismissal processes, simply by making their job so horrible that they feel forced to leave. In reality, this is an offence known as ‘constructive dismissal’.

Defining constructive dismissal

Constructive dismissal happens when you are essentially forced out of your job by your employer’s actions. The idea is that if your employer fundamentally/seriously breaches a term of your employment contract, you can consider this a declaration by them that they no longer intend to be bound by it, and therefore terminate the contract.

While such a breach of contract can involve obvious things such as failing to pay you or drastically changing your job duties, it actually covers more situations than you might think, because every employment contract is considered to have an implied term of ‘mutual trust and confidence’. It’s necessary that an employer and an employee know that the other is acting in the best interests of the employment relationship. If you feel that your employer is failing to do this and is therefore damaging the trust and confidence you have placed in them, this can count as a breach of contract on their part.

Examples of breaches of mutual trust and confidence by your employer could include:

  • closely monitoring your work or subjecting you to excessive surveillance for no reason
  • undermining or criticising you unnecessarily in front of other employees
  • failing to investigate or act on complaints you make
  • changing your contractual duties
  • expecting you to work in an intolerable working environment

If you’ve been untreated unfairly like this at work and feel that you have been driven out of your role, it could be worth making a constructive dismissal claim.

What to do if you think you have a case for constructive dismissal

In order to make a constructive dismissal claim, you must, of course, have resigned and in most cases have worked for your employers for a period of more than 2 years continuous service. You will also need to be able to demonstrate that you quit because of your employer’s actions – if they fundamentally breached your employment contract but you decided to put up with it and only ended up leaving a period of time later (even as short a period of time as a few weeks), they will likely claim that this counted as you accepting the change. If you leave due to a series of breaches which led to a steady deterioration of your working conditions, however, it’s only necessary that you resigned not long after the most recent breach.

A claim for unfair dismissal should be made to an employment tribunal within three months of your last day of employment. Demonstrating that you were constructively dismissed and claiming compensation for it can be quite complicated, so you are advised to seek legal advice if you believe you may have a case.

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