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Employer’s breach of contract need not be the main reason for resignation in constructive dismissal cases

Posted by TonyBrownEmploymentSolicitor on October 17, 2013

It has long been settled law that in order for an employee’s resignation to amount to a constructive dismissal the employer must have committed a breach of contract and the employee must have resigned in response to that breach.

But what if the employee has several reasons for resigning and only one of them is the employer’s breach of contract. Does the breach of contract need to be the main reason for the employee's resignation? Not so, according to the latest decision of the EAT which ruled that the contractual breach by the employer does not have to be the effective cause of the resignation: it is sufficient if the breach ‘played a part in the dismissal’.

In the case in question, the Claimant was a care home assistant until she resigned. The tribunal found, that the Claimant's grievances had not been properly answered and this was serious enough to justify a resignation. However, the tribunal dismissed the claim for constructive dismissal because the Claimant's caring responsibilities for her partner who had recently suffered a stroke were "the effective cause" of her resignation rather than her employer's conduct.

Allowing the Claimant’s appeal, the EAT ruled that the tribunal had misinterpreted the meaning of the "effective cause" criterion for constructive dismissal. Rather than being 'the' effective cause it is enough that the contractual breach was 'an' effective cause, with no requirement that it be the most important cause. The extent of the role played by the breach should be taken account of in calculating the compensation award.

Comment

It is unlikely that employers will welcome this latest decision of the EAT. However, as the EAT stated, the extent that the breach of contract played in the decision to resign will still need to be taken into account in calculating compensation. So, in the latest case, the tribunal might still have found that the Claimant would have resigned in any event in order to care for her partner.

If you would like advice about how the issues in this note apply to your situation, please contact Tony Brown on 01225 740097 or by e mail to tony@bathemploymentlaw.co.uk

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