Case Review: Wright v North Ayrshire Council

The Case of Wright v North Ayrshire Council is a welcome reminder that although constructive dismissal cases are hard to prove; you will often hear this when enquiring about employment law advice; they are not insurmountable. As long as there has been a breach by your employer there is potentially a case to be taken forward.

For a Constructive Dismissal claim to be successful there are four points that the Claimant has to prove:

  1. whether there has been a breach of contract by the employer.
  2. that the breach is a repudiatory breach. This means that it is fundamental and goes to to the core of the contract.
  3. whether the employee resigned in response to the breach.
  4. the Claimant had not acted in such a way as to confirm the contract following the breach.

The decision at Tribunal

The case of Wright v North Ayrshire Council[1] has clarified the third point, that of whether the employee resigned in response to the breach. If there are several reasons for the resignation the tribunal does not have to judge which reason was the predominant one. The decision that the tribunal must make is whether the breach had an impact on the resignation.

When the case was originally at tribunal they agreed that there had been a repudiatory breach by the employer due to their failure to deal with several grievances in the correct manner (including failing to deal with a couple entirely). The problem arose when they had to decide whether the resignation was in response to the breach. This is because the Claimant was suffering from difficult personal circumstances (her mother having died and then subsequently her partner suffering a stroke).

The tribunal followed the ruling in Jones v Sirl & Sons (Furnishers) Ltd[2]. In Jone it is stated that if there is more than one cause, only the main or principal cause of the resignation should be looked for. When applied to this case although there were grievances which were dealt with shoddily they felt the work/home life issues were the more significant issue and as such felt that there was not a constructive dismissal.

The decision at Appeal

When it was taken to the EAT they decided that the tribunal had acted erroneously by following this approach. It was not correct to rank the reasons for resignation and only use the primary one when considering a claim for constructive dismissal. What the tribunal should have done was consider whether the repudiatory breach “played a part in the dismissal” rather than find the effective cause.

The EAT stated that the tribunal had followed the incorrect authority. Rather than use Jones they should have used the Court of Appeal authority of Nottingham County Council v Meikle[3] which considered constructive dismissal. Although this current case has not put forward any new legal guidelines what it has done is reaffirmed that any breach of contract could give rise to a claim of constructive dismissal.

What Next?

If you feel you have a case for constructive dismissal please do not hesitate to contact us on [phonenumber] where one of our qualified team will be able to supply employment law advice for your situation. We can assess your case and then let you know if we would be able to assist on a no win no fee basis.