Constructive dismissal arises when an employee feels forced to resign from their employment due to the conduct and behaviour of their employer. For an employee to be successful in a constructive dismissal claim they must be able to prove that the employer’s conduct was so serious that it breached the fundamental principles of the employment contract.
In the case of a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication hearing that involved An Office Administrator v A Joinery (ADJ-00002171), this case provides some interesting insights for employers to learn from on the issue of constructive dismissal.
The employee, who was an office administrator, was subjected to repeated and prolonged personal attacks by one of the Directors and was awarded €26,500 for constructive dismissal under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977-2015. In the decision, the adjudicator stated that: “where an employee breaks the contract, and then seeks to pursue the employer for constructive unfair dismissal, as in this case, the bar is set just as high. Likewise, the burden of proof, which now passes to the employee, is set at a high level". In other words, the employee would need to exhaust all internal grievance procedures first and give the business the opportunity to rectify the issue before referring it to the WRC.
In this case, the employee was the estranged wife of the Director and she claimed that for a period of 20 months prior to her resignation she endured humiliation, isolation, abuse and bullying which left her with no option but to leave employment with the company. Prior to her resignation, the employee went out on sick leave for stress and anxiety and subsequently submitted a letter of complaint outlining her concerns regarding her treatment in the workplace. The company failed to investigate her work-related stress and they ignored her letter of complaint. In addition, they did not have a grievance policy procedure in place.
In upholding the claim for unfair dismissal, the adjudication officer agreed that the claimant had exhausted all alternative options available to her and had no option but to resign from her position. The adjudicator noted that “to prove constructive dismissal, the claimant must clearly show that there was no other alternative option open to her, other than leave her employment. It must be demonstrated that all reasonable alternatives have been considered. Whilst there was no formal grievance procedure in the company the Complainant did however write to the Respondent in January 2015 and no action was taken by the Respondent on foot of the concerns raised to address these concerns which were submitted in detail”.
So how can employers avoid a constructive dismissal claim?
1. Ensure that the company has a grievance procedure in place
2. Managers should receive training on how to correctly handle employee issues
3. Investigate and follow up on any complaints received
4. Engage with the employee if they are out of work on stress-related sick leave and be proactive in offering support and addressing any concerns
5. Do not allow personal issues to interfere with the workplace
For further information and advice on managing employee grievances you can review the SFA guideline. If you require any further information on grievances, please contact Helen Quinn on 01 605 1668 or firstname.lastname@example.org