Constructive dismissal – classic case of “final straw”

An IT support manager who resigned from his job after being refused access to a company van has been awarded £10,000 at the Employment Tribunal for constructive unfair dismissal.

The employee worked in IT support between 2009 and 2017. His job involved transporting IT equipment between various sites, for which he used his personal car. When his request for a company van to help carry out his duties was declined, he resigned.

He was the sole IT support worker for five locations, after losing his assistant and office following a series of mergers. By February 2017, he felt his role had changed significantly from the one he was originally hired to do and he was now being underpaid. He was on a 40-week per year pro rata contract but contended that he was now effectively working full time.

On 27 February 2017, he requested to be added to the senior leadership team and to have his salary raised, after providing details of a comparator who was earning £41,000, compared with his annual salary of £21,400. He raised this issue on two separate occasions, but his managers neither replied to nor acknowledged his requests.

In May 2017, he renewed his car insurance for his personal vehicle. In doing so, he discovered he was not covered for the trips between sites to ferry equipment because he was not running his own business. The employee approached the transport manager and agreed with a vehicle supplier that he could be provided with a van at a cost to the organisation of £1,000. He sent this request to his line manager for approval, but it was dismissed out of hand in an email which the employee described as a“hammer blow” and was later signed off work with stress.

He gave his employers a week to consider his position before resigning. He raised a grievance, but no issues were upheld in the outcome and it was maintained that as he had resigned there was no case to answer.

However, the tribunal found in favour of the employee, describing the behaviour of the schools as a “classic ‘last straw”. The parties agreed on a compensatory overall award of £10,000.

Constructive dismissal is usually viewed as a difficult case for an employee to win at tribunal as they need to point to an act by the employer that so fundamentally undermines the employment relationship that the relationship cannot continue.

In this case, there was a pattern of behaviour which the employee objected to. None of these actions or omissions were ‘classic’ breaches of contract but the judge was still satisfied that, when taken as a whole, they demonstrated a fundamental breach of contract.

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