Constructive dismissal in Ireland is covered by the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977 in section 1(b) as it provides that a dismissal is, among other definitions,
“the termination by the employee of his contract of employment with his employer, whether prior notice of the termination was or was not given to the employer, in circumstances in which, because of the conduct of the employer, the employee was or would have been entitled, or it was or would have been reasonable for the employee, to terminate the contract of employment without giving prior notice of the termination to the employer.”
It is one of the most common employment claims taken by employees against former employers.
Essentially where an employee terminates his employment as a result of his employer’s conduct he may be able to successfully bring a case for constructive dismissal.
It is vitally important to note that in a constructive dismissal case the onus of proof is on the employee as he/she needs to prove that his/her resignation was justified. This can be contrasted with a case of unfair dismissal where the employer must prove that the dismissal was fair and justified.
Examples of potential constructive dismissal cases
Some examples of circumstances giving rise to a claim for constructive dismissal are set out below. However it is vitally important to understand that in all legal cases, the particular circumstances of the case will be a huge factor in success or failure and the examples below are not definitive or exhaustive.
- A unilateral reduction in pay
This may give rise to a case for a successful constructive dismissal case as it may be a material breach of a fundamental clause in the contract of employment.
- A change in job function
A unilateral change in the functions of your job may give rise to a successful constructive dismissal claim.
- Adverse working environment
- Change of work location
Where the contract of employment does not make provision for a change of work location it can give rise to a claim.
- Undeserved warnings
- Sexual harassment in the workplace
- Abuse in the workplace
- Change in work hours
- Conduct of fellow employees.
All of the examples above have given rise to successful claims for constructive dismissal on one occasion or another; however this does not mean that these situations will automatically lead to a successful claim.
Remedies for constructive dismissal
Possible remedies for unfair or constructive dismissal which the EAT (Employment Appeals Tribunal) can order include
- Reinstatement in the job
To bring a case under the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977 you will need to have at least one year’s continuous service with the employer and have exhausted all internal grievance procedures of the company.
You must also bring your claim within 6 months of the date of termination of your employment (12 months in exceptional circumstances) and can bring it to a Rights Commissioner who will make a recommendation or you can bring your complaint directly to the Employment Appeals Tribunal who will issue a determination.
This determination of the EAT can be appealed to the Circuit Court by either you or the employer.
Constructive Dismissal-Will You Win Your Case?
Constructive dismissal cases are difficult to win because the burden of proof is on the employee to prove that she had no other option but to resign due to the unreasonableness of the employer.
The January, 2013 decision of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Daniel O’Gorman v Glen Tyre Company Limited illustrates this.
In this case Mr. O’Gorman was a mechanic who had gone on sick leave in May, 2010 and did not return to work. He resigned from his position in September, 2010.
Mr. O’Gorman brought a case for constructive dismissal.
Decision of EAT
The Employment Appeals Tribunal in its decision referred to the burden of proof on the employee as being a ‘very high one’. It held that the employee must prove that his resignation was not voluntary.
The EAT must look at the contract and decide whether there has been a significant breach of the employment contract going to the root of the contract.
If there has not been a breach by the employer the EAT will then look at the conduct of the employer and employee and decide on the ‘reasonableness’ of the decision of the employee to resign.
The claim by the claimant for constructive dismissal fell under three headings:
- The excessive workload placed on him
- Exclusion in the workplace, for example at lunch breaks
- Being bullied and harassed in the workplace.
Mr. O’Gorman suffered from Asperger Syndrome.
Mr. O’Gorman left work in May, 2010 and did not return due to stress, according to his parents and GP who stated it was work related. However, the employer stated that he did not know this until he received the 2nd medical certificate.
The EAT held that it is crucial in a constructive dismissal case that the employee fully informs the employer of the complaints being made against him and gives the employer the opportunity to resolve the problems.
Interestingly, the EAT in this held that the parents of the claimant had a duty to let the employer know of the issues.
The EAT found no significant breach of contract going to the root of the contract which would have prevented the employee from carrying out his duties as per the contract.
The EAT then examined the conduct of both parties and found that the decision of the employee to resign was not a reasonable one.
The claimant’s claim failed.
Word of warning re resignations
Take legal advice before doing something as drastic as resigning your position of employment and be sure to exhaust all internal grievance/complaints procedures as this will ultimately strengthen any case you bring.
There is also a common law rule that once notice is given by either the employee or employer it cannot be unilaterally withdrawn so if you resign in haste you may repent at your leisure..
Employers-How to Avoid Costly Employment Claims
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