Constructive dismissal is currently in the news because Stella English, winner of the TV show, The Apprentice, is reported to be suing Lord Sugar. She resigned from his empire in October last year, ten months into her contract, which she claims he breached. It seems this is because he did not give her the high level position that Apprentice winners expect.
Can She Win?
If she wins the case, she can expect to receive a significant amount for damages and may also be able to claim for unfair dismissal. Of course Lord Sugar will have big guns for lawyers so the result is not a bygone conclusion, but win or lose, his reputation has had a knock.
To win a case for constructive dismissal, an employee must prove one or more of the following: a serious breach of contract; unreasonable changes to working hours or location; having to work in hazardous conditions; or being bullied or harassed. There must be no doubt that the resignation was because of an employer’s inappropriate behaviour.
How to Avoid a Constructive Dismissal Case
Such a case can usually be avoided if you don’t use the Lord Sugar style of dealing with your employees. If you take the trouble to recognise and address employee concerns, you can usually work things out so that, if you do have to lose someone, it can all be done amicably. If the worst happens, and you receive a letter of resignation, respond immediately, in writing if necessary. Let him or her know that you have valued their contribution and ask if they will consider withdrawing the resignation. Offer an invitation to a meeting to discuss the problems and see if they can be worked out together.
It probably won’t come to that if your HR policies and procedures are regularly updated, with changes always publicised among your staff. Serious changes should first have a consultation period, in which you discuss the reasons for needing the changes and whether there is any other way round the problem. Don’t dismiss ideas that come from lower down in the hierarchy without giving them an airing. It’s not unknown for the office gopher to think up something that can be tweaked and made workable. And don’t forget to give credit where it is due.
You need to be open with staff and not leave them guessing if there is tension about something. They will remain loyal if you have a reputation for fairness and consistency.