What is constructive dismissal?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.
Word of warning to employees
Take legal advice before doing something as drastic as resigning your position of employment and exhaust all internal grievance/complaints procedures as this will ultimately strengthen any case you bring.