Legal Updates

Employment – Unfair and Constructive Dismissal – ‘Last Straw’ Principle

An employee who had been employed since 1997 tried unsuccessfully to claim that she had been unfairly and constructively dismissed in the case of Hughes v Gibson and Others (trading as Blanford House Surgery) [2006].

In early June 2004, a number of comments were made in the presence of the employee that led her to indicate to her employer her intention to resign from her position. On 4 June 2004, the employee’s practice manager informed her in writing that her resignation was not accepted. Subsequently, on 28 June, she withdrew her resignation.

She filed a grievance against her employer and on 29 October she received a letter from management regarding her complaints. The letter acknowledged some of her complaints, informed her that some of her complaints could not be made out, and told her that there would be a meeting the following week in which the issues highlighted in her grievance could be further discussed.

Shortly after the receipt of the letter, she informed management of her intent to seek a hearing before an employment tribunal. On 29 November, she resigned from her position, claiming that she had been unfairly and constructively dismissed. The tribunal held that the letter of   29 October had not handled the employee’s grievance appropriately. The tribunal ruled that:-

§        the letter had been part of a series of events

§        there had been a breakdown in trust and confidence between the employee and the employer

§        the employee had in fact been unfairly and constructively dismissed.

However, the employer appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The main issue considered in the appeal was whether or not the tribunal had erred in concluding that the letter of   29 October was the final act required to bring into effect the ‘last straw’ principle, even though she had reaffirmed her employment contract when she withdrew her resignation on the 28 June.

The appeal was allowed due to the fact that in order for the ‘last straw’ principle to be applied, there has to be more than one act which is capable of being complained of. The severity of the acts complained of is not that important, as long as cumulatively they amount to a breach of contract.

Because the employee had reaffirmed her contract when she withdrew her resignation, the tribunal had been incorrect to apply the ‘last straw’ principle. The retraction of her resignation had prevented any of the acts prior to 28 June being considered, which left only one act which was capable of being complained of – the letter of 29 October. Therefore there was only one act in the series of events required for the ‘last straw’ principle, meaning it could not be applied here. It was held that the letter on its own did not amount to unfair or constructive dismissal.

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© RT COOPERS, 2006. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.


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