Readman v Devon Primary Care Trust
Mrs Readman was employed by Devon Primary Care Trust in community nursing from 1985 until 2008. In November 2007, she was told that she was at risk of redundancy because the trust was reorganising its leadership structure.
Mrs Readman worked a statutory trial period in the lower grade position of community nursing team manager, but she did not think that it was suitable and resigned. She was offered a role at her original grade as modern matron. Mrs Readman turned down the job offer because she did not want to work in a hospital setting.
The question arose as to whether or not Mrs Readman was entitled to a statutory redundancy payment.
The employment tribunal had to consider whether or not:
- the offer of employment was an offer of suitable alternative employment; and
- Mrs Readman unreasonably refused that offer.
The employment tribunal found that the first question is largely objective, albeit that the position must be suitable in relation to the particular employee, bearing in mind skills, aptitude and experience. The tribunal said that the second question is based on whether or not the particular employee had sound and justifiable reasons for refusing the offer.
The employment tribunal concluded that, as the position of modern matron was in a small community hospital where Mrs Readman already had her office base and it was largely similar to her previous job, it did constitute suitable alternative employment. It only differed in that it was not community based. The tribunal considered that it was not reasonable for Mrs Readman to turn down the offer. Mrs Readman appealed.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) agreed that the position was suitable alternative employment. However, the EAT held that the tribunal failed to consider the core reason given by Mrs Readman for refusing the job, namely that her career path and qualifications were in community nursing and she had no desire to work in a hospital setting. Consequently, Mrs Readman’s appeal succeeded.
The EAT found that the desire not to work in a hospital setting did provide Mrs Readman with a sound and justifiable reason for refusing the job and that she was entitled to receive a redundancy payment.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that, in a redundancy situation:
- where an employer makes an offer of alternative employment and the employee accepts or rejects that offer, the contract of employment will not come to an end if the employer offers either to renew the employee’s contract of employment or to re-engage him or her under a new contract; but
- where the employee unreasonably rejects an offer of suitable alternative employment, he or she forfeits the right to a redundancy payment.
The EAT stressed the importance of keeping issues of job suitability and the reasonableness of the employee’s refusal of an offer separate. An employee can reasonably refuse an offer of employment that a tribunal concludes was a suitable offer of employment. Suitability requires an objective assessment of whether or not, having regard to the nature of the job offered (status, content and terms, especially wages, hours and location) and the employee in question, the job is a match for the employee.
Whether or not an employee’s refusal of a suitable job was reasonable depends on the subjective reasons that the particular employee has for rejecting it. This will cover factors relating to the employee’s personal circumstances, such as their health, as well as their personal and family commitments.
This case underlines the fact that, just because an offer of alternative employment is objectively reasonable, that does not mean that the employee will be acting unreasonably for refusing it, provided that he or she does so for sound and justifiable reasons. It does not matter that the tribunal considers that a reasonable employee would have accepted the offer.
Alan Chalmers, employment partner, DLA Piper