Case round-up by Eversheds

This week’s case round-up

Fishy Business
Wilde v Pure Fishing (UK) Ltd, EAT, All ER (D) 51

Wilde was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct, following allegations of
bullying. His tribunal claim for unfair dismissal was successful. At a hearing
held to decide the amount of compensation, Wilde explained that he had been
unable to secure new employment in the 10 weeks after dismissal, despite
registering with a job centre and looking for advertisements for job vacancies.

Wilde was subsequently informed that he might lose his entitlement to
benefits, having been dismissed for gross misconduct, and he therefore decided
to set up his own fishing tackle business. His earnings from the business were
initially much lower than those paid by his employer.

The tribunal found that Wilde could have found employment had he made
reasonable efforts, and that his decision to set up in business on his own, at
a lower income, was foolhardy and unreasonable. Therefore, his compensatory
award was limited to a period of 10 weeks following dismissal.

Wilde successfully appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. In concluding
that Wilde’s decision to set up in business was unreasonable, the EAT found
that the tribunal had failed to consider a number of relevant factors: at that
stage, Wilde had been dismissed for gross misconduct and had not yet been
vindicated; his previous employment had been long-term and he was unable to
describe his dismissal in favourable terms to a prospective employer; he had no
other recent experience and no useful references; and his age. These factors
would have put him at a serious disadvantage compared with other job seekers.

Consequently, the tribunal’s decision to limit his compensation in this way
could not stand. The matter was sent back to a tribunal for a rehearing on the
assessment of compensation.

A safe place to work
Thanet District Council v Websper, EAT, All ER (D) 246 (Jan)

Websper worked for the council in the revenue and benefits recovery section
of its finance department. In 1998 he went off sick, suffering from
work-related stress. The following year the council considered opportunities
for his return to work. Websper declined to return to the finance department,
however, the only positions offered to him fell within that department.
Consequently, he resigned and brought tribunal proceedings alleging unfair
dismissal and breach of contract.

He was successful. The tribunal found that by insisting that he return to
his former department, the council had breached an implied term that it would
safeguard his health and safety. Websper was entitled to resign on the grounds of
this breach of contract. The council appealed to the EAT, refuting that Websper
could not safely return to his former department.

The council’s appeal was dismissed. It was common ground that work in the
recovery section had caused Websper’s ill-health and he strongly insisted that
he could not work anywhere in the finance division safely without encountering
the same problem. The council had failed to adequately address his concerns
and, by only offering him positions in that department, had failed to discharge
its contractual obligations to provide him with a safe place of work.

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