Billington v Michael Hunter and Sons Limited, EAT [16 October 2003]


Invitation to resign: Mrs Billington was a bathroom sales assistant. Following a number of customer complaints, she was called at very short notice to attend a disciplinary hearing and received a written warning.

Two weeks later, an informal meeting took place, once more questioning her performance. Afterwards, her manager suggested that she think about her ability to carry out her job and that, if she decided to resign, she would be treated favourably. Billington resigned claiming constructive dismissal, largely based on her manager’s comment.

The Employment Tribunal rejected her claim. While it acknowledged the company’s approach was ‘unfortunate’, there was no deliberate act that broke the implied trust and confidence between the company and Billington. She appealed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) criticised the original tribunal’s approach. It reaffirmed that, where a fundamental breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence is alleged, there are two critical questions to consider. The first is whether the employer’s conduct undermined trust and confidence. If it did, then the second question is, was there reasonable and proper cause? Suggesting resignation, said the EAT, would inevitably destroy Billington’s trust and confidence.

The tribunal was wrong to conclude otherwise, but had also failed to consider whether the company’s conduct was ‘without reasonable and proper cause’. The case would need to be reheard.

 

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