Law guide: Workplace

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Constructive dismissal

Constructive dismissal

Constructive dismissal

Constructive dismissal happens when an employee is forced to quit their job against their will because of their employer's conduct. Find out what you can do if you feel that you have to leave your job.

What is constructive dismissal?

If you're forced to quit your job because of the way you're treated, it's called constructive dismissal. Although there's no actual dismissal by the employer, the end result is the same as if you'd been sacked. It's often very hard to prove that your employer's behaviour was so bad as to make you leave, so you should get legal advice before leaving your job.

The reason for leaving your job must be serious – there must be a fundamental breach of your contract. Examples include:

  • A serious breach of your contract (e.g. not paying you or suddenly demoting you for no reason)
  • Forcing you to accept unreasonable changes to your conditions of employment without your agreement (e.g. suddenly telling you to work in another town, or making you work night shifts when your contract is only for day work)
  • Bullying, harassment or violence against you by work colleagues
  • Making you work in dangerous conditions

The employer's breach of contract may be one serious incident or the last in a series of less important incidents that are serious when taken together.

Unfair and wrongful dismissal

A constructive dismissal may be both an 'unfair' and a 'wrongful' dismissal. An unfair dismissal is where the employer sacks you (or forces you to leave) without good reason or fails to follow proper procedures. Wrongful dismissal is when your employer breaches your contract in dismissing you (or forcing you to leave).

You can make both an unfair constructive dismissal claim and a wrongful constructive dismissal claim as long as you qualify to do so. In most cases you need at least 2 years' continuous service before you can make an unfair dismissal claim.

A wrongful dismissal claim is made in the same way as a breach of contract claim. A claim of unfair constructive dismissal is handled in the same way as any other unfair dismissal claim except that there is more likely to be a dispute about whether there was a dismissal (or behaviour that forced you to leave) or not.

Compensation for unfair dismissal is meant to put you financially where you would have been if you hadn't had to resign. Compensation for wrongful dismissal usually only covers your pay for the notice period. With either claim you won't get compensation for hurt feelings.

What to do if your employer's behaviour makes you want to quit

Speak to your manager

Leaving your job should be the last resort. First, speak to your manager and see if you can resolve the problem that way. If the problem's with your manager, talk to:

  • Their manager
  • Your company's HR department
  • An employee representative (e.g. a trade union official), if you have one

Grievance procedures and mediation

Try to sort out the problem with your employer through your company's standard grievance procedure. In many cases you will be required to have raised the issue through a grievance procedure before taking legal action.

If this doesn't work, and your employer agrees to it, you could try mediation through Acas, where a specialist will try to help you and your employer sort out the problem.

Legal action

If talking to your employer or mediation doesn't work and you feel you have to quit, you should first get legal advice to see if you'll have a case for constructive dismissal. Ideally, you should then leave immediately, otherwise the employer may argue that by staying, you've accepted the conduct or treatment.

Also, avoid 'jumping the gun' (resigning before the actual breach of contract occurs) as the employer may then claim there's been no dismissal.

Claiming benefits if you're forced to quit your job

If you leave your job, your Jobcentre Plus can delay your Jobseeker's Allowance for up to 26 weeks. Make sure they understand what's happened and why you had to leave. If you're taking your case to a tribunal, it's a good idea to give them copies of your completed tribunal application forms.

If you can't claim Jobseeker's Allowance, you may be able to claim a hardship payment (a reduced amount of Jobseeker's Allowance).

Where to get help

Acas offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.

Seek legal advice from a solicitor or advice agency.

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

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