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Constructive Dismissal Reasons: Test Reaffirmed

Bringing or defending a claim for constructive unfair dismissal can be a tricky business at the best of times. Much of this difficulty for both an employee in claiming and an employer defending can be in diving what the substantive reasons are for the resignation in response to a purported fundamental breach of contract on the part of the employer.

In the recent case Employment Appeals Tribunal (“EAT”) of Wright v North Ayrshire Council the question was raised as to whether in order to be successful in bringing a claim for constructive unfair dismiss, must the alleged contractual breach by an employer be the principal reason for an employee’s resignation?

The EAT was able to confirm that no this need not be the case, it is adequate that the fundamental or ‘triggering’ breach played a part in the dismissal.

In Wright the Claimant worked as a Care Home Assistant up until the point of her resignation. The initial Employment Tribunal (“ET”) found that three grievances previously raised by the Claimant had not been properly dealt with by the Respondent Council. The EAT was content that the original ET had considered these contractual breaches serious enough to be considered as repudiatory.

The original ET had however thrown out Ms Wright’s claim on the basis that her caring responsibilities for her ailing partner, who had recently suffered a stroke, were in fact the effective cause of her resignation and so found that this circumstance and not the conduct of her employer was the genesis of the matter.

The EAT in overturning the decision of the original ET, ruled that the first tribunal had misinterpreted the meaning of the “effective cause” principles as clarified in prior case law. Re-stating such principles the EAT confirmed that rather than being the sole effective cause, it is sufficient that the repudiatory breach, in this case a failure to correctly action Ms Wright’s multiple grievances, was an effective cause though there is no firm requirement that such conduct need be the most important or sole reason.

The EAT also considered that the extent of part played by the employer’s breach will be taken into account when calculating compensation for the claim of constructive unfair dismissal.


While the employer in Wright probably felt somewhat hard done by in considering that at least in part the reason for the Ms Wright’s resignation was the health and care requirements of her partner, it must still be stated that in failing to consider Ms Wright’s grievances properly it was always potentially heading for a fall. The conventional wisdom arising out of this is twofold; first, always take employee grievances seriously and secondly be wary of trying to divert blame away from significant contractual breaches in defending constructive dismissal claims. 

If you need advice in bringing or defending an employment tribunal claim please contact me for a free consultation on 0113 350 4030 or at samira.cakali@scesolicitors.co.uk

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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