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Williams v Governing Body of Alderman Davies Church in Wales Primary School
The case of Williams v Governing Body of Alderman Davies Church in Wales Primary School considers the issue of ‘last straw’ and constructive dismissal.
Mr Williams was a primary school teacher who suffered from a stress related mental disability. He was suspended by the school in April 2015. The only information he received at the time was that he was being suspended because of a child protection matter. The suspension was lifted in July 2015, but Mr Williams was not allowed to return to teaching duties. Meanwhile, the school continued with a disciplinary investigation. It wasn’t until October 2015 that Mr Williams was informed of the allegation against him: that he had manhandled a child. Mr Williams submitted a grievance about his employer’s handling of the process, and the disciplinary process was put on hold. His grievance was not successful.
The school discovered that Mr Williams had previously downloaded numerous documents from its systems, so re-suspended him in February 2016 and started a second disciplinary investigation. One document had been shared between Mr Williams, fellow teacher Mrs Sydenham, and the school’s trade union representative.
Mr Williams’ grievance appeal was also unsuccessful. He sought more information about the allegations against him but the school declined his request, and so Mr Williams sent them a letter of complaint.
Mr Williams resigned on 16 June 2016. He had found out that Mrs Sydenham was not allowed to contact him. He had understood that this was because the school wanted its disciplinary investigations against each of them to conclude before allowing such contact.
Mr Williams’ Employment Tribunal claims against the school included constructive dismissal. He relied on his discovery that the school would not allow Mrs Sydenham to contact him as the ‘last straw’ which caused him to resign in response to a series of breaches of his employment contract or a course of conduct which together amounted to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. The Tribunal found that the act Mr Williams claimed was the last straw was innocuous and reasonable, so could not have contributed to the employer’s previous actions. Accordingly, Mr Williams did not resign in response to the employer’s breach of trust and confidence, so he was not constructively dismissed.
Mr Williams appealed, and his case went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
The EAT held that where an employer’s conduct together constitutes to a fundamental breach of contract, a claim of constructive dismissal can succeed against them. This is the case even if the employer’s more recent conduct does not breach the implied term of trust and confidence but is what prompts the employee to resign. To succeed, the employee must not have waived the employer’s earlier breach and must have resigned in response to that earlier breach, at least partially.