Constructive Dismissal is the term used when an Employee terminates his or her employment based on the conduct of the Employer. Unlike in an Unfair Dismissals case where the dismissal is deemed to be unfair unless proven otherwise and justified by the Employer – in Constructive Dismissal instances the onus is on the Employee to prove that their resignation was based on poor Employer conduct.
If it is found that the Employee has been Unfairly or Constructively Dismissed then he or she could either be awarded compensation for the loss of earnings suffered as a result of the termination of employment or could be placed back in their original role. Reinstatement is not common practice (particularly in Constructive Dismissal cases) due to the expected tension/ strained relationship between the Employer and the former Employee and due to the amount of time that is likely to have lapsed between the termination of the employment and the resolution of the case. Often the Employee has entered in to a new employment contract elsewhere.
It is important for Employers to be aware of everything that occurs in their workplace as even other Employees’ behaviour that goes unchecked by the Employer could contribute to a Constructive Dismissal case.
Constructive Dismissal scenarios can be extremely costly to employers as was proven in a recent Health Service Executive (HSE) case.
The claimant in this case was the Head of Ambulance Services for the HSE. The claimant, who lives in Derry, inappropriately used a HSE fuel card for private purposes and, while this would likely have seen him disciplined had he remained in employment, the claimant discovered that he had been found guilty at an early stage and, fearing dismissal/a Garda inquiry, he resigned from his position in 2010.
The claimant’s employer (the HSE) found that he was guilty without first giving him the opportunity to defend himself which meant that the process was seriously defective. The HSE exposed itself with this fundamental flaw in its process and, after his resignation in March 2010; the former Head of Ambulance Services claimed that he had been Constructively Dismissed.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal found that the claimant, who resigned from his approximately €100,000 per year role out of anxiety after learning that he was found guilty of the fuel card offence, had in fact been Constructively Dismissed. However, the Tribunal did not award any financial compensation because of the nature of the employee’s actions prior to his departure.
The claimant appealed the decision not to compensate and, in December 2013, the Circuit Civil Court awarded €250,000 (minus €50,000 for the misuse of the HSE fuel card) because of the catastrophic affect that the Constructive Dismissal had on the claimant’s career.
On the 22nd January 2014, the Health Service Executive was dealt a further blow when the Circuit Civil Court ordered it to pay the legal costs. The HSE is liable for an estimated €200,000 in legal costs that built up during the course of the Court and Employment Appeals Tribunal Hearings.