University Lecturer Called ‘mad as a box of frogs’ Claims Constructive Dismissal
Hello all and welcome back to our weekly case law update. This week’s case looks at an employment law and HR lecturer who was awarded £168,000 for a constructive unfair dismissal and disability claim.
Mrs. E Aylott was employed by BPP University as an Associate Lecturer. She started the job in 2009 and left in 2019 after resigning. She subsequently submitted a claim for constructive unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
Mrs. Aylott historically suffered with mental health conditions. She was first diagnosed with depression in 1990 after an accident that ended her first career as a physiotherapist. In 2006, she suffered from post-natal depression after the birth of her first child, and in 2007 her mental health was compounded by the death of her husband. Throughout her employment with BPP, she took several periods off because of her mental health.
The Claimant’s case focused on several events that when viewed cumulatively, breached the implied term of trust and confidence within her employment contract. These were:
- The Claimant was informed that her line manager called her “mad as a box of frogs”;
- The Claimant was not paid non-contractual sick pay;
- In the context of recent sickness absence and poor mental state, the Claimant was told that someone of her age and experience should be able to manager their workload;
- The failure to reduce the Claimant’s workload or provide her with additional support after this was recommended by a Doctor;
- The failure to heed indications that the Claimant was not coping; the Claimant had indicated that she drunk heavily to cope with stress and that she had suicidal ideations;
- The attempt to steer the Claimant towards termination of her employment under a settlement agreement rather than refer her to Occupational Health;
- The superficial grievance investigation, consisting of a limited interview process with the outcome containing material inaccuracies; and
- The failure of the appeal outcome to consider all of the Claimant’s arguments, which was sufficient to amount to a last straw.
Throughout the judgement, Employment Judge Adkin referred to the failure of the Respondent to properly refer the Claimant to occupational health as a primary issue. Instead, the Respondent offered the Claimant a settlement agreement and re-engagement as a contractor. This was indicative of the Respondent’s desire to terminate the Claimant’s employment as opposed to attempting to resolve the situation. Such behaviour clearly erodes the implied term of trust and confidence. It suggests that the Respondent had lost confidence in the Claimant’s ability to carry out her work.
This was also something the Claimant considered important. At the remedies hearing (which lasted 4 days), she said:
“By the time I was finally referred to occupational health I had severe depressive illness with anxiety and panic attacks, with thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation and drinking heavily. If I had received OH support earlier, I could have recovered quietly, as I wished to do, and returned to BPP, so there is a direct correlation between the lack of OH support and my financial and career status now.”
At the remedies hearing, she was awarded a total of £168,000. This comprised £71,000 compensation for future financial losses, £32,000 for past financial losses, an £20,000 injury to feelings. BPP have appealed the decision.
This case is a good example of how a tribunal can take a holistic view in determining whether there has been a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. Taken individually, none of the above factors would have had that effect. However, when taken together, they can be seen to have fundamentally undermined the relationship of trust and confidence between employer and employee.