We reported in February that the 2010 winner of The Apprentice, Stella English, had lodged a claim for constructive dismissal against Lord Sugar. In April the Employment Tribunal decided not to uphold this claim and found in favour of Lord Sugar.
Ms English began working for Lord Sugar's IT firm Viglen after winning the show and subsequently moved to another of his businesses, YouView. Ms English claimed that while working for both of these companies she was given no real duties, that her role within the business was not made clear and that she was given mainly administrative tasks. In September 2011 she was informed that her contract would not be renewed. The Apprentice winner argued that her employment was a sham and that Lord Sugar only gave her a job for PR purposes.
The Tribunal Judge, in a written statement, stated that Ms English's claim should never have been brought and that there was clearly no assurance or suggestion that the winner of The Apprentice would receive direct mentoring from Lord Sugar.
In light of this high profile case it seemed appropriate to examine what does amount to constructive dismissal.
Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee has not been expressly dismissed but resigns and can show that they were entitled to do so by virtue of the employer's conduct.
The behaviour on the part of the employer entitling an employee to resign must amount to a material breach of the contract of employment.
A "material breach" means that it must go to the root of the contract or indicate that the employer no longer wishes to be bound by one or more of the essential terms of the contract.
In addition to such a material breach on the part of the employer, the employee must (i) decide to accept the breach and treat the contract at an end and resign in response to the breach; and (ii) must not delay their resignation, in order to avoid being seen to have waived the breach.
An employee cannot argue that they have been constructively dismissed simply because they did not like something that their employer did or because they did not get on with their employer. Rather their employer must have breached either an express or implied term of the employment contract and this must be a material breach. Whether or not the breach is serious enough to establish that the employee has been constructively dismissed will depend upon the particular facts and circumstances of each case.
Ultimately, Ms English failed to establish that a material term of her contract had been breached and therefore could not show that she had been constructively dismissed.