Viewers of the BBC’s popular show the Apprentice might recall the moment when Stella English was told ‘you’re hired’ by Lord Alan Sugar, beating fellow contestant Chris Bates and landing a £100,000 a year job with the multi-millionaire businessman.

It seems her dream job was short-lived however: Ms English resigned from her position last October and it has now been reported that she has lodged a claim for constructive dismissal with an Employment Tribunal.

According to reports, it seems that the relationship between Ms English and Lord Sugar broke down following his refusal to renew her contract, which was due to expire in December last year.  In addition, it has been reported that Ms English was unhappy with the roles that she was given within Lord Sugar’s companies, and was allegedly disgruntled at having to report to someone who was more junior than her. What the outcome of her claim will be remains to be seen, however in order to be successful she will have to satisfy the test for constructive dismissal, which I have commented on below.

Constructive dismissal is an area of law which is often misunderstood and is often used as a threat by employees against employers.

Claims for constructive dismissal involve the employee terminating their contract of employment with or without notice, in circumstances where they were entitled to do so by reason of the employer’s conduct. It is not sufficient however for the employee to merely show that the employer’s conduct has been unreasonable in some way: the employee must demonstrate that the employer broke a material (significant) term of the contract of employment and that this is what caused the employee to leave.

However, two key points for employers to bear in mind are:-

  • For the employee to see through their threat they will require to resign and therefore cut off their income stream. For that reason it is an unattractive option and if an employee is sufficiently dissatisfied with their job that they would like to leave then they are often going to be better off merely looking around for alternative employment and then leaving when they have somewhere else to go to. Due to the way that Tribunals calculate awards if an employee has another job to go to then it is often not going to be economical for them to raise a Tribunal claim for constructive dismissal;
  • employees often perceive that if an employer acts unreasonably then that amounts to constructive dismissal. It is entirely possible for an employer to act unreasonably without being in material breach of the employee’s contract of employment. That said, the more unreasonably that an employer acts then the greater the risk that the conduct will amount to constructive dismissal. However, it is to be expected that there are ups and downs at work and upsets and disputes will occur from time to time. Whilst each case depends very much on the circumstances, in the majority of cases these sorts of upsets will not amount to constructive dismissal.

It will be interesting to hear how Stella English’s claim progresses albeit I suspect there is a good chance that it will be settled without a full Tribunal hearing.