A constructive dismissal occurs when the employer breaches the employee's contract and the employee resigns as a result. In GMB Union v Brown, the EAT has held that an employer's refusal to depart from its grievance procedure amounted, in the circumstances, to constructive dismissal.
Ms Brown was employed by the GMB as a Regional Political and External Relations Officer. However, her line manager (Mr Brennan) decided that there was no longer any need for this office and that her role should be changed. Ms Brown was not happy about this decision and although various meetings were held between Ms Brown and her line manager during the summer of 2003 they could not agree.
In September 2003 Ms Brown went on sick leave suffering from "occupational stress." A formal grievance was raised in February 2005 regarding the way that her change of role had been handled and specifically Mr Brennan's behaviour towards her.
The first step of the Union's Dignity at Work Procedure stated that the employee should raise the complaint formally with the senior manager concerned. Ms Brown did not want to deal with Mr Brennan, as he was the perceived cause of her problems.
The Union insisted that she follow the procedure and Ms Brown resigned on the 20 May 2005 and brought a claim for constructive unfair dismissal.
The tribunal found that the Union's failure to allow Ms Brown to follow an amended process amounted to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. The Union should have considered the impact of the first step of the procedure on Ms Brown and allowed her to miss out the first step. Ms Brown was awarded compensation from the date of her resignation.
The EAT held that the Union had undermined trust and confidence by insisting that Ms Brown discuss her grievance with the line manager about whom she was making a complaint.
Impact on Employers
Employers should take note that they cannot consider that their grievance procedure is set in stone and that, should special circumstances arise such as those in this case, then they should be prepared to be flexible.