The Court of Appeal has confirmed the subjective nature of the test of whether it is reasonable for an employee to refuse an offer of suitable alternative employment and that a desire to take advantage of redundancy benefits will not necessarily mean that an employee has not given adequate consideration to a job offer.

Background

A potentially redundant employee will lose their right to a statutory redundancy payment if they unreasonably refuse an offer of suitable alternative employment. 

Devon Primary Care Trust v Readman

Mrs. Readman had been employed by Devon Primary Care Trust since 1976.  She had worked in a community based role since 1985, and her most recent job title was Community Modern Matron.  This was a senior role which involved both community-based matron duties (45 percent of the role) and management/leadership duties (55 percent of the role).

In November 2007, her role was put at risk of redundancy, and she was offered a role which was considered by the Trust to be a suitable alternative.  The role was identical in terms of responsibilities, status and pay with the only difference being that it would be hospital rather than community based.

Mrs. Readman rejected the role on the basis that her career path and qualifications were in community nursing, and that she did not wish to work in a hospital.  The Trust considered her rejection of the role to be unreasonable and withheld her statutory redundancy payment.  Mrs. Readman brought a claim for a statutory redundancy payment.

The Employment Tribunal found that the alternative role offered to Mrs. Readman was suitable and that her refusal of it was unreasonable as:

  • she had not attempted to explore what aspects, if any, of her current role would be lost and what other duties might be required; and
  • the refusal was "against her desire to emigrate and the desire if possible to be able to take advantage of her redundancy rights."

Mrs. Readman successfully appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the issue of reasonableness, and the Trust appealed.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal.  It confirmed that the Tribunal applied the correct test in deciding whether Mrs. Readman had unreasonably refused the offer of employment.  Reasonableness depends on factors personal to the employee and is assessed subjectively from the employee's point of view at the time of the refusal.  The test is not the attitude of a reasonable employee but the reasonable objections of the particular employee.

However,  the Tribunal had not applied the test correctly:

  • It had not addressed the central question of whether it was unreasonable for Mrs. Readman to work in a hospital.  It was not enough for the Tribunal to simply state that she had not made any considered attempt to explore what aspects of the new role would be different.
  • It had not properly addressed the relevance of Mrs. Readman's emigration plans, or her desire to take advantage of her redundancy rights.  The Tribunal should have made a finding as to whether her desire to emigrate was the reason for her dismissal and the vague statement that her decision was "against her desire to emigrate" was not sufficient.  The fact that she wanted to benefit from her redundancy payment would not necessarily defeat her entitlement to it; an employee may be conscious of the benefits of a redundancy payment but still give adequate consideration to a job offer.

Comment

The Court of Appeal's decision highlights the importance of looking at precisely why the offer was rejected by the employee, and the reasonableness of that reason (or those reasons, as the case may be).  It is also a useful reminder that the issue of reasonableness is to be considered in light of the employee's particular circumstances, and that the range of reasonable responses test does not apply.  The fact that an employee wishes to take advantage of a redundancy payment and move to a different country or job will not necessarily preclude their entitlement to a redundancy payment, provided they have given adequate consideration to a job offer and have a good reason for not wanting the job.