Constructive dismissal and the last straw doctrine

Submitted by Matthew Moss on Tue, 10/06/2020 - 11:14
unfair dismissal last straw doctrine

Today we will be looking at the case of the Williams v Alderman Davies Church case study and relevant terms of constructive dismissal as well as last straw doctrine. This case considered by the Tribunal considered whether the previous conduct by an employer is irrelevant if the last straw is entirely innocuous. By the end of this article we should discuss what happened and how differently could it go in event of other circumstances.


What the last straw doctrine is?


The last straw doctrine allows a claimant to rely on the accumulative acts of the employer, even though earlier breaches by the employer may have been affirmed, so long as the final act forms part of a series of events with the last event commonly referred to as being the last straw.


Case study: Williams v Alderman Davies Church 2019


In the case of Williams v Alderman Davies Church, the tribunal considered previous conduct by the employer and its relevance.


The law on constructive dismissal is contained in The Employment Rights Act 1996 section 95 (1) (c) 

‘the employee terminates the contract under which he is employed (with or without notice) in circumstances in which he is entitled to terminate it without notice by reason of the employer’s conduct.’


In the case of Williams v Alderman Davies Church, the tribunal considered whether the previous conduct by an employer is irrelevant if the last straw is entirely innocuous. In this case the Claimant, who is disabled worked as a teacher for the Respondent. He was suspended because of what he was told was a child protection matter and, after a significantly lengthy disciplinary investigation, he subsequently resigned.

The Claimant originally failed in a claim of constructive unfair dismissal before the employment tribunal. There was a final act which was decided to be entirely innocuous by the tribunal. They decided that meant, despite previous poor conduct which had not been affirmed, the Claimant had not resigned in response to a fundamental breach of contract.
However the decision was overturned by EAT, as it was decided the wrong approach had been taken. HHJ Auerbach said: 
‘so long as there has been conduct which amounts to a fundamental breach, [the breach has not been affirmed], and the employee does resign at least partly in response to it, constructive dismissal is made out. That is so, even if other, more recent, conduct has also contributed to the decision’  


Unfair dismissal claim statistics


In the year 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019 a total of 121,111 employment tribunal applications were made. The highest sum awarded in an employment tribunal claim in the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019 was £947,585 and was, once again, awarded in an unfair dismissal claim (bear in mind that the usual statutory cap  does not apply in certain circumstances).  The average award for successful unfair/constructive dismissal claims was £13,704.


How can we help if you faced unfair dismissal? 


We are on hand to assist you whether you are defending or bringing a constructive dismissal claim and will always aim to avoid unnecessary costs, proceedings, and disputes. If you have any further questions, please contact our office on 0161 250 7771 for a free telephone conference and we can then advise you based on your specific circumstances.






Matthew Moss
Matthew Moss
Matthew is a highly motivated individual who assists employees and employers in a variety of employment law matters, including discrimination, unfair dismissal and negotiating settlement agreements.