Is a management style that involves humiliation and intimidation ever appropriate? No, an ET has said, especially when it is compounded by a poor grievance procedure and a failure to address the manager's behaviour.
Section 95(1)(c) of the Employment Rights Act 1996:
An employee is dismissed by their employer if ‘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’.
Western Excavating (ECC) Ltd v Sharp 
To establish constructive dismissal, an employee must show that the employer has committed a breach of contract (express or implied) which causes an employee to resign and that the breach is sufficiently serious to justify the employee resigning or is the last in the series of incidents which justify their leaving.
Yapp v Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
A breach of the implied term of trust and confidence occurs when an employer conducts itself without reasonable and proper cause in a manner calculated, or likely to destroy or seriously damage, the relationship of confidence and trust between employer and employee.
The claimant began working for the respondent in 1993 and continued to do so until his resignation with immediate effect on 11 June 2020.
The claimant has been working with a new line manager in 2018.
Initially, the relationship was fine, but it began to deteriorate, due to the line managers' ‘direct’ management style, which could be ‘challenging’ and ‘uncompromising’. By their own admission, the line manager vocalised frustrations, and could ‘overstep the mark’ with colleagues. They also used a humiliating management style, with the aim of ‘getting the best out of them’. This led to the claimant's first resignation, in September 2018, however, this was retracted following the line manager’s assurance that their managerial techniques would be changed. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Prior to his final resignation, he raised a grievance against his line manager, alleging ‘inappropriate, bullying and intimidating behaviour’. The grievance was dealt with by another manager, who found that there was no evidence of unacceptable and intimidating behaviour, and around the same time the line manager was in fact promoted, which was seen by the claimant as a failure to recognise the seriousness of their behaviour. An appeal to the grievance was raised but was dealt with in an informal manner, with the appeal chair taking a ‘light touch’ that failed to take into account any of the respondent’s internal policies, such as the dignity at work policy. This light touch was also evident in that no notes were taken during the appeal meetings, nor was a thorough outcome letter prepared that considered all aspects of the claimant's grievance.
The manner in which the grievance and appeal were dealt with, and the promotion of the line manager, left the claimant feeling they could no longer work for the respondent, and he resigned with immediate effect. He later brought a claim for constructive unfair dismissal, on the basis that the respondent had breached the implied term of trust and confidence in the employment relationship.
Employment Tribunal (ET)
The ET summarised its role as follows:
“The role of the Tribunal is to consider the length of the process, the evidence gathered by the investigating officer and determine whether it aligns with the outcomes made…I must determine whether Ms Morton’s investigation was within the band of reasonable responses, mindful of Weetabix’s size and resources.”
It was found that the approach taken by the respondent in investigating the grievance and handling the appeal was not in fact within the band of reasonable responses mentioned above; the size and resources available to the respondent should have meant that it would be able to advance an investigation quickly and in a timely manner, as had been promised to the claimant, when in fact it took over one month. There was also a failure in the outcome letter to accurately reflect the evidence gathered in the investigation, which demonstrated that the grievance chair had failed to adequately apply the internal ‘dignity at work’ policy. Finally, the appeal was dealt with in too informal a manner than would be expected of an organisation of the size of the respondent.
In light of the above, the claim for constructive unfair dismissal was upheld.
Note for employers
This case is a reminder for employers on a number of points:
- That they must take action to ensure their managers are applying and adhering to internal policies and procedures.
- That appropriate seriousness is given to serious allegations; and
- That management style can have a significant impact on individuals, and it is within the responsibility of the employer to manage this properly.
As with many human interactions, individual perceptions differ: one person’s view of an appropriate way of getting the most out of people is another’s bullying and harassment. Simply attributing the difference to ‘management style’ and allowing it to continue is not sufficient, the behaviour must be objectively assessed and managed if it is found to be outside what would reasonably be expected in the workplace.
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