Management style amounts to constructive dismissal

  • Employee Conduct
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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The Employment Tribunal (ET) had to consider whether a management style which involved humiliation and intimidation could ever be appropriate.

In the case of Mobbs v Weetabix, the employee worked for the organisation from 1993 until his resignation with immediate effect in June 2020.

For the majority of his employment, from 1993 until 2018, there were no issues or concerns. However, this changed when the employee began 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, that could be ‘challenging’ and ‘uncompromising’.

By their own admission, the line manager vocalised frustrations, and could ‘overstep the mark’ with colleagues. He also used a humiliating management style, with the aim of ‘getting the best out of them’.

This led to the claimants 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 However, this was retracted following the line manager’s assurance that their managerial techniques would be changed.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, the employee 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. Around the same time, the line manager was 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 was 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 raised 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.

The ET upheld his claim, finding that the approach taken by the respondent in investigating the grievance and handling the appeal was not within the band of reasonable responses; 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, and not take over a 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. 

The case serves as an important reminder to ensure management styles are reasonable and appropriate; that all allegations are taken seriously and investigated fully; and that managers are applying and adhering to internal policies and procedures.

For more information about how to handle grievances properly and minimise business risk, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like How do I deal with a grievance?

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