Employer ordered to pay a former employee an eye-watering £346,000 after it gave her a highly dangerous ultimatum to resign immediately or face formal capability proceedings.
In February 2017 Nicola Sinclair (NS), an English teacher who was previously employed by the Bishop of Llandaff Church in Wales High School, was awarded £346,000 in compensation.
NS had worked at the school for some years and enjoyed her job. In both 2012 and 2014 she took extended absences from work because she was suffering from mental health problems, her employer being fully aware of the circumstances. In September 2014 a new headteacher, Mr Belli (B), was appointed. Following complaints from some pupils, S was told that she would be formally observed whilst teaching and asked to meet with the new headteacher to discuss concerns.
During that meeting, B issued an ultimatum: resign immediately or face formal capability proceedings. It was a well-known fact that 90% of teachers who had previously been subject to capability proceedings had subsequently been dismissed. Therefore, NS felt she had no option and tendered her resignation. Shortly thereafter, she had a breakdown and was sectioned. She then claimed constructive dismissal and disability discrimination.
The tribunal noted that the school had been aware of NS’s mental health problems. It also accepted that, because of this, the school had a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to help her return to work and put specific support in place to assist her.
However, the school had completely ignored it’s legal duty and when complaints were received it had “treated her with an iron fist” – not the attitude of a reasonable employer.
When B gave the resign or else ultimatum it handed NS a constructive dismissal claim on a plate. This approach also amounted to victimisation and bullying which the tribunal concluded directly caused S’s breakdown. When this was added to the failure to make reasonable adjustments, the tribunal felt the appropriate award was £346,000 – an expensive but avoidable mistake.
Employees must never be put under any pressure to resign. Whilst their departure may be the best option for all involved, the termination of employment must either be voluntary or negotiated; it must not be forced or part and parcel of an ultimatum.
Where concerns are raised about performance, formal capability proceedings should be your last resort not the go-to option. Before you trigger them, work with the employee on an informal basis.
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