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Avoiding claims for constructive dismissal

One of the winners of The Apprentice has announced that she plans to sue Sir Alan Sugar for constructive dismissal after being let go from her six-figure job. Are there any steps that employers can take to head off constructive dismissal claims from former employees?

Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee is forced to leave their job against their will because of their employer's conduct. In order to prove constructive dismissal, an employee needs to show that their employer has committed a serious breach of contract, that they felt forced to leave because of that breach and that they have not done anything to suggest that they accepted this breach or change in employment conditions. Claims can often be difficult to prove, but if successful they can give rise to damages for wrongful dismissal - and if an employee has more than 12 months of service, they are also entitled to claim for unfair dismissal.

So what can employers do to guard against such claims?

Writing in HRZone, Claire Best and Karen Plumley-Jones of law firm Bond Pearce LLP offer some hints for employers on avoiding constructive dismissal claims. Firstly, it's essential to have effective procedures governing performance management, discipline and grievance and dismissal - it's also important to communicate these procedures to staff and ensure that they are implanted consistently and fairly. Second, it's strongly advised to try and nip any problems in the bud - so try and make sure that any issues are addressed promptly, and work together with the member of staff concerned to resolve any problems before they escalate. Third, in the case that you suspect a resigning employee may be planning to lodge a claim for constructive dismissal, you might want to contact them in writing to ask them to reconsider their decision to resign and confirm their decision in writing, or invite them in for a discussion.

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