Apprentice brings unfair dismissal claim against Lord Sugar
A winner of The Apprentice competition, Stella English, is currently pursuing Lord Sugar for unfair dismissal. HR professionals and Employment Lawyers who watch ‘The Apprentice’ have commented for some years on the appalling lack of HR skills demonstrated in the programme. Whilst it may well provide excellent entertainment, The Apprentice certainly does not reflect good HR practice. If employers behaved to their staff in the way which Lord Sugar behaves towards his potential apprentices on the television programme, he would be receiving an awful lot of Employment Tribunal claims.
It is therefore of some amusement that a winner of the competition is indeed now pursuing one of Lord Sugar’s Companies for unfair dismissal. From a legal point of view the interesting point about this claim is that it is a claim for ‘Constructive Dismissal’. ‘Constructive Dismissal’ is where an employee resigns in response to a serious breach of the Employment Contract and consequently the law then allows the employee to treat that resignation as if it were a dismissal, hence the title of ‘Constructive Dismissal’.
Constructive dismissal claims are notoriously difficult for ex-employees to prove partly because the burden of proof is always on them, whereas in a normal unfair dismissal case, the burden of proof is on the employer to show that he has acted reasonably.
In 9 cases out of 10 of Constructive Dismissal, the term of the contract which the employee accuses the employer of breaking is an implied term, i.e. one that is not actually written down in any contract of employment but which is implied by the law into all contracts of employment. This is the mutual implied term of ‘trust and confidence’. This implied term states that both the employee and the employer must be entitled to have full trust and confidence in their dealings with each other. It is a fairly vague concept, albeit quite a lot of case law has now grown up around it.
From an employers point of view, you cannot afford to simply give out a sigh of relief when a troublesome employee resigns because they might well come back and bite you through a constructive dismissal claim.
From an employee’s point of view, we never recommend anybody to resign their employment without taking full legal advice if they think that they have a constructive dismissal claim because the issues surrounding it are complicated.