Appeal Judgment in Humby v Barts Health NHS Trust Highlights Errors in Constructive Dismissal and Victimisation Claims Handling

Citation: [2024] EAT 16
Judgment on

Introduction

In the Employment Appeal Tribunal case of L Humby v Barts Health NHS Trust ([2024] EAT 16), a range of legal principles were scrutinized and applied surrounding issues of discrimination, unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal, and the handling of amendments and time limits in tribunal procedures. This article aims to dissect the judgment and elucidate the critical legal principles engaged, providing a cogent synthesis for practitioners.

Key Facts

Mr. L Humby, the appellant, was demoted from a Band 6 role to Band 5 by the respondent NHS Trust following a restructure. Humby contended that his reassignment and demotion amounted to constructive dismissal and victimisation due to previous tribunal claims he had made against the employer. He attempted to amend his claims to include more instances of alleged victimisation, which were initially refused. His claims of constructive unfair dismissal and victimisation were dismissed at the final hearing.

Constructive Dismissal

The principle of constructive dismissal involves an employee resigning due to the employer’s breach of contract, specifically the implied term of mutual trust and confidence. An employee can claim constructive dismissal when the employer’s conduct amounts to a repudiatory breach, fundamentally undermining the employment contract.

Victimisation

Victimisation occurs when an employer subjects an employee to detrimental treatment due to the employee performing a protected act, such as making a discrimination claim. It is essential to assess whether there is a causal link between the protected act and the detriment claimed.

Continuing Acts

In discrimination law, conduct extending over a period is considered a continuing act, which affects the time limit within which a claim must be brought. A claimant may argue that there is a continuing situation or a state of affairs of discrimination, which could justify a later claim than ordinarily permitted by statutory time limits.

Amendment and Time Limits

Tribunal procedures allow for the amendment of claims under certain conditions. An amendment may be refused if it brings up distinctly new issues, requiring different evidence and potentially prejudicing the respondent. Regarding time limits, tribunals may extend the time for filing a claim if it is just and equitable to do so.

Affirmation of Contract

In cases of alleged constructive dismissal, an employee may, by delaying the resignation or showing a willingness to continue under altered terms, imply affirmation of the contract and waive any alleged breach.

Hogg v Dover Principle

This principle asserts that certain employer actions might constitute an actual dismissal rather than a constructive dismissal, even if not labeled as such, a concept the tribunal must consider.

Outcomes

After analyzing the appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found multiple errors in the initial judgments from both the preliminary and the final hearings. Key outcomes include:

  1. Amendments: The refusal to allow the claimant to amend his claims was overturned, with specific reference to the proposed amendments which involved critical witnesses also engaged in the retained parts of the case.

  2. Continuing Acts: It was held that the earlier incidents did form a series of continuing acts, creating an arguable case contrary to the preliminary judgment.

  3. Victimisation: The approach to victimisation was deemed incorrect, with the judgment failing to evaluate the evidence holistically and not adequately applying the burden of proof or the test for detriment.

  4. Constructive Dismissal: The Tribunal erred by not identifying an outright breach of the express terms of the contract due to unilateral demotion and by not considering whether this action constituted an actual dismissal.

  5. Affirmation: The decision on affirmation was deemed unsafe due to a failure to consider all relevant circumstances surrounding the claimant’s continued employment post-notified demotion.

Based on these errors, the case was remitted to a fresh Tribunal for a complete re-hearing.

Conclusion

The Employment Appeal Tribunal in L Humby v Barts Health NHS Trust has comprehensively navigated through complex employment law issues, ultimately determining that the original judgments contained significant errors in legal analysis and practical application. As a result, the case has been directed to be entirely reassessed. This underscores the intricate nature of employment claims and highlights the necessity for meticulous adherence to legal principles governing discrimination and employment law to ensure a fair trial and just outcomes.

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