Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Reasonable management instructions

For an employee to claim constructive dismissal, s/he must show that the employer acted in a way that no reasonable employer would act and so a fundamental term of a contract has been broken. In a recent employment appeal tribunal case (NSPCC v Dear 2010), a highly skilled social worker employed by the NSPCC, who failed to fill in a correct referral form and whose writing was anyway illegible, was given an oral warning and told that his notebook must be signed off by his line manager. He lost his case against the charity for constructive dismissal.

He might, and did, regard the instruction as 'an act of humiliation' and 'infantilising,' and as a punishment incorrectly imposed, but the employment tribunal ruled that it was a reasonable step for an employer to take, bearing in mind the overriding objective of protecting children.

Experienced staff not infrequently regard new procedures as an imposition and unreasonable. Tribunals, though, will consider the matter objectively. It is not how the employee feels but whether the employer has reasonable and proper cause for the action that matters.

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