An IT support manager who resigned from his job after being refused access to a company van has been awarded £10,000 at Exeter Employment Tribunal for constructive unfair dismissal.
Mr A Rawlinson worked in IT support for a chain of schools run by the Catch22 Multi Academies Trust between 2009 and 2017. His job involved transporting IT equipment between the sites, for which he used his personal car. When his request for a company van to help carry out his duties was declined, he resigned.
Rawlinson was the sole IT support worker for five school locations, after losing his assistant and office following a series of mergers. By February 2017, Rawlinson felt his role had changed significantly from the one he was originally hired to do and he was now being underpaid. He was on a 40-week per year pro rata contract but contended that he was now effectively working full time.
On 27 February 2017, Rawlinson requested to be added to the schools’ senior leadership team and to have his salary raised, after providing details of a comparator who was earning £41,000, compared with his annual salary of £21,400. He raised this issue on two separate occasions, but his managers neither replied to nor acknowledged his requests.
In May 2017, Rawlinson renewed his car insurance for his personal vehicle. In doing so, he discovered he was not covered for the trips between school sites to ferry equipment, including whiteboards and printers, because he was not running his own business.
Rawlinson approached Dominic Jennings, transport manager of the academy, and agreed with a vehicle supplier that he could be provided with a van at a cost to the organisation of £1,000. Jennings sent this request to his line manager for approval, but it was dismissed out of hand in an email that copied in Rawlinson.
Rawlinson described the email as a “hammer blow” and was later signed off work with stress.
On 7 June 2017, Rawlinson wrote to Graham Payne, executive head teacher of the schools, noting a “continued lack of appreciation for his role from the [senior leadership team]”, adding that “[he] was left out of all planning, leaving him with feelings of anger and frustration and consequent loss of motivation”.
The refusal of a van left him unable “to battle any longer”, and he requested terms to leave his employment.
Rawlinson gave his employers a week to consider his position before resigning on 23 July 2017. He brought a grievance, which was heard on 23 November 2017, but no issues were upheld in the outcome. The trust maintained that he had resigned rather than being constructively unfairly dismissed.
However, the tribunal found in favour of Rawlinson, describing the behaviour of the schools as a “classic ‘last straw”. Judge Housego described the brusque manner of the van refusal, against the backdrop of previous behaviour, as a “breach of mutual trust and confidence”.
The parties agreed on a compensatory overall award of £10,000.
“Constructive dismissal is usually viewed as a difficult case for an employee to win at tribunal,” Keith Williams, partner in the employment law team at Greenwoods GRM, told People Management. “They need to be able to point to an act by the employer that so fundamentally undermines the employment relationship that the relationship cannot continue.
“In this case, there was a pattern of behaviour (ignoring the employee’s repeated requests for clarity, and a review of his role, ending in a refusal to provide him with a van) which the employee objected to. None of these actions or omissions were ‘classic’ breaches of contract but the judge was still satisfied that, when taken as a whole, they demonstrated a fundamental breach of contract.”