The Tribunal found that British Airways had created a unilateral contract. This arises where one party makes a promise that it will grant something, in the event that particular conditions are met. In this case, the promise was to grant voluntary redundancy, in the event that the ballot supported the cost-cutting proposals.
The failure to uphold Mrs Stoate’s application for voluntary redundancy was thus a breach of contract and she was awarded £14,914, which was an enhanced amount that British Airways had committed to where Voluntary Redundancy was granted.
This case demonstrates that employers need to take care regarding the language used when inviting applications for voluntary redundancy. If the Respondent intends to retain a discretion as to whether to grant voluntary redundancy this ought to be clearly stated whenever applications for voluntary redundancy are invited.
In addition, the Claimant had pursued a constructive dismissal claim. This arises where an employee resigns but argues that it was in response to conduct by the employer that amounts to a fundamental breach of the contract of employment.
The Claimant alleged that the employer had fundamentally breached the contract of employment by failing to uphold her application for voluntary redundancy but also relied on alleged failures in respect of holiday pay and not being given a contract of employment or job description. The Employment Tribunal found however that the failure to offer voluntary redundancy had occurred some months before her resignation. By continuing to work the Claimant was deemed to have affirmed the breach of contract and thus could not rely on this. The Tribunal also decided that the Claimant’s resignation letter was rather vague and did not clearly state what the reason for resignation was. The Claimant had resigned prior to the completion of the grievance process. Her decision to raise a grievance was consistent with the continuation of the contract of employment. As the Respondent had not completed that process, it was unclear what had then caused the Claimant to resign. As such British Airways successfully defended the claim for constructive dismissal.
This case illustrates that it will be difficult for employees to succeed with a claim of constructive dismissal if they resign prior to the completion of a grievance process and also if the resignation letter does not clearly refer to the matters that will be later relied on as breaches of contract.
A link to this case can be found here.