The Employment Relations Authority (the Authority) have found that resignations resulting from concerns of personal safety in the workplace and a failure to address these concerns can result in constructive dismissal, paired with a hefty price tag.
In this case, a 17-year-old employee resigned after just 19 days of employment, stating they did not feel safe to return to work. The employee was also not provided with an employment agreement, despite requesting one. The Authority therefore considered what a reasonable notice period for the role is, given the absence of an employment agreement.
In their second week of work, the employee noticed a change in behaviour towards them. The employee described it as a ‘switch being flipped’, their boss began to rage at them, to the point that they would be terrified. They were physically intimidating and threatening.
When matters did not improve from the next week, the employee decided that they would resign for their safety. The employer tried to dissuade them, adding that they could show them how to do things the way their boss liked, and that they were just having a bad week. However, the employee believed things were too far gone.
The Authority applied the test of justification, considering whether the employer’s actions, and how they acted, were what a fair and reasonable employer could have done in all the circumstances at the time the incident occurred.
The Authority found that as the matter was brought to the attention of the employer, they had the opportunity to address the situation, however failed to do so. This breached the duty to provide a safe workplace environment.
It was determined that it is reasonably foreseeable that if concerns around personal safety were not being addressed, that the employee would not be prepared to work under those conditions.
Based on the above, the claim of unjustified and constructive dismissal was made out.
The employee was awarded compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings of $16,000 – a significant amount. Loss of wages for no contract or notice period being given were also awarded along with other lost remuneration. The total payable amount to the employee was $25,035.
This case highlights the importance of providing a safe and healthy work environment for employees, and to address and act on situations that are brought to your attention as an employer, so as not to breach your duty of good faith.
It also shows the importance of ensuring you provide your employees with employment agreements and keep accurate records.
In this case, it wasn’t necessarily what the employer did, but what they did not do, which breached their duty of good faith.