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Employment Law Case Update: Rawlinson v Brightside Group Ltd

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Mr Rawlinson joined Brightside Group Ltd as Group Legal Counsel in December 2014. When Mr Wallin was appointed as CEO of Brightside in January 2015, he expressed concerns with Mr Rawlinson’s performance and started an internal investigation. Mr Rawlinson was aware that senior management had concerns which needed to be addressed, but the details were not shared with him. When the internal investigation concluded in March, Mr Wallin decided that Mr Rawlinson’s position was untenable because of the issues with his performance. Brightside intended, in due course, to hand Mr Rawlinson his three months’ notice, and for him to work out this period in order to hand over to his replacement - but Mr Rawlinson was not informed of the intention to dismiss.

By May, Mr Wallin became frustrated with the lack of contingency planning and relayed his concerns to Mr Rawlinson’s line manager, Mr Johnston. In a meeting, Mr Johnston informed Mr Rawlinson that Brightside had reviewed its approach to managing its legal service requirements and he would no longer be working for Brightside. In order to ‘soften the blow’ he was told in the future legal advice was going to be outsourced. Mr Rawlinson was then handed his three months’ notice and told his dismissal would be confirmed in writing.

But Mr Rawlinson took the view that the outsourcing of Brightside’s legal services meant under TUPE regulations he would begin working for the law firm that Brightside was outsourcing to. As the work was not going to be outsourced Brightside refused to give the name of the law when asked by Mr Rawlinson. Mr Rawlinson considered this a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence in employment contracts and stated that he would not work his notice period. After his employment was terminated Mr Rawlinson submitted a Data Subject Access Request which informed him of the real reason behind his dismissal.

Mr Rawlinson issued a claim against Brightside at the Employment Tribunal for constructive wrongful dismissal. The Tribunal rejected Mr Rawlinson’s TUPE claim, finding that there was no relevant transfer. With regards to the contract-based claim, it found that Brightside’s failure to forewarn Mr Rawlinson of any performance concerns and the potential for dismissal did not amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

Mr Rawlinson appealed, arguing that Brightside were under a duty to act in good faith and not mislead him. The EAT noted that Brightside’s approach to informing Mr Rawlinson about his dismissal had been consistent with an intention to maintain trust and confidence: it wanted the relationship to continue for the notice period. However, they concluded that the implied duty of trust and confidence included an obligation not to deliberately mislead employees. The EAT therefore found in favour of Mr Rawlinson’s dismissal claim. Employers, do note - you may think you’re helping by not telling an employee the real reason for a dismissal but this badly directed kindness can have unintended consequences.

This article is from our weekly Employment Law Newsletter published on 14/12/2017.  If you would like to receive this newsletter directly and be kept up to date with recent cases and Employment Law news, email events@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.