Lewis v Motorworld Garages Ltd: CA 1985

The court considered the circumstances under which an employee might resign and successfully claim constructive dismissal.
Glidewell LJ said: ‘This breach of this implied obligation of trust and confidence may consist of a series of action on the part of the employer which cumulatively amount to a breach of the term, though each individual incident may not do so. In particular in such a case the last action of the employer which leads to the employee leaving need not itself be a breach of contract; the question is, does the cumulative series of acts taken together amount to a breach of the implied term? ‘ This is the ‘last straw’ doctrine.’ and
‘This case raises another issue of principle which, so far as I can ascertain, has not yet been considered by this court. If the employer is in breach of an express term of a contract, of such seriousness that the employee would be justified in leaving and claiming constructive dismissal, but the employee does not leave and accepts the altered terms of employment; and if subsequently a series of actions by the employer might constitute together a breach of the implied obligation of trust and confidence; is the employee then entitled to treat the original action by the employer which was a breach of the express terms of the contract as a part – the start – of a series of actions which, taken together with the employer’s other actions, might cumulatively amount to a breach of the implied terms? In my judgment the answer to this question is clearly ‘yes’.
It follows, in my judgment, then in the present case the industrial tribunal should have asked themselves the question whether the employer’s treatment of the employee starting with the demotion in November 1981 including reduction in pay, the loss of the use of the use of an office and the various memoranda of complaint in 1982, culminating in that of 2 August 1987, cumulatively constituted a breach of the implied obligation of trust and confidence of sufficient gravity to justify the employee in leaving his employment in August 1982 and claiming that he had been dismissed. Did the Tribunal ask themselves this question, and if so how did they answer it? In so posing the question, I realise that I am, with respect, disagreeing with the approach of the appeal tribunal.’
Neill LJ said: ‘Moreover where an employee complains that he has been constructively dismissed, it is necessary for him to prove that he terminated the contract in circumstances such that he was entitled to terminate it without notice by reason of the employer’s conduct: see section 55(2) of the Act of 1978. The conduct must be repudiatory and sufficiently serious to enable the employee to leave at once. On the other hand it is now established that the repudiatory conduct may consist of a series of acts or incidents, some of them perhaps quite trivial, which cumulatively amount to a repudiatory breach of the implied term of the contract of employment that the employer will not, without reasonable and proper cause, conduct himself in a manner calculated or likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of confidence and trust between employer and employee: see Woods v W.M. Car Services (Peterborough) Ltd. [1981] ICR 666 in the Employment Appeal Tribunal.’


Glidewell LJ, Neill LJ


[1986] ICR 157, [1985] IRLR 46


England and Wales


ApprovedWoods v W M Car Services (Peterborough) Ltd EAT 1981
An employer will be guilty of a breach which entitles an employee to resign and claim constructive dismissal if the employer behaves in such a way as to destroy the relationship of trust and confidence. An employer shall not ‘without reasonable and . .

Cited by:

CitedHorkulak v Cantor Fitzgerald International QBD 31-Jul-2003
The claimant sought damages for constructive dismissal. He said that verbal abuse he had suffered from the manager damaged his health and destroyed the relationship of trust and confidence.
Held: The manager was dictatorial and saw it as his . .
CitedLogan v Commissioners of Customs and Excise CA 23-Jul-2003
The respondent had at the close of the claimant’s case submitted that it had no case to answer. The tribunal agreed and discharged the claim without hearing from the respondent. The employer appealed the EAT’s decision to allow her appeal.
CitedNottinghamshire County Council v Meikle CA 8-Jul-2004
The claimant was a teacher who had come to suffer a sight disability. She complained that her employers had failed to make reasonable accomodation for her disability, and subsequently she resigned claiming constructive dismissal and damages for . .
CitedRDF Media Group Plc and Another v Clements QBD 5-Dec-2007
The defendant had sold his business to the claimants and in part consideration had accepted restrictive covenants as to his not competing with them. On indicating his desire to leave the claimants and work for a competitor, made statements which the . .
CitedMorrow v Safeway Stores Plc EAT 21-Sep-2001
The claimant appealed against dismissal of her claim of unfair constructive dismissal. She complained of having been publicly told off. The court considered whether this amounted to a breach of a fundamental term of her contract entitling her to . .
CitedMuschett v Parkwood Healthcare EAT 16-Mar-2009
EAT UNFAIR DISMISSAL: Constructive dismissal
The Employment Tribunal did not approach the question of constructive unfair dismissal in a last straw case by reference to the steps in Omilaju. To take an . .
CitedNeary and Neary v Dean of Westminster 9-Jun-1999
Financial wrong-doing short of dishonesty can be a basis for summary dismissal. Gross misconduct sufficient to justify dismissal must in the particular circumstances so undermine the trust and confidence of an employer that he should no longer be . .
MentionedCoulson v Newsgroup Newspapers Ltd QBD 21-Dec-2011
The claimant had been employed by the defendant as editor of a newspaper. On leaving they entered into an agreement which the claimant said required the defendant to pay his legal costs in any action arising regarding his editorship. The defendant . .
CitedMeikle v Nottingham City Council EAT 14-Apr-1994
The appellant challenged dismissal of her claim for indirect racial discrimination based on two grounds. First, that the Tribunal’s decision was perverse; in other words that it was a decision which, on the evidence before it, no reasonable tribunal . .
CitedMeikle v Nottinghamshire County Council EAT 19-Aug-2003
EAT Disability Discrimination – Less favourable treatment. The appellant brought proceedings against the Respondents alleging that they had failed to make adjustments to her workplace and conditions so as to . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 29 April 2022; Ref: scu.185214