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White lies

Many of us have told a white lie or two at some stage – a fib designed to spare someone’s feelings. However, in the case of Rawlinson v Brightside Group Ltd the lie tied the employer in knots and eventually led to a successful constructive dismissal claim.

Mr Rawlinson was employed as Group Legal Counsel in an insurance broker business, Brightside. His employer decided to dismiss him because of concerns over poor performance, which it hadn’t raised with him. Brightside decided to tell a white lie over the reason for his dismissal. This was partly to soften the blow and partly to encourage Mr Rawlinson to work his notice period so it had time to recruit a replacement and do an orderly handover. Brightside told Mr Rawlinson that a decision had been made to review its approach to its legal service and that it would use external lawyers more in future instead. He was given notice of his dismissal.

” An employer is under a duty to act in good faith and not to mislead its employees. “

Mr Rawlinson thought that if there was going to be an outsourcing of legal work there would be a TUPE transfer – meaning that his employment would transfer to the new law firm. He asked his employer for the name of the new firm. This left Brightside in a tricky position as there was no new firm! Mr Rawlinson resigned because of the employer’s conduct in advising him that his employment terminated because of a TUPE transfer, which he considered tantamount to breach of contract and automatic unfair dismissal. He did not work his notice period.

The EAT held that he had been constructively dismissed. An employer is under a duty to act in good faith and not to mislead its employees. While there was no obligation for Brightside to give the reason for dismissal, once it had chosen to do so, it needed to be truthful. The EAT did recognise that there might be less serious white lies which might not amount to a breach of trust and confidence, but this was not one of them.