15 August 2012 #Employment
The Employment Appeal Tribunal has recently considered whether an employer committed a fundamental breach of contract when it mistakenly interpreted the meaning of a contractual document. This was the issue in Roberts –v- The Governing Body of Whitecross School. The case confirms that even a honest and genuinely held view about the contractual effect of a document can still put the employer in fundamental breach of contract.
Mr Roberts had worked for Whitecross School for a number of years and went on sick leave due to work-related stress and depression.
The school was aware that a collective agreement was in operation which provided that full pay was payable for “absences arising from accidents, injury or assault at work” and that the view of the National Union for Teachers was that this agreement applied to work-related stress. Nevertheless the school took the view that the collective agreement did not apply to Mr Roberts’ illness and wrote to him to confirm that he would receive half pay. As a result, Mr Roberts resigned.
The EAT’s decision
The EAT concluded that the school’s decision to pay half pay was a fundamental breach of contract, and noted: