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Published 16 May 2023 | 2 min read
Is rejecting a work-from-home request enough to warrant constructive dismissal?
In a recent case brought before the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), an employee at an Auckland marketing agency claimed constructive dismissal after her work-from-home request was rejected. However, the ERA ruled in favor of the employer, stating that the employee failed to prove that she was unjustly treated.
The employee, a senior account manager, made the request to work from home in March 2021, but her managing director declined it, assuming that she accepted the decision. Instead, the employee shared her dissatisfaction with her colleagues, expressing her unhappiness about the rejection. This led to an uncomfortable situation within the company, as one staff member reported that the employee made inappropriate negative comments about several colleagues.
The managing director attempted to address the situation by discussing the conversations with other employees. It was discovered that the employee had also requested the title of "sales lead" under her name, which breached the trust of the company, as leads were to be allocated by the sales manager. The employee eventually admitted that her actions were a mistake.
In April 2021, a meeting took place between the employer and the employee to discuss the issues raised. During the meeting, the employee decided to resign, allowing the managing director to inform the staff that she was leaving because she wanted a job that allowed her to work from home. The resignation letter was delivered shortly after the meeting, and the staff members were informed of her departure.
However, later that night, the employee sent an email to her boss, expressing regret and attempting to retract her resignation. Unfortunately, the managing director denied her request, as the company had already acted upon her resignation. Feeling that she had no other recourse, the employee raised a grievance with the ERA, claiming constructive dismissal.
In a ruling made in late April, the ERA sided with the employer. The authority stated that the employee had not proven that she was disadvantaged or constructively dismissed. The ERA did not believe that the company had intentionally pressured the employee to resign. Furthermore, in considering the retraction of resignation, the ERA noted that employers have the right to take into account repeated acknowledgments of wrongdoing by an employee.
Ultimately, the ERA's decision highlighted that the employee's claims were not substantiated. The employer was found not to have unfairly forced the employee to choose between resignation and dismissal. Additionally, considering the circumstances surrounding the retraction of resignation, it was determined that the employer's decision was not unfair or unreasonable.
This case serves as a reminder of the importance of clear communication and trust between employers and employees. It emphasizes the need for open dialogue when addressing work-related concerns and the significance of following proper procedures. Constructive dismissal claims require substantial evidence, and employers should strive to maintain a fair and respectful work environment to avoid such disputes.