Employers can dismiss for ‘last-straw’ failures: a brief guide

The High Court has recently confirmed that the so-called ‘last-straw’ doctrine applies to employers as much as it does to employees. In brief, the doctrine allows an employee to resign in response to an event that in itself may be insubstantial but that taken together with a chain of earlier events amounts to a fundamental breach of contract. The court made clear that employers too may rely on an employee’s repudiatory behaviour as the basis for bringing the employment to an end.

As far as we know, the court’s decision in Kearns v Glencore UK Ltd is the first to deal with an employer’s reliance on the last-straw doctrine. In effect, the decision levels the playing field between employers and employees in this context.

There are lessons for employers to learn from this decision, as well as from a number of related recent judgments dealing with gross misconduct claims. We summarise these lessons briefly below, and in detail in the body of this briefing…

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