Case law updates

Failure to manage performance and poor investigation combine to demonstrate constructive dismissal

In Williams v Meddygfa Rrhdbach Surgery a medical practice manager has won a constructive dismissal case against her former employer after claiming she was bullied by a “brusque and blunt” doctor.

Williams had worked for the Surgery for almost 30 years, first as a receptionist before being promoted to practice manager in 1996. From around 2009 the practice encountered financial difficulties and lost two of partners to retirement. In June 2014, Williams was called into a meeting with the surgery’s partners to discuss her performance, although she was not offered training or professional management guidance at this point.

Towards the end of that year she asked the partners whether she might be made redundant. Despite their misgivings about her, they were concerned they may not be able to recruit a suitable replacement. Instead, an experienced practice manager was then seconded part-time to assist her. However, in July 2015, Williams had a difficult meeting with the partners, which included a Dr Smits raising his voice and banging his hand against a door in frustration. Williams took sick leave not long after and wrote to the local health authority complaining of bullying. She returned to work, eventually on full time basis and submitted a formal written grievance outlining the earlier examples of Dr Smits’ behaviour. Two days after receiving the outcome letter from the grievance procedure, Williams resigned, stating her trust and confidence had “completely broken down”.

The tribunal found Williams was constructively unfairly dismissed and the doctors had failed to manage Williams’ performance for some time before she resigned. Although she was not a “trained, experienced or accomplished” practice manager when she was promoted, the judgment noted she was “well thought of” by the doctors there at the time. Additionally the Tribunal said that the investigation was not conducted thoroughly, as those appointed to do so had been unduly influenced by the practice partners.

Although the tribunal noted that Williams was “never very highly regarded” and considered to be “over-promoted” by the partners, they had “closed ranks” to support Dr Smits. Whilst the claimant’s performance “could have been better … the respondents mismanaged and bullied her” and she was not given a fair chance to improve “free from oppression and uncorroborated suspicion of misconduct.”