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Constructive Dismissal: Failure To Provide Protective Clothing

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A former dock worker at Inverness harbour has claimed the stevedoring company he used to work for failed to provide protective clothing.  William MacDonald, 35, of Evan Barron Road, Inverness is suing Scotlog Sales Ltd. for unfair constructive dismissal.  He claims "terrible" working conditions at the harbour forced him to quit the company in April last year.

The Press and Journal reports Mr. MacDonald drove a forklift truck for Scotlog.  He claims all the company gave him to work through the Highland winter was "a pair of boots and a high-visibility jacket."

He complained to line manager James Fraser that he felt like an "ice block" after loading a ship at the harbour in November 2007.  But Mr. Fraser responded: "If you don't like it, you know where the gate is."

On one "extremely cold" night later that year, Mr. MacDonald asked Mr. Fraser if he could leave work early because he was so cold.  "With no jacket or thermal gear, it was quite intolerable," he told the employment tribunal.  Mr. Fraser was unsympathetic, however; indeed, he threatened to sack Mr. MacDonald for even daring to make the request.  Mr. MacDonald was only able to continue working because a haulage driver lent him a pair of waterproof trousers.

While Mr. MacDonald twice signed a document to say he had adequate clothing, he said he had no choice but to sign.  "That was the way it was at the harbour," he added.

He claims Scotlog provided staff with snow suits the following Spring, but he alleges working conditions remained unbearable.

What is constructive dismissal?

To prove , Mr. MacDonald must establish that Scotlog committed a serious breach of contract, he did not accept the breach, and he felt forced to resign because of that breach.  Examples of serious breaches of contract in this context include the following:

  • a unilateral pay cut;
  • arbitrary demotion to a lesser role;
  • changing job duties, working hours or place of work without the affected employee's consent;
  • making it impossible for an employee to do their job effectively;
  • failing to give an employee reasonable support to carry out their job without disruption or harassment from co-workers; &
  • forcing an employee to work in conditions where health and safety regulations are not observed.

 cases are notoriously difficult to win, so always seek advice before leaving your job.  Factors such as your employment status, the terms of your employment contract, length of service, and reasons for leaving all require consideration.

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