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07th October 2015

Implied Contractual Duty of Trust and Confidence v Written Obligations under the Contract of Employment

Contractual dutyImplied Duty

It is a well-established principle that a contract of employment is subject to an implied term that an employer must not, without reasonable and proper cause, act in such a way that is likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between itself and the employee.

Stevens v University of Birmingham

Under the facts of the recent case ‘Stevens v University of Birmingham’, the Claimant was employed by the Defendant to lead a research programme involving clinical trials, however such employment was dependent on his retaining an honorary contract with an NHS trust under which he carried out his clinical duties. The Claimant was suspended following allegations of breaches of good clinical practice in the conduct of the trials. He was invited to an investigatory meeting and was informed that he could be accompanied by a trade union representative or a university employee, in line with the ordinance setting out the Defendant’s disciplinary procedure. The Claimant argued that in keeping with the clinical academic conditions forming part of his contract of employment with the Defendant, he was subject to both the disciplinary procedures of the Defendant and the trust, and that he was allowed to be accompanied to the hearing by an MPS representative. The Defendant refused the Claimant’s request and the Claimant brought a claim before the High Court alleging that his rights had been breached.

The court decided in the Claimant’s favour and declared that the Defendant’s adherence to the literal terms of the employment contract in dealing with the Claimant’s request ‘amounted to a breach of the implied and overarching contractual term that an employer should do nothing to seriously damage the relationship of mutual trust and confidence without good and sufficient reason.’

Employers should be aware

Following the case of ‘Stevens v University of Birmingham’, employers need to be wary of a strict adherence to rules and procedures relating to disciplinary matters, or other terms of the employment contract. In order to avoid a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence, the employer must be seen to act fairly, and possibly with some leniency, when making decisions on procedural requests made by employees in respect of their contract. If there is not a good or sufficient reason for the employer to deny the request then they should avoid doing so.

Oliver McCann, Employment Partner, Napthens LLP – QCS Expert Employment Law Contributor

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