CONSTRUCTIVE DISMISSAL

Introduction
‡ A contract may be terminated in many ways by both the Employer and the Employee ‡ The Employee·s right to terminate his Contract of Employment includes termination by notice i.e. resignation.

.Resignation ‡ Means the termination of the COE and the leaving of the employment by the employee VOLUNTARILY.

‡ The resignation of the Employee was caused by the conduct of the Employer. ‡ Hence the resignation was not voluntary. ‡ But that resignation is misleading for it is not voluntary.The strange case of constructive dismissal ‡ Constructive dismissal occurs when an Employee terminates the COE by appearing to ´resignµ. .

Locus classicus ‡ The classic case on Constructive Dismissal in Malaysia is the case of Wong Chee Hong v Cathay Organisation .

He joined the Company on 31 December 1968 as a junior executive assistant on a salary scale of RM450. he was promoted to the post of assistant supervisor on the 1st of July 1970.Wong Chee Hong v Cathay Organisation (1988) ‡ FACTS ‡ Wong Chee Hong was an employee of the Company. responsible to one Mr. In that capacity he was required to act as manager of the respondent company's Odeon theatre at Batu Pahat. . Later he was further promoted and became the supervisor of Cinema Operations Central and East Coast States. the Company's manager at its Kuala Lumpur office. After a short spell of service in Ipoh. Chu Chi Wang.

In that position he was listed as one of the several heads of departments within the respondent company's organization. . As personnel and industrial relations manager the appellant's duty was to negotiate on behalf of the respondent company for a new collective agreement and to implement it. on 1 July 1980 he was further promoted to be the respondent company's personnel and industrial relations manager (P & IRM) for the whole of Malaysia.‡ Again. 69 of 1985 dated 15 April 1985. Negotiations were held and these ended in the Industrial Court Award No. all of whom including the appellant reported directly to the managing director.

who curtly told him (the appellant) that he was being transferred to the Cinema Operations Department and. Cheah Kong Fatt. Kuala Lumpur and to take charge of the theatre from one Mr. the MD in a letter dated 22 May 1985 informed him that with effect from 1 June 1985 the appellant was seconded to manage the respondent company's cinema theatre at the Overseas Union Garden. On inquiry by the appellant as to his new job functions. To confirm this new arrangement. Kan Man Fatt.‡ The trouble started after the appellant had taken steps to implement the award. . as such. he would be accountable to one Mr. the MD wrote a letter to the appellant to that effect dated 14 May 1985. On 14 May 1985 he was called to the office of the managing director (MD). and that his own department (Personnel and Industrial Relations Department) would be given to his assistant. He was also told in the same letter that the terms and conditions of his service remained unchanged.

working papers and documents relating to the Personnel and Industrial Relations Department to him (MD) before he (the appellant) left to take over the charge of the cinema theatre at the Overseas Union Garden. Kuala .‡ On 30 May 1985 the MD again abruptly issued an instruction to the appellant to hand over all files.

" .‡ Unhappy at the turn of events arising out of what the appellant thought that he was merely doing his duty in negotiating a new collective agreement and taking steps to implement it. ‡ The MD replied denying dismissing the appellant because his terms and conditions of service remained unaltered and further because the secondment to manage a cinema theatre was "a normal part of managerial exchange of staff between the cinemas and head office so as to promote a better understanding among office staff and the operational level cinema staff. on 31 May 1985 he wrote to the MD stating that he was not prepared to accept the transfer order and regarded the MD's instructions as a breach of contract entitling him to hold the respondent company liable for dismissing him without just cause or excuse.

10 June and 29 June. Cheah Kong Fatt. This prompted Mr. the Divisional Manager Cinema Operations. to whom the appellant was required to report. to write two letters to the appellant. .‡ On 1 June the appellant did not report for duty as instructed by the MD. regarding the appellant's refusal to accept the transfer order.

‡ He gave evidence that the rank and status of a cinema manager were below that of an Executivemore so that of a Head of Department: the salary scale for cinema managers. ranged from $440.400.00 per month only. he rejected the transfer as ‡ (i) It was a demotion done to humiliate and degrade him.100. ‡ (iii) It was dismissal mala fide amounting to unfair labour practice. ‡ (ii) It was veiled dismissal without just cause or excuse.00 per month.00 to $1.‡ The Employee contended that although the terms and conditions of his COE had not changed. . for example. and he was already drawing $2.

Moreover the fringe benefits such as car loans and personal accident policies were much higher for executives. .‡ The conditions of work were different: hours of work were longer and uncertain. and cinema managers had to work on public holidays whereas an executive need not. there was only one rest day a week for a cinema manager as opposed to the one and half days he was enjoying. In the circumstances the Claimant considered that the Company had repudiated his existing contract of service.

which is the relevant section applicable to unfair dismissal. . 55 of the Industrial Relations Act 1967. the Court examined S.SUPREME COURT ‡ The Court had to consider whether the dismissal was fair or not. In doing so.

"dismissal" and "dismiss" shall be construed in accordance with the following provisions of this section.. 55 ‡ Meaning of unfair dismissal ‡ 55. but only if. in circumstances such that he is entitled to terminate it without notice by reason of the employer's conduct.. an employee shall be treated as dismissed by his employer if.. (1) In this Part.. with or without notice.: ‡ (a) . 56 applies. ‡ (2) Subject to subsection (3). except as respects a case to which s.S. . ‡ (c) the employee terminates that contract. ‡ (b) .

WCH ‡ The Supreme Court recognised the right of an employee to terminate his contract of service and therefore to consider himself as discharged from further obligations if the employer is guilty of such breach as affects the foundation of the contract or if the employer has evinced or shown an intention not to be bound by it any longer. .

‡ The Court further said that : ‡ ´It was an attempt to enlarge the right of the employee of unilateral termination of his contract beyond the perimeter of the common law by an unreasonable conduct of his employer that the expression "constructive dismissal" was used. (c) never used the words "constructive dismissal".µ . It must be observed that para. This paragraph simply says that an employee is entitled to terminate the contract in circumstances entitling him to do so by reason of his employer's conduct.

In such situation the employee is entitled to regard the contract as terminated and himself as being dismissed. .‡ Thus it would be a dismissal if an employer is guilty of a breach which goes to the root of the contract or if he has evinced an intention no longer to be bound by it.

he was reduced to a mere cinema-manager. From being the head of one of the respondent company's departments. represented the respondent company in the negotiations. but a demotion. obtained an award. a position which he had held some fifteen years ago as a junior executive.‡ Now how do we apply the common law principle to the facts of the case under appeal. First we have to see the facts in their proper perspective. . There can be no doubt. The reward for lawfully performing his duties was not promotion. and implemented it. as found by the Industrial Court that the appellant was lawfully doing his duty as the personnel and industrial relations manager of the respondent company when he negotiated a new collective agreement.

This is not a transfer but a demotion. worthy of a minimum self respect would accept a transfer with a demotion in rank. stripped of all the powers he once enjoyed amongst his fellow employees. But with respect we cannot accept that either of these two factors or both of them entitled the respondent company to insist upon the appellant to obey its instruction.‡ No doubt his terms and conditions of service remained unaltered and the transfer was part of the terms of his employment. a punishment meted out without any disciplinary action . The respondent company must have known that no man.

which relegated the applicant to a position of lesser responsibilities. albeit on the same terms and conditions of service. sounds so hollow that it belies its truth and sincerity.‡ The Company's plea that the appellant's terms and conditions of service remained unaffected. . which transfer the appellant refused to accept is a dismissal. Such relegation of responsibility with its consequent humiliation and frustration and loss of estimation amongst his fellow employees made it impossible for the appellant to carry on being employed under the respondent company's organization. in our view. It clearly shows that not only the respondent company was displeased with the appellant but it also exhibited the respondent company's intention not to be bound by the contract any longer. ‡ Thus in our judgment the transfer. This is therefore a dismissal. In other words he had been driven out of his employment.

provided such departure was caused by the Employer·s conduct. .‡ Wong Chee Hong has been applied in subsequent cases and is now authority for the proposition that constructive dismissal is within the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court even though the COE was summarily terminated by the employee and not the employer. It is immaterial that the employee left with or without notice.

etc. ‡ Substantial change in job functions or work duties ‡ Downgrading ‡ Forced to resign or retire ‡ Dismissed under the guise of redundancy ‡ Threatening with dismissal if the employee does not resign from the job. intended to humiliate the employee. ‡ Behaviour by the employer. ‡ Transfer to a different location if such transferability is not clearly stated in the Letter of Appointment.Examples of CD ‡ Reduction of salary ‡ Demotion to a lower post. . with or without reduction of salary. fringe benefits.

‡ However.Constructive Dismissal (contd) ‡ In cases of dismissals. He has to establish the following. the burden is on the Employer to prove that such dismissal was with just cause or excuse. it id for the employee to prove. in cases of CD. .

1. breached the contract in respect of one or more of the obligations owed to the Employee. . Breach of express or implied terms or both. EMPLOYER·S CONDUCT ‡ That the Employer had by his conduct.

2. . BREACH GOES TO THE FOUNDATION ‡ The terms breached goes to the foundation of the contract. The said breach of contract must be important to warrant resignation of the workman or it must be the last incident in a series of events that lead to him to leave his employment. or the Employer has breached one or more of the essential terms of the contract.

. Note: He left his employment solely due to the breach of contract and not for any other reason not connected to the issue concerned. TERMINATION OF COE BY EMPLOYEE ‡ As a result of the breach. the employee (´workmanµ) leaves the employment.3.e he has treated the contract as terminated. i.

notwithstanding the breach. . APPROPRIATE TIME ‡ He left at an appropriate time soon after the breach complained of. that is. he did not stay on in such circumstances as to amount an affirmation of the contract.4.

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