The Court of Appeal has held that, where there is ignorance of rights in that an employee didn’t know that she was entitled to the National Minimum Wage, she nevertheless resigned because she wasn’t paid it.
The employee, in this case, was an uneducated and illiterate Tanzanian national. She was employed as a domestic worker for approximately four years before resigning. She successfully claimed unlawful deductions from wages (arising from the employer’s failure to pay the NMW), holiday pay and failure to allow proper rest. However, the employment tribunal dismissed her claim for constructive unfair dismissal.
In relation to her constructive dismissal claim, which was advanced on the basis of the failure to pay the NMW, the tribunal said that this failure was a repudiatory breach of contract, but that she had not known that she was entitled to the NMW and, therefore, had not established that she had resigned in response to that breach. When asked whilst giving evidence why she resigned she gave no response.
She lost an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal before appealing further to the Court of Appeal.
Ignorance of NMW entitlement was not a bar
Allowing the appeal, the Court of Appeal said that she was not required to show knowledge of her minimum wage rights. However, it said that, insofar as the tribunal’s reasoning was based on the point that she did not appreciate that she was being paid less than she was entitled to be paid, that was an error of law. It was because she was ignorant of her legal rights under UK legislation.
To rely on that person’s ignorance of their rights as meaning that they could not have resigned in response to what was a repudiatory breach of contract amounted to an error of law.
The Court of Appeal said that this was a case in which there was an egregious breach (that is, shockingly low pay) and the circumstances were such that it was obvious that she had resigned in response to it.
As she had not given express reasons for resigning in evidence, the Court of Appeal was able to apply the idea of egregious performance and obviousness, in order to find in her favour.
Case reference: Mruke v Khan