Edwards v Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Here is some bad news for employers. In Edwards v Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust  EWCA Civ 571 the Court of Appeal held that a dismissed consultant could sue for wrongful dismissal and claim uncapped damages (£4.3 million). The usual rule is that such damages are limited by the contractual period of notice and a statutory claim for unfair dismissal.
Edwards was a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon. His contract had a threemonth notice period. In addition it had a contractual term entitling him to a disciplinary process with a legally qualified chairman, a member who was a clinician of the same standing as himself and to be legally represented. Ignoring all these requirements Edwards was dismissed for gross professional and personal misconduct. He claimed he would never work again as a consultant in the NHS as it is a monopoly employer.
The employer argued the case was governed by the decision of the House of Lords in Johnson v Unisys  UKHL 13. That decided an employee could not claim damages for a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence based on the manner of his dismissal. This was because it was not for the common law courts to extend what Parliament had provided in the law of unfair dismissal. However the decision left open the possibility that if loss was attributable to a breach of contract occurring before dismissal there was no reason why uncapped damages should not be available.
On the basis of agreed assumptions that there had been a breach of he contractual terms and also that if that breach not occurred Edwards would not have been dismissed, the Court of Appeal held that uncapped damages were available.
The reason was that the breaches of contract had occurred before the dismissal and were accordingly outside the ambit of the Johnson decision.
The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court and it may be thought that the facts are so specialised that they are not of general application. However the decision reveals the mood of the judiciary in these matters. Also there are a number of other jobs, outside the NHS, where a contractual disciplinary procedure exists and where dismissal can lead to great difficulty in securing alternative employment. Those employers should look out for the next stage of this case and, if possible, consider changing their contractual terms.
First published in The Grapevine Magazine
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