Constructive dismissal is a complex and often misunderstood concept in employment law. It occurs when an employee resigns due to the intolerable conduct of the employer, effectively forcing the employee to leave their job. But what exactly constitutes constructive dismissal, and when does resignation become the only viable option? Let’s delve into the intricacies of this legal principle and explore a recent case that sheds light on its application.

The Three Requirements for Constructive Dismissal

To establish constructive dismissal, three key requirements must be met:

  1. The employee must terminate the contract of employment.
  2. The reason for termination must be that continued employment has become intolerable for the employee.
  3. It must be the employer who has made continued employment intolerable.

Importantly, resignation for reasons unrelated to the employer’s conduct does not constitute constructive dismissal. The threshold for intolerability is high and goes beyond mere dissatisfaction with working conditions. It involves circumstances that are unendurable and bring the employee’s tolerance to a breaking point.

A Case Study: The Specialist Fraud and Risk Investigator

Consider the case of a specialist fraud and risk investigator who resigned from his employment with a bank after 17 years of service.

Despite his extensive tenure, he found himself in a situation where his physical security was at risk due to the nature of his work, which involved high-risk investigations requiring him to wear a bulletproof vest.The employee claimed to have been subjected to ongoing victimisation, bullying, and harassment, compounded by unresolved grievance disputes and refusal of compassionate leave. His working environment became increasingly oppressive, with no mechanisms in place to address the deteriorating situation.

In the eyes of the court, the employer’s conduct had made the employment relationship intolerable. The employee’s resignation was deemed a constructive dismissal, and the court upheld the compensation award issued by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA).

The Significance of Constructive Dismissal

This case underscores the importance of recognizing and addressing issues of intolerable workplace conduct. Employers have a duty to provide a safe and conducive work environment, free from harassment, victimisation, and unfair treatment. When employers fail to meet this obligation, employees may be forced to resign, potentially triggering claims of constructive dismissal.For employees, understanding their rights and seeking legal recourse when faced with intolerable working conditions is essential. Constructive dismissal claims can provide a pathway to justice and compensation for those who have been unfairly treated by their employers.


Constructive dismissal is a legal concept that highlights the responsibility of employers to maintain a respectful and supportive workplace environment. When employees are subjected to intolerable conduct that forces them to resign, they may have grounds for a constructive dismissal claim. By understanding the requirements and implications of constructive dismissal, both employers and employees can navigate workplace disputes with clarity and fairness.

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