Close this search box.

Can offensive language at work result in Constructive Dismissal?

Constructive dismissal means that the relationship between the employer and employee has broken down to such a point there is no going back. It means in layman terms that the relationship is broken and cannot be repaired due to the actions of the employer.

The legal standard to prove constructive dismissal has historically been fairly high and the breach of trust within the relationship has needed to be of a certain level of severity to warrant one party claiming the relationship has irretrievably broken down.  However, the case of Mr Mobbs v Weetabix could indicate that this standard is reducing in light of societal changes and less tolerance of stereotypical autocratic management approaches. 

Weetabix were taken to the Employment Tribunal by Mr Mobbs who was a former employee within the health and safety department and Weetabix own Environmental Manager.  

What came under particular scrutiny was the style of management inflicted upon Mr Mobbs by Mr Petre. The case highlighted how traditionally accepted management styles are no longer tolerated and will fall foul of  anti harassment and bullying legislation. 

Weetabix explained to the tribunal during the course of proceedings that Mr Petre’s management style included using humiliating words in order to ‘get the best out of people.’  They further explained that this was his way of holding individuals to account often in a public way. An alternative and more modern explanation could be that public humiliation was often Mr Petre’s best used weapon of choice against individuals when flexing his management prowess. 

Mr Mobbs claimed he was subjected to shouting, screaming,  bullying and offensive language from his manager and as a result left his position at the company.  He further claimed that the behaviour amounted to harassment. 

Mr Mobbs gave an example of his treatment from his manager whereby he emailed Mr Petre  to ask him to move a meeting to resolve a clash, Mr Petre telephoned Mr Mobbs and told him: “don’t inconvenience me with your poor organising skills….sort yourself out”.

There were also incidences recalled where Mr Petre had called other colleagues “useless” and “a f**king idiot”.

Other incidents that Mr Mobbs recalls include being refused to speak during meetings and Mr Petre accusing him of jeopardising the commercial interests of the business.

Weetabix, being a large international company, had an extensive dignity at work policy and by its own policy document was aware that offensive language could be deemed offensive. Weetabix’s defence seemed to hang on the intention behind the behaviour and that it was evidence of a management style  with good intentions at heart. However, offensive language can be a form of bullying and harassment irrespective of the intention behind the conduct. 

What came to light during the hearing is that after raising a grievance in 2019 against his manager’s behaviour, the investigation was delayed and grievance allegations dismissed despite an appeal.  Weetabix by its lack of accountability demonstrated towards Mr Pietre, condoned the behaviour of Mr Petre and provided zero relief to Mr Mobbs. In fact, the delay and general handling of the grievance process caused him anxiety and ill health. The treatment received during an internal process was also a factor in his decision to resign from his role. 

The opinion of the employment tribunal did not condone the behaviour and felt Mr Petre’s conduct was sufficiently serious to breach the terms of the employment relationship. The key breach being, the trust and confidence detailed in the employment contract. 

The employment tribunal found that Mr Petre’s behaviour was sufficiently serious enough to breach the terms of trust and confidence.

It was deemed that the unprofessional and offensive language used was likely to destroy the trust and confidence between the parties, A key takeaway comment was the emphasis on his approach via humiliation and the public nature of his comments. Further due to the size and resources of the employer, the delay in the grievance process was not reasonable.

It appears that the bygone age of autocratic management styles are being put where they belong, in the past. It is critical for employers to monitor and review how employees are being managed on a day-to-day basis and to ensure manager attitudes and conduct align with current policy and culture.  Those employers that still condone this style of management in the name of getting the best out of staff or because it has historically always worked this way are in real danger of falling foul of new societal standards of what amounts to bullying and harassment. 

Policy documents such as dignity at work and anti-bullying should not be mere lip service but should be a reflection of promoted values throughout any organisation. Training and accountability are key to ensuring your management team promotes the values as stated within any internal documents. 

If you would like any advice on this issue or training for your managers to avoid these issues arising in your business please get in touch 01983 897003.

You can read the full judgement here:

Share This Article
Read More Articles
Any questions? Contact us

Appointments are available by telephone or via video call, so no matter where you are in England or Wales we can assist you.

The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

Solicitor in Eastleigh | Solicitor in Salisbury | Solicitor Isle of Wight