Breach of Contract

Victoria Shepherd

Victoria Shepherd

Email Click to email
Phone 01952 278585

22 July 2015

Williams v Leeds United Football Club

The High Court has held that Leeds United were legitimately entitled to dismiss one of their employees for a breach of contract, despite it being discovered over five years after it had occurred.

Mr Williams, the club’s Technical Director, had never received a written contract of employment. His terms were agreed verbally with the Chairman in August 2006. Among these terms was an entitlement to 12 months’ notice. In 2013, the club decided to restructure, but were reluctant to pay Mr Williams the 12 months’ of notice pay he was entitled to. They instructed a firm of forensic investigators to investigate Mr Williams in an active attempt to unearth evidence of gross misconduct. It was discovered that Mr Williams had, in March 2008, received and forwarded pornographic material from his work email account. The club deemed this to be a repudiatory breach of contract and he was summarily dismissed.

Mr Williams brought a claim for damages, but his claim was dismissed by the court. The court took into account the senior position held by Mr Williams, the importance of the club’s reputation to its business model and the fact that the images, by Mr Williams’ own admission, were capable of causing offence. Although the emails were not discovered until five years after they had been sent, the court considered that Mr Williams’ conduct was sufficiently serious to amount to a repudiatory breach when it was discovered by the club.

Whilst a “fishing exercise” conducted by an employer in an effort to find misconduct will usually be frowned upon by a court or tribunal, the senior position Mr Williams held and the high profile of the employer were both key factors in this case. Interestingly, it was noted that had the employer acted in any way to ‘affirm’ the contract after finding out about the email, the outcome would have been significantly different. Affirmation of the contract would have negated the ability of the club to rely on the breach and the 12 months’ notice would have been payable.

Matters relating to dismissal are complex and can prove very costly should you get it wrong. Our Alpha service can provide the support your business needs. If you would like to find out more about what Alpha can do for you, please feel free to contact us.

Testimonials

  • Martin Kaye

    Martin Kaye have provided advice in some highly complex HR matters and they continue to provide our day to day HR advice through their "ALPHA" HR scheme. They offer a very commercial and pragmatic approach and we have always been impressed by the level of service. The members of staff are approachable and easy to deal with.

    Eurofilms Extrusion Ltd

  • Martin Kaye

    Martin Kaye have provided us with employment and HR advice for several years and we have been very pleased with the level of service and quality of advice provided. We have no hesitation in recommending the team to any organisation which wishes to manage its employment related enquiries.

    D Wauchope, Company Secretary - McPhillips (Wellington) Ltd

  • Martin Kaye

    As a large employer of cleaning personnel, we require expert and prompt employment related advice. Martin Kaye's "ALPHA" service provides this in a clear and robust manner. We have been extremely impressed with the service and would thoroughly recommend them to any employer requiring expert HR & employment support.

    J Conry, Chairman - JPC Cleaning

  • Martin Kaye

    It is important for us to create a close relationship with our advisors. Martin Kaye's "ALPHA" HR service is excellent. It enables us to work closely with our lawyers particularly in the complex area of employment law.

    Johnny Hobeika, Operations Manager - Sanita (UK) Ltd

  • Martin Kaye

    ALPHA is an excellent, reliable, professional service which is an integrated part of our business that we could not do without.  This service is part of our structure and provides staff and business with the professional HR Support it requires - Invaluable

    Wendy Cox - Genvolt

Martin Kaye are rated 4.5 out of 5 based on 21 testimonials.