Horkulak v Cantor Fitzgerald International (2004 IRLR 942 CA)

Foul language in the workplace might be deemed unacceptable if an independent third party would view the situation that way. Regular use of foul and abusive language does not make it acceptable.

Case facts

A senior worker was subjected over a substantial period of time to abusive language from the chief executive. Although the use of such language was common in the workplace, the court found the relationship of trust and confidence between Horkulak and his employer had broken down because of the employer’s behavior.

Conclusion for me

The use of foul language in the workplace is not necessarily deemed unacceptable, but its use can undermine the relationship of trust and confidence between employer and employee. To judge a situation a court will base their decision on how an independent third party would view the situation, rather than how the employer and worker view it. Regular use of foul and abusive language does not make it acceptable.

A term within a contract of employment like a discretionary bonus worded as a contractual benefit should be read as a contractual benefit 'as opposed to a mere declaration of the employer's right to pay a bonus if he so wishes. This can be taken into account for damages.

Similar cases

  • Nottingham County Council v Meikle (2004, IRLR 703) Failure to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a disabled employee can amount to a serious breach of the implied contractual term of trust and confidence, and give the employee the right to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
  • Morrow v Safeway Stores (2002 IRLR 9) If an employer breaks the "mutual trust and confidence" a member of staff may be justified in treating himself or herself as constructive dismissed without necessarily first trying to resolve matters through a grievance procedure.
  • Courtaulds Northern Textiles Ltd v Andrew (1979 IRLR 84) Employers shall not, without reasonable and proper cause, conduct themselves in a manner calculated or likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of confidence and trust between the employer and employee.
Updated: 3rd May, 2021
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