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Test for whether suitable alternative employment is reasonable

Devon Primary Care Trust v Readman is a Court of Appeal decision which confirms the test to be applied to determine whether an employee has unreasonably refused suitable alternative employment in a redundancy situation.

Readman (R) was offered the role of “modern matron” as an alternative to being made redundant. R rejected the job on the ground that her career path and qualifications were in community nursing. She had not worked in a hospital since 1985 and did not wish to do so. R also openly acknowledged that she wanted to emigrate to Canada. The tribunal decided that the alternative job was suitable because the only difference from the redundant job would be that 45% of the duties as a community matron would be replaced by 45% as a hospital matron and her skills were transferable. R’s refusal was therefore unreasonable, primarily because she had not given careful consideration to the differences between the two jobs, but also because it was “against her desire to emigrate”.

The Court of Appeal ruled that while the tribunal had identified the correct test, “the reasonableness or otherwise of the refusal depends on factors personal to the employee and is assessed subjectively from the employee's point of view” it had erred in applying it. The tribunal had failed to address R’s central argument, i.e. that, having spent 30 years working out in the community, it was not unreasonable to decline to work in a hospital. Furthermore, the tribunal had failed to address the relevance of R’s emigration plans. The vague statement that it had been “against her desire to emigrate” had been insufficient. Here, the issue the tribunal should have explored was whether her desire to emigrate had clouded her assessment of the job offer. The Court of Appeal stressed that the question of whether refusal of suitable alternative employment was reasonable would depend on the particular situation of the employee in question. There was no scope to apply a band of reasonable responses test.

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