Ending a relationship with proper notice – lessons from the villa

By Employment Solicitor, Jack Balmer.

ITV2’s Love Island looks set to dominate our screens once again this summer. Indeed, the show has generated so much media attention that news about one of its contestants has caught the eye of our employment law team.

Before joining her fellow islanders, contestant Samira Mighty was part of a production of Dreamgirls at London’s Savoy Theatre. Ms Mighty failed to notify her production company of her imminent departure until a day before she was due in Mallorca. The ramifications of her abrupt termination may outlast her stay at the villa, with her former employers reportedly seeking some £3,000 “in compensation” from Ms Mighty.

Giving proper notice of termination is a fundamental requirement of any employment relationship, and is dealt with in any properly drafted contract of employment. With the correct contractual provisions in place, an employer can require an employee to work their notice, or exercise their right to make a payment in lieu of notice to terminate the employment relationship immediately. Thirdly, well drafted post-termination restrictions can be used to prevent an employee immediately joining a competitor.

Where an employee fails to give the correct notice of termination, they have committed a breach of contract for which their employer can seek damages, usually in the county court. Damages can cover the cost of supplying cover for the period of the employee’s notice or the cost of lost business to the employer. Such actions are possible where an employer can point to a definite financial loss caused by the employee’s breach of contract – such as a show-stopping departure.

In two recent cases, Sunrise Brokers LLP v Rodgers and Elsevier Ltd v Munro, the High Court established that where an employee resigns in breach of contract, their employer can enforce their notice requirements by injunction, even if they have stopped paying the employee’s salary. In both cases, the employees were unwilling to work during their notice and wanted to join a competitor immediately. This unwillingness to work meant that their contracts of employment were not brought to an end when their salary was stopped, meaning their contractual obligations remained on-going and could be enforced by injunction.

In more practical terms, a jilted employer can show their displeasure at an abrupt departure in any reference they are asked to provide in the future.

Although relationships in the villa are often tumultuous and brittle affairs, lasting no longer than the gap between advertising breaks, the employment relationship should be based on solid contractual obligations governing the employment and post-employment periods. In both Love Island and business, competition is fierce and talent is always in demand. A properly drafted contract of employment is essential in holding your employees to their obligations and preventing them from jumping into the arms of your competitors.

While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.