Most Read Contributor in Hong Kong, September 2016
Written by Duncan Abate (Partner) and Chester
Wong (Trainee Solicitor)
In a recent UK case, Steven Horkulak v Cantor Fitzgerald
International  EWHC 1918 (QB), the High Court made it
clear that a high pressure working environment and well paid job
cannot justify conduct that is likely to destroy the relationship
of implied trust and confidence. The defences that the
working environment was very stressful and the employee received a
substantial remuneration were rejected.
The employee was a senior executive of the employer.
During his course of employment he was insulted and humiliated by
the CEO on a regular basis. The CEO also used abusive
language to the employee concerned, even in front of the
employee's subordinates. In a particular incident, the
CEO launched a hysterical verbal attack on the employee over
trivial matters, without giving the employee a chance to
Following this incident, the employee resigned claiming
constructive dismissal. He then brought proceedings against
the employer, claiming that the CEO's conduct had undermined
his authority to manage his staff and breached the implied duty of
trust and confidence. The employer alleged that the employee
worked in a high pressure environment where foul language was
common. He was also highly paid.
At common law, an employer must not conduct itself in a manner
that would destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust
and confidence between it and its employee. To do so is a
fundamental breach of contract entitling the employee to claim
The test to determine whether there has been a breach of the
implied duty of trust and confidence is an objective one and the
breach can be a single act or a series of acts.
The Court's Decision
The Court considered the following points in determining that
the employer had breached the implied duty of trust and
a senior manager required the overt support of his superior in
order to enable him to perform his duties,
any rebuke to an employee must be proportionate to the alleged
the employee's superior was very dictatorial,
threats of dismissal should never be used to intimidate,
the employee's superior had criticised the employee and
given him no opportunity to respond, and
certain criticism of the employee had been made in front of
subordinates, thereby undermining the employee's authority
(whilst the Court accepted that a manager was free to manage in
such manner as they chose, they should do so with at least an
element of cooperation).
The Court awarded damages to the employee of in excess of GBP
The consequences for the employer of breaching the implied duty
of trust are that the employee can resign immediately claiming
constructive dismissal and also bring a claim for damages for
breach of contract. Even where the employment environment is
high pressure and employees are highly paid there will be standards
of behaviour which the courts will not accept as being
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