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Asking the impossible.

Employment and Discrimination Law

Asking the impossible.

Postby Hairyloon » Thu Oct 19, 2017 5:46 pm

If an employee is asked to do something that cannot be done, then is it likely to be a breach of contract to refuse? Shouldn't they knuckle down and do the best they can?
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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby YorkshireBloke » Thu Oct 19, 2017 7:27 pm

Hi,

Isn't the implied term of "Duty to Obey Lawful and Reasonable Orders" central here?

If it is "impossible" then by default it would be "unreasonable" so an employee could reasonably (no pun intended) refuse. Price v Mouat 1863 (I think!?) covers this.

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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby Hairyloon » Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:15 pm

YorkshireBloke wrote:Hi,

Isn't the implied term of "Duty to Obey Lawful and Reasonable Orders" central here?

If it is "impossible" then by default it would be "unreasonable" so an employee could reasonably (no pun intended) refuse.


That was much what I thought. I think it depends to an extent on the nature of the task and the consequences of failure. For example, if you were told to make 1000 cakes by Tuesday and you only manage 600, then you fail, but you still have 600 cakes, whereas if you were asked to jump a gorge and successfully managed 98%...

Price v Mouat 1863 (I think!?) covers this.

Alas that one is not in my library, and may possibly neglect some points covered in the later Employment Rights Acts? ;)
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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby atticus » Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:43 pm

Price v Mouat (1862) concerns an instruction to do something that was not within the employee's contract. A different matter.
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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby dls » Fri Oct 20, 2017 12:44 pm

As always, impossibility comes in several forms.
There can be legally impossible (unlawful)
Logically impossible
Physically impossible (for the particular employee)
and 'too much like hard work' impossible (debateable).

Each might give a different answer.
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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby dls » Fri Oct 20, 2017 12:47 pm

Price v Mouat: 1862
References: [1862] EngR 136, (1862) 11 CB NS 508, (1862) 142 ER 895
Links: Commonlii
Coram: Erle CJ, Williams, Byles and Keating JJ
Ratio: The plaintiff, who was known to be acting in the capacity of a 'lace-buyer' was engaged by the defendanit, a lace-dealer, under the following memorandum:- 'M agrees to engage P. for the term of three years from Monday the 15th of August, 1859, at the yearly salary of 500l payable monthly. P. to give the whole of his services, and to be advised and guided by M if necessary' In an action by P. against M. for a wrongful dismissal pending the term on the alleged ground of disobedience of lawful orders :-- Held, that evidence was admissible to show the capacity in which the plaintiff was engaged, viz. as 'lace-buyer' ; and that it was properly left to the jury to say whether or not the orders which he was alleged to have disobeyed were such as a person in that position was bound to obey.
The general rule is that a contract by which a person is employed in a specific character is to be construed as obliging him to render, not indeed all service that may be thought reasonable, but such service only as properly appertains to that character.
This case cites:
    - See Also - Price v Mouatt ([1861] EngR 72, Commonlii, (1861) 2 F and F 529, (1861) 175 ER 1173)
    On a contract in writing, within the statute, in general terms for the employrnent of the plaintiff. Held, that it might be shown by parol, that he was employed in a particular capacity ; and, as a question whether he had wilfully disobeyed a lawful . .
(This list may be incomplete)
Jurisdiction: England and Wales

Last Update: 20-Oct-17
Ref: 286302
2017/10/20
Employment, Contract

See also: http://swarb.co.uk/price-v-mouat-1862/
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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby Hairyloon » Fri Oct 20, 2017 1:59 pm


Sorry This Page Does Not Exist!
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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby YorkshireBloke » Fri Oct 20, 2017 6:34 pm

Hi,

A problem for the Court in Price v Mouat was that Mouat had no "list of duties" or what we would call a job description. Refusing to do the task he was told to do (shifting stuff physically in a warehouse I think) was a task the contract was silent on.

Surely the Court decided that it wasn't reasonable for a lace buyer to shift bales rather than Mouat having the right to refuse to do something outside his (unclear) contract?

That is the basis I think P v M affects thinking on reasonableness; the lack of clarity in the contract.

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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby dls » Fri Oct 20, 2017 8:10 pm

Not quite. The decision was that in the absence of such a specifiation, the jury were properly tasked with finding just what were the tasks proper to his engagement.
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Re: Asking the impossible.

Postby Hairyloon » Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:34 pm

Many contracts now include something along the lines of "other duties as may be reasonably required". That would seem to cover that point in most cases.
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