Fixed-Term Contract Complexities – Teacher Resigns After Lengthy Career Break

Teacher Returns from Career Break

In this case a fixed term contract was used to meet a need where a permanent teacher was on career break. The parties to the contract ultimately ended up in a dispute in the High Court.

In the case the issue arose as to whether the replacement teacher was entitled to a contract of indefinite duration after working for the school from September 2002 to August 2007.
The replacement teacher had been employed by the school from September 2002 to replace a a permanent post holder who had gone on career break.
The replacement teacher was employed on a series of fixed term contracts from Sept ’02 and his last contract expired on 31/08/07.
In April 2007, the permanent teacher decided to resign his position and the permanent post became vacant.
The school advertised the position publically but the replacement teacher was unsuccessful in the competition for the post.

Fixed-Term Contract Dispute – The Outcome

The replacement teacher challenged the decision to terminate his contract.
The Rights Commissioner ruled in his favour on the basis that his contract should have become one of indefinite duration following the permanent teachers resignation.
The School appealed this decision to the Labour Court who over-turned the Rights Commissioners decision on the basis that the replacement teachers employment came to an end due to the fact that his contract had expired and was not renewed as the vacancy he was filling in for was filled by another teacher.
This Labour Court decision was subsequently appealed to the High Court and the decision of the Labour Court was upheld in favour of the employer.
The High Court ruled that while the replacement teacher was employed for the specific purpose of filling in while the permanent post holder was on career break and while this purpose ceased when the permanent teacher resigned in April 2007, it did not however eradicate the fixed-term contractual relationship between the replacement teacher and the School.

Fixed-Term Contract – Implications for Employers

Employers are free to exit the contractual relationship with an employee retained on a fixed term contract for a specific purpose when that specific purpose ceases.
Even though the aggregate duration of fixed-term contracts exceeded four years in this case, the employers obligation ceased on the expiry of the current fixed-term contract when the specific purpose ceased i.e. to fill in for the permanent teacher.
Nonetheless, great care should be taken in the issuing and reissuing of fixed-term contracts.
Case: Russell v Mount Temple School, High Court, 2009


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