Mr Ravat, a UK resident, was employed under a contract of employment which required him to work in Libya every other month. During the alternate, non-working months he was based at his home in Preston and, although not officially in work, nonetheless performed a small number of duties for his employer. On the termination of his employment, Mr Ravat sought to bring an unfair dismissal claim in the employment tribunal, a claim which the employer challenged as a matter of jurisdiction. Section 196 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provided that employees “ordinarily working” outside Great Britain were unable to claim unfair dismissal. Subsequent repeal of this Act, however, led to confusion about what the correct test should be for determining whether those working outside the UK could bring their claims.
This uncertainty was resolved to a large extent by the House of Lords in 2006 in Serco Limited v Lawson; Botham v Ministry of Defence; Crofts and others v Veta Limited and others. In that case the court identified three categories of employees working abroad who would qualify to bring a claim of unfair dismissal - standard cases, where an employee “ordinarily works” in Great Britain, peripatetic employees based in the UK and expatriate employees posted abroad to further the business of a British employer.
Mr Ravat’s employment relationship did not fit into any of the three categories of employees identified in Serco. Even so, the Supreme Court concluded that his claim could proceed and that the decision in Serco was not as definitive as had been believed. It is not for the courts to lay down a series of fixed rules where Parliament has decided not to, the court has said. The starting point is to see whether the employment relationship has a stronger connection with Great Britain than with the foreign country where the employee works, which is a question of fact and degree.
In this case, Mr Ravat’s employment was found to have closer connection with Great Britain than anywhere else, his employer’s business being based here. It was also significant that Mr Ravat had been assured UK employment law would apply to his employment relationship and the termination of his employment had been handled in Aberdeen.
The recent decision, which will be of particular interest to food and drink businesses with overseas operations, broadens considerably the test of whether employees working abroad can claim unfair dismissal as understood following Serco.
The Supreme Court’s judgment can be viewed here