The practice of ‘fire and rehire’ (i.e. dismissal of an employee and offering re-engagement on new, usually lesser, terms) as a way to facilitate a change to terms and conditions of employment has been under the spotlight in recent years. It is not a new strategy as a way of making changes to employment contracts, nor is it unlawful if handled properly, but the tactic has been subject to increased scrutiny in recent years as cases of misuse by some employers have hit the headlines.

In autumn 2021, legislation curbing dismissal and re-engagement was shelved by the government and replaced with a commitment for updated and more detailed Acas guidance. That guidance (which is not binding) focusses on the importance of thorough and constructive consultation with staff to explore all alternative options to terminating employment, describing fire and rehire as ‘a last resort’.

Fast forward a few months, and the government has announced that we can now also expect a new Statutory Code of Practice on fire and rehire intended to crackdown on the inappropriate use of the tactic, with increased punitive financial sanctions for non-compliance.

As always, the devil will be in the detail. The new Code is expected to set out the consultation process to be followed where there are proposed changes to terms and conditions, and to give practical steps for employers to follow. It is also expected that an additional 25% penalty (on top of the existing punitive sanctions) will be levied where an employer deploys fire and rehire tactics without first having made reasonable efforts to reach agreement through consultation, or where there is otherwise unreasonable non-compliance with the Code.
Continue Reading Fire & rehire clampdown: will a new Statutory Code of Practice help?

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, with a summary of the latest news and developments in UK employment law. A PDF version of this newsletter can be accessed here.

This issue will provide recent case law updates, law reform and legislative developments, COVID-19 updates and any other news over recent weeks.

Case law updates

Collective redundancy consultation: The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled on the reference period and threshold numbers required for the Collective Redundancies Directive, and has concluded that where the threshold number of dismissals is met at any point across the relevant reference period, then dismissals occurring both before and after that point are subject to collective consultation rules. This raises questions as to whether section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA), which applies the Directive in the UK (and which excludes the need to count employees whose proposed dismissal consultation has started) is compatible with the Directive. In the absence of amendments to TULRCA to clarify the situation, employers planning redundancies will need to have this case in mind, with an understanding of past redundancies as well as anticipated ones, when assessing whether the relevant thresholds for collective consultation are met. [UQ v. Marclean Technologies – NB: no English transcript is currently available]

Discrimination: The Court of Appeal has upheld the ‘cost plus’ basis for seeking to justify indirect discrimination, i.e., cost savings alone cannot be a legitimate aim and will rarely succeed as a defence, although it may be a factor where there is ‘something else’ (including where an employer is subject to financial constraints and is required to reduce its costs). Although not changing established principles, this case acts as a reminder that cost in itself should not be relied upon to rationalise potentially discriminatory practices. Incidentally the court also said that the phrase ‘cost plus’ should be avoided as inelegant. [Heskett v. Secretary of State for Justice]

Health and safety detriments: Following a judicial review, the High Court has held that the UK failed to properly implement the EU Health and Safety Framework Directive in the Employment Rights Act 1996 when only providing protection against detriment on health and safety grounds to employees and not also to workers. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which initiated the proceedings, is calling for the government to urgently amend UK legislation to reflect this decision, which would significantly expand the scope of protection at a time when health and safety is particularly pertinent. [HC: IWUGB v. DWP]

Settlement agreement – COT3: Where arguments are being made to set aside a COT3 settlement due to misrepresentation, it is permissible for the tribunal to consider without prejudice communications. [Cole v. Elders Voice]

Summary termination: A firm was entitled to rely on a self-employed stockbroker’s repudiatory breach of contract to summarily terminate their relationship, notwithstanding the firm also having committed a repudiatory breach. [HC: Palmeri v. Charles Stanley & Co]

Tribunal hearings: An appeal against a decision to hold a merits hearing in person rather than remotely during the pandemic has been dismissed, reiterating the strong case management discretion held by judges. [Omooba v. Michael Garrett Associates]

Tribunal procedure – applications to amend pleadings: The Employment Appeals Tribunal has provided detailed guidance on the procedure to be followed when considering applications to amend, including how arguments in support of such an application should be approached, the matters to consider before such an application is made, and the importance of showing the consequences of the amendment being refused. This also reminds us that the tribunal has wide case management powers, and the appellant courts will seldom interfere. [Vaughan v. Modality Partnership]

Whistleblowing: The Court of Appeal has upheld the principle that multiple separate communications taken together could amount to a protected disclosure even if none of them, taken separately, would do so. Whether it is appropriate to take this approach is a matter of common sense and fact dependent, and it is not necessarily an error for the tribunal to fail to consider the composite approach. In the present case, the claimant failed to clarify which of his 37 communications should be grouped together, and the specific protected disclosure which arose from that combination. [Simpson v. Cantor Fitzgerald Europe]

Continue Reading UK Employment Law update – December 2020

Maryland employers who wish to require their employees to sign a non-competition agreement beware. Effective October 1, 2019, non-competition agreements under Maryland law are valid only if the employee earns more than $15/hour or $31,200 annually. (See SB 328.) For employees who earn equal to or less than that, the agreement will be considered in violation of public policy and consequently, void.

The new Maryland law is not unique. In June, 2019, Maine enacted lawmaking non-competition agreements unenforceable for any employee earning less than 400% of the federal poverty line – nearly $50,000 in 2019. Similarly, in July, 2019, New Hampshire enacted the same restriction for employees that make equal or less than double the federal minimum wage ($14.50/hour).

Continue Reading Maryland clamps down on non-competes

In general, the conclusion of a fixed-term employment contract is permissible if it is justified by a material reason (section 14(1) of the German Act on Part-time and Temporary Work (Teilzeit– und Befristungsgesetz – TzBfG)). Term limitations without a material reason are only permitted for a maximum period of two years (section 14(2)1 of the TzBfG). However, the conclusion of a fixed-term employment contract without material reason is prohibited if the individual concerned had previously been employed on a fixed-term or permanent basis by the same employer (section 14(2)2 of the TzBfG).

In its prior case law (from 2011 onwards) the German Federal Labour Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht) interpreted section 14(2)2 of the TzBfG to mean that a new fixed-term contract without material reason would only be prohibited under section 14(2)2 of the TzBfG if the employee had been employed within the last three years prior to the intended fixed term.

Continue Reading 22 years is long enough – German Federal Labour Court rules that fixed-term employment contracts without material reason are permissible

In an eagerly awaited decision, the Supreme Court gave its judgment on the meaning of wording commonly used in non-compete post-termination restrictions and the possibility of severing such wording where it would otherwise render such a restriction unenforceable.

Background

Ms Tillman was the Joint Global Head of Financial Services of executive search and recruitment firm Egon Zehnder at the time she left its employment. Her employment contract included a noncompete post-termination restriction of six months’ duration. This noncompete post-termination restriction provided that Ms Tillman would not “directly or indirectly engage or be concerned or interested in any business carried on in competition with any of the businesses” of Egon Zehnder with which she had been materially concerned in the period of 12 months prior to her employment ending. This restriction became contentious and the subject of substantial litigation when Ms Tillman made known her intention to work for a competitor in apparent breach of the non-compete restriction.

Egon Zehnder brought proceedings to enforce the non-competition covenant and successfully obtained an injunction against Ms Tillman. Ms Tillman appealed this decision, arguing, among other things, that the covenant was void on the basis that it was too widely drafted. In particular, Ms Tillman argued that the use of the words “interested in” prevented her from holding even a minority shareholding in a competitor and the restriction was therefore void as an unenforceable restraint of trade. The Court of Appeal agreed and set aside the injunction. Egon Zehnder then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Continue Reading Positive news for employers wishing to enforce post-termination restrictions

Today, the much-anticipated Taylor Review was published, with a speech by Matthew Taylor outlining his recommendations, followed by comments from Prime Minister Theresa May. The opening lines of the Review set out Taylor’s ambition: “The work of this Review is based on a single overriding ambition: All work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment,” an aim May echoed in her own speech, calling for a balance of flexibility and protections of worker rights in the labour market.

The report comprises more than 100 pages of detailed analysis and recommendations, and will no doubt form the basis of debate over the coming weeks and months. We’ve set out here some of the key recommendations which will be of most interest to employers.

The Review deals with the ‘gig economy’ and the issue of the employment status of people who deliver services via platforms such as Deliveroo and TaskRabbit. The status of these people has been at the heart of a number of the high-profile cases recently, where companies have asserted that they are ‘self-employed,’ and individuals have argued they are ‘employees’ or ‘workers.’ However, the issue of employment status is not just confined to gig economy companies – it is relevant to any organisation that engages people on a freelance or self-employed basis.

Employment status: what’s new?

Employment law currently recognises three categories of individual, each with different rights and protection (see more detail in our blog here), broadly:

  • The self-employed, who have no employment law rights
  • Workers, who benefit from basic protections such as the minimum or living wage and paid annual leave
  • Employees, who have the greatest number of rights and protections


Continue Reading Taylor Review: a review of the Review

The status of those working in the ‘gig economy’, whether they are genuinely self-employed or, in reality, workers or employees with greater employment law rights, has become a highly charged issue – and one increasingly the subject of legal challenge, notably involving Uber, Citysprint and Pimlico Plumbers in recent years. The ongoing review into modern employment practices commissioned by the UK Government, and being led by Matthew Taylor, has also kept the issue in the headlines, with the final report due later this year.

At the heart of the issue is whether the true nature of the relationship between companies and the individuals who provide a service for them is consistent with the self-employed label often used in the relevant contracts. Those in the gig economy may work as couriers, drivers or tradespeople, may wear uniforms, and in many cases are the company’s main interface with its customers. However, they also often work flexible hours and are free to decide when to clock on and off.
Continue Reading Can contracts for those working in the gig economy move with the legal tide?

The Labour Court Mainz is currently creating quite a stir in German professional sports. For decades, it was customary and recognized by the courts that contracts of professional athletes could be limited. The Labor Court in Mainz now sees this differently.

German goalkeeper Heinz Müller brought an action against his club Mainz 05. He had

In the case of Norman and others v National Audit Office UKEAT/0276/14, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) confirmed that flexibility clauses in employment contracts which seek to give employers the right to make unilateral changes to the contract’s terms will be interpreted restrictively against employers.

In reaching its decision, the EAT overturned an Employment

From 1 September 2013 new and existing employees can now give up certain employment rights in return for shares in their employer.   

We take a look at some of the matters employers will want to consider when deciding whether to make use of this new status.

Continue Reading Q & A – What does the new “employee shareholder” status mean for employers?