Due to advances in technology, businesses of all sizes are able to base employees all over the world, enabling them to work remotely. We look at a recent case that examined what rights those remote workers might have to bring claims under UK employment law.
In the case of Lodge v Dignity & Choice in Dying (2014) Mrs Lodge, the Head of Finance for a British company, had initially worked in London but several months later, moved to Australia to look after her unwell mother. With her employer’s agreement, she worked remotely from Australia until June 2013 when she resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal in an English employment tribunal. The employment judge held that the tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear her claims. Mrs Lodge appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT).
The law in this area includes the cases of Serco Ltd v Lawson and Ravat v Halliburton Manufacturing. Lawson identified various categories of overseas employees who might be protected by UK unfair dismissal law. One of these categories was “expatriate employees” who were posted abroad for the purposes of work carried on in England. The case of Ravat stated that where the place of work is abroad, the question is whether the connection with Great Britain is sufficiently strong that Parliament would have regarded it as appropriate for a UK employment tribunal to deal with the employee’s claim.
The Tribunal in Lodge initially found that Mrs Lodge did not fit into the category of “expatriate employees” and instead relied on the test in Ravat, finding that Parliament would not have intended that an employee in her situation would be able to bring claims in a UK Employment Tribunal.
The EAT however, also considered the case of Financial Times v Bishop where an employee sold advertising space in San Francisco as part of his employer’s business in London. The question here was whether he was working for the benefit of the business based in the UK. The EAT acknowledged that whilst Mrs Lodge didn’t fall precisely into the category of “expatriate employees” as she had not been ‘posted’ abroad (she chose to move out to Australia); all of the work she did in Australia was for the benefit of her employer’s operation in London. For the purposes of UK employment law, this didn’t make her situation any different from someone who was actually posted abroad. The EAT also looked at the fact that Mrs Lodge’s employer had not disputed Mrs Lodge’s contention that she couldn’t bring her claims in Australia. Also, she had previously brought a grievance which was heard in London. Considering both the relevant case law and the facts, the EAT ultimately held that Mrs Lodge worked as a “virtual employee” in Australia for the UK company and therefore did not lose her right to bring claims.
The key point we can draw from this case is that if an employee works remotely abroad for the benefit of business based in Britain, then they may be able to bring claims under UK employment law. However, each case will ultimately turn on its own facts, so it is always best to take advice.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).