The House of Lords judgment in Lawson v Serco, expected after Christmas, should give much-needed clarification on whether British labour laws apply to expatriates working overseas. The position has been confused since the government repealed legislation which described when labour laws would apply to overseas staff, without introducing any new legislation in its place.
Stephen Lawson worked for a UK-registered firm on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic and made an unfair dismissal complaint. In 2004, the Court of Appeal decided that the tribunal could not hear his complaint because unfair dismissal laws only applied to staff “employed in Great Britain”. Lawson appealed to the House of Lords.
Staff overseas might use this case to argue that they have other employment rights – for example, in relation to maternity leave or working time. Employers will be hoping that the House of Lords will clarify the tests to be applied to decide whether someone is “employed in Great Britain”.
Whatever the decision, UK-based employers will still need to take account of the mandatory labour laws that apply at the overseas workplace.
By Juliet Carp, solicitor at Speechly Bircham