Lords rules that workers abroad claim under UK law

A groundbreaking decision in the House of Lords means employees can claim unfair dismissal under UK law even if they do all their work abroad.

Stephen Lawson, a former security officer for business service firm Serco, claimed he was forced to work a 64-hour week on an island in the South Atlantic. 

Serco, a UK company which runs public services on Ascension, allegedly forced Lawson to work such long hours that “his health and safety were put in peril” and he resigned, claiming constructive dismissal.

However, the Court of Appeal held that under the law he had no legal protection because all of his duties were carried out overseas.

Section 196(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 denied the right to claim unfair dismissal to “any employment where…the employee ordinarily works outside Great Britain” but the provision was repealed in 1999 and not replaced.

The case went all the way to the House of Lords which decided that because both employer and employee had close connections with the UK this was sufficient for Lawson to have the right to claim unfair dismissal.

The fact all the services were performed abroad did not bar him from employment rights.

Lord Hoffman, giving his judgment, added that the decision could be different for expatriates who would not be entitled to protection unless there was a factor “so powerful that the employment relationship has a closer connection with Great Britain than with the foreign country where the employee works”.

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