Serco Limited v Lawson [2004] EWCA Civ 12

Employed in Great Britain?: Lawson was employed as a security supervisor on Ascension Island by Serco Limited, a company registered in England and Wales with a head office in Middlesex.

Lawson was domiciled in England and paid in sterling, but had no ‘tax code’ as his work was on Ascension Island. His contract only referred to English law.

He brought an unfair constructive dismissal claim for asserting a right under the Working Time Regulations 1998, but it was dismissed by the tribunal on the grounds that they had no jurisdiction to hear it. Lawson successfully appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, but this was overturned by the Court of Appeal (CA).

The CA was “in no doubt” that Lawson was not employed in Great Britain for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996; his work was on Ascension Island, and it did not matter that he and his company had strong connections with Great Britain.

The CA went further and offered the following guidance: tribunals need to be flexible in their application of the ’employment in Great Britain test’, which replaces the previous test of ‘ordinarily works in Great Britain’. The circumstances of each case must be assessed against that test, and dismissal during a single short absence from Great Britain will not normally take away unfair dismissal rights. An employee’s base or place of residence may be relevant, but is not decisive.

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