There is a very considerable amount of employment legislation governing the workplace, from the right to be paid a minimum wage, to laws protecting workers from suffering discrimination. While this legislation sets out the basic position, it cannot give enough detail to cover all the circumstances in which it will need to be applied.
Courts are therefore called upon to decide how legislation should be interpreted. Their decisions are an invaluable insight into how unfairness at work can most appropriately be challenged and how, in practice, judges find a balance between, and resolve, competing claims.
For example, the Employment Rights Act 1996 states that in order for a dismissal to be fair, the employer must have a fair reason for the dismissal and the dismissal must be reasonable in all the circumstances. But it does not give much guidance as to what would make a dismissal “reasonable”. Consequently, there have been numerous cases in which employment tribunals and the higher courts have had to consider the test of reasonableness in a case of unfair dismissal.
The LRD employment law booklet Law at work is the guide to all the key areas of employment law and includes many significant cases. However, it is beyond the scope of Law at work to provide further details of the cases or to include more than the key decisions. Case law at work 2010-11 is the seventh edition in the LRD’s case law series and is a unique source of information on recent employment law cases. The volumes, which are designed to accompany Law at work, can be built into a library and used in subsequent years (case law remains valid unless it is overruled by later judgments).
It is important for any union representative to know how employment legislation has been interpreted by the courts and how the law has been changed by recent judgments. Case law at work 2010-11 gives details of recent cases that have been decided by the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT), the Court of Appeal (CA), the Supreme Court (formerly known as the House of Lords) and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) — many of which have not been reported in other publications, with the exception of LRD’s workplace reps’ magazine Workplace Report.
The system of legal precedent means that lower courts are bound by the decisions of higher courts. Specifically, employment tribunals must follow decisions that have been made by the EAT, which must follow those of the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is the highest domestic court, so the principles decided here will apply to all courts and tribunals beneath it.
In Northern Ireland, which has a slightly different tribunal system to the rest of the UK, employment cases are heard by industrial tribunals, which are bound by decisions of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal. There is no EAT in Northern Ireland but decisions of the EAT in Great Britain will be strongly persuasive in an industrial tribunal.
Decisions made by employment tribunals are not binding on other tribunals and they are not included in this booklet. The ECJ deals with the interpretation of European law — all tribunals and courts can refer a case to the ECJ on a particular issue.
The tribunal or court reference is given at the end of each case. Decisions are published on the web:
• EAT cases at www.employmentappeals.gov.uk;
• Court of Appeal at www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/;
• Supreme Court at www.supremecourt.gov.uk/news/judgments.html;
• ECJ at http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/jcms/j_6/; and
• Central Arbitration Committee (soon to be merged) at www.cac.gov.uk.
Where cases have been reported in the Industrial Relations Law Reports (IRLR), that reference is also given.