LRD Booklets January 2013

Case law at work - 9th edition

Introduction

Introduction

This is the ninth edition of Case law at work, the LRD’s key source of information on recent employment law cases. It contains clear summaries and updates of important cases decided by the appeal courts, many of which are not contained in other legal guides. It is published as a companion to LRD’s employment law booklet Law at work.

There is a huge 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 may need to be applied.

Courts are therefore called upon to decide how legislation should be interpreted. Their decisions provide a valuable insight into how unfairness at work can most appropriately be challenged and how, in practice, judges find a balance between 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 cases of unfair dismissal.

The LRD’s employment law booklet Law at work is a comprehensive guide to all 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. These further details are provided in Case law at work.

It is important for union representatives 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 2012-13 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).

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 at the lower levels 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 the Northern Ireland tribunal system.

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 where an issue is unclear.

The tribunal or court reference is given at the end of each case. Decisions are published on the web:

• EAT cases at: www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/

• Court of Appeal at: www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/

• Supreme Court at: www.supremecourt.gov.uk/decided-cases/index.html (with decisions of the House of Lords, as the Supreme Court was formerly known, at: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldjudgmt.htm)

• ECJ at: http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/jcms/j_6/ and

• Central Arbitration Committee at: www.cac.gov.uk