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Promotions do not Always Break up a ‘Stable Working Relationship’ for the Purposes of an Equal Pay Claim

Promotions can be indicative of a ‘stable working relationship’ in an equal pay claim, rather than ending the relationship. This was the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Barnard v Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority.

Background

Mrs Barnard was employed by Hampshire Fire and Rescue from 2009 to 2017 when she left her employment, alleging that she had been constructively dismissed. Throughout her tenure Mrs Barnard had several different roles, initially starting out as an administrator. She was further promoted to business support officer, fire safety officer and office manager. Hampshire Fire and Rescue then made the decision to introduce new contracts, following which Mrs Barnard’s role changed to community safety delivery manager.

An equal pay claim was subsequently launched by Mrs Barnard. The claim related to the entirety of Mrs Barnard’s employment with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority, spanning approximately 8 years. In order to determine the outcome of Mrs Barnard’s claim, it was relevant for the Tribunal to consider whether there had been any disruption in the “stable working relationship” between the parties. The Equality Act 2010 imposes a 6 month time limit on claims of this nature which commences on the date that the “stable working relationship” ended.

The first Employment Tribunal initially determined that some of Mrs Barnard’s claims, relating to her promotions prior to her role as office manager, were out of time. In reaching this decision, the Tribunal considered that each promotion represented a significant change in Mrs Barnard’s employment, therefore the “stable working relationship” ended every time she was promoted. Accordingly, Mrs Barnard would have had to bring each claim within 6 months of the end of each “stable working relationship”, which she had not.

On appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) concluded that a ‘stable working relationship’ could be maintained through promotions and remitted the case to a new tribunal.

It followed that on remittal the Tribunal considered that, in light of the EAT’s conclusions, a “stable working relationship” could be demonstrated through Mrs Barnard’s promotions until she was promoted to the role of office manager as this was “much more substantial” and involved a leap in Mrs Barnard’s paygrade. As a result of this, Mrs Barnard’s claims were limited to her employment in managerial positions (as office manager and community safety delivery manager) and the other claims were made out of time. Mrs Barnard lodged an appeal against this decision.

The Decision

The EAT determined that the Tribunal had erred in its approach to the claim. Whilst there may have been merit in considering the type of work undertaken in each role, a significant change in the type of work required by the role would not necessarily mean that the “stable working relationship” had ended. The Tribunal needed to adopt a broad, non-technical approach to the employment relationship and look at this in practical terms. By making a distinction between Mrs Barnard’s change in job role from administrative and supportive positions to managerial, the Tribunal had failed to give weight to the stability of the relationship between Mrs Barnard and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority throughout her employment. As a result of a gradual building of skills, Mrs Barnard had naturally progressed through several internal promotions and this was entirely indicative of a “stable working relationship”.

This bulletin is for general guidance only and should not be used for any other purpose. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

JMW Solicitors is a Limited Liability Partnership.

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