Employment Tribunal's territorial reach tested

Posted: 12th April 2019

Employment (2)The territorial reach of UK Employment Tribunals (ETs) is not without limit and the overseas presence of many British businesses can give rise to difficult jurisdictional issues.

A recent case concerned a French lawyer who worked in the Paris office of an international law firm based in London.

The lawyer, a partner in the firm, launched ET proceedings after she was required to retire.

She claimed that male colleagues had been paid more than her and that the circumstances of her departure revealed direct sex and race discrimination which amounted to victimisation. The ET, however, dismissed her claims on the basis that it lacked territorial jurisdiction to consider them.

In ruling on her challenge to that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted that the firm, although based in London, has 24 offices worldwide. The Paris office was not a wholly independent business, but nor was it a mere outpost or satellite of the London HQ. She visited the London office every few months and, as a partner in a UK firm, she was required to register with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

In dismissing her appeal, however, the EAT observed that the Paris office would, to its clients, have appeared practically indistinguishable from an independent French law firm. As a French national, the lawyer lived and worked in her homeland and was qualified to practise French law. Her ad hoc visits to London were generally brief and were of little relevance.  She was paid in Euros, into a French bank account, and she paid tax in France.

Overall, her connection to the UK was weak and there were no exceptional features that required the ET to assume jurisdiction. The EAT also dismissed her appeal against the ET’s rejection, again on jurisdictional grounds, of her separate discrimination claims against an individual partner in the Paris office.