Fixed term contracts: a warning

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Two recent cases (Ibarz v University of Sheffield and Services for Education (S4E Limited) v White and Birmingham City Council) have highlighted again the care which must be taken when dealing with fixed term contracts.

Equity of terms in contracts

In the first case (Ibarz v University of Sheffield) a lecturer was employed on a series of fixed term contracts over a number of years separated by gaps and without continuity.  The EAT determined that the lack of contractual continuity did not preclude a finding that the application of the same working arrangements, across the separate contracts, amounted to a series of similar acts.  A claim for less favourable treatment, under regulations protecting fixed-term employees and part-time workers, could therefore potentially be brought in relation to the whole period.  This is to be considered by a new Employment Tribunal.  In the meantime, this acts as a reminder to ensure equity of terms, benefits and working practices between comparable fixed term and permanent employees and between part-time and full-time staff.

TUPE and continuous employment

The second case (Services for Education (S4E Limited) v White and Birmingham City Council) involved a teacher employed to work in a Council service on a succession of fixed-term contracts each of which lasted for the academic year (1 September to 31 July).  Between contracts continuity of employment was preserved.  The Council transferred the service to a new provider.  The teacher’s last fixed-term contract with the Council ended on 31 July 2013.  The transfer took place on 1 September 2013 and the teacher worked for the new provider thereafter.  An employment judge (and the EAT) held that the teacher had sufficient continuous service to bring an unfair dismissal claim against the new provider.  This reminds us of the importance of assessing carefully who may be caught by a TUPE transfer and even if not, who may still be able to maintain continuous service with any new employer.

For more information, help or advice please contact Jill Donabie on 0191 211 7933 or email [email protected].