- Operations - Unfair dismissal in the UK

By Heidi Watson

Unfair dismissal in the UK

Clyde & Co’s Heidi Watson discusses how a steward on a superyacht which never entered UK waters could still claim unfair dismissal in a British court…

The UK Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has upheld the Employment Tribunal’s decision that it had jurisdiction to hear the unfair dismissal claim brought by an employee who worked on a superyacht which had not entered UK waters.

Heidi Watson, partner at law firm Clyde & Co, writes that the steward in question, “Ms Gordon”, was working on a superyacht managed by Yacht Management Company Limited (the Company) and her home was in Aberdeen, UK. However, Ms Gordon’s employment contract terms stated that Ms Gordon’s place of work and accommodation was on the vessel, which never entered UK waters.

The Company was registered in Guernsey and carried out no business in the UK. It did not have any place of business within the UK, and its management, payroll and HR functions were undertaken outside the UK.

When Ms Gordon was made redundant, she brought various claims against the Company in the UK Employment Tribunal including unfair dismissal. The Company sought to have those claims struck out, arguing that the Employment Tribunal did not have territorial jurisdiction to hear them.

The EAT ultimately upheld the Employment Tribunal’s finding that it did have jurisdiction to hear Ms Gordon’s claims.

The EAT noted that an analysis of the entire factual matrix was required in order to determine territorial jurisdiction, rather than just relying on Ms Gordon’s place of work as specified in her employment contract. The EAT found that Ms Gordon’s “base” was her home (in the UK), on the grounds of many factors, including:

• The location of the bank account into which Ms Gordon’s salary was paid
• Her accounting to HMRC for tax
• The governing law of Ms Gordon’s employment contract
• The choice of forum for disputes arising from her employment contract
• the basis upon which Ms Gordon’s redundancy pay was calculated
• that the Company had a contractual responsibility to pay for Ms Gordon’s travel expenses between her home and the vessel.

The EAT held that it was open to the Employment Tribunal to conclude that Ms Gordon’s duties began and ended at her home (in the UK), as the place that she commenced her journeys to join the vessel and to which she returned following her tours.

Consequently, Ms Gordon was entitled to bring an unfair dismissal claim. Whilst the vessel that she was working on had neither entered a UK port nor UK waters during her employment, her contractual duties began and ended in the UK, which was also her “base”.

Practical points
This case is relevant for employers who may be unclear as to whether or not a British tribunal would have jurisdiction to hear unfair dismissal claims from their seafarer employees. If seafarers have such jurisdiction, employers will need to ensure British law and procedure are followed when dismissing seafarers whose base is in the UK.

While all cases will turn on their facts, employers should consider where a seafarer’s “base” is. This will be the place where a seafarer’s tour of duty begins and ends. In this ruling, the EAT reiterated that a “base” need not be a port or an office; it can be a place remote from the port at which the seafarer joins the vessel. In this particular case, the EAT held that there was no reason why Ms Gordon’s home address could not be her base, if that is where her duties began and ended.

Please speak to Heidi Watson or your usual Clyde & Co contact if you have any questions or would like advice on this issue.

Case: Yacht Management Co Ltd v Gordon (2024)

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Unfair dismissal in the UK


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