Business Employment Law
In employment-related legal matters, technical expertise is just the starting point. You need a legal adviser who understands your business and the commercial challenges you are facing, and who offers clear, pragmatic advice on the options and the risks of different courses of action.
At Morrisons, our employment team works with businesses large and small – from SMEs and multi-nationals to start-ups – to resolve employment matters in a way that protects your assets and reputation and which helps you to realise your strategic goals. Our team comprises specialists drawn from leading City and regional practices who are adept at delivering cost-effective commercially focused advice. That’s why we are recognised by both the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners. We will ensure that your contracts, processes and practices are compliant and appropriate to your business, and designed to avoid legal issues arising or recurring.
We also understand the importance of transparency on costs and will always provide you with a fixed fee or clearly detailed estimate at the outset, plus regular updates as matters progress.
We work closely with colleagues in Corporate and Finance, and with other specialists around the firm, to ensure that the advice you receive goes beyond technical accuracy to support your business and reflect your culture and values. Your people are one of your greatest business assets and also one of your largest costs. Through timely advice and legal updates, including seminars, newsletters and blogposts, we will help you to stay abreast of developments in employment law and regulation, and to maximise the contribution your people make to your business.
Chambers and Partners
Their extremely knowledgeable and professional staff gave good in depth and solution orientated advice that enabled us to achieve our legal objectives
Products and services
Below is a quick overview of a number of the ways in which the Morrisons team is able to support you, and your business.
Contracts of employment
- Contracts of employment, director’s service agreements and consultancy agreements
- Healthcheck of existing contracts
- Establishing employment status
- Amending terms and conditions
Having the right contracts of employment is the foundation of successful employer-employee relationships. Up-to-date and jargon-free employment documentation will not only assist with the day-to-day running of your business but could prove invaluable if a dispute arises.
At Morrisons, we will help you to develop contracts, directors’ service agreements, and consultancy agreements designed to protect the interests of your business as far as possible. That means bespoke rather than off the peg documents, with all the appropriate and necessary terms and based on a detailed understanding of your business, your sector and your specific needs. We can also review your existing contractual documents to ensure that they are up to date, comply with best practice and effectively protect your interests.
With employment patterns changing so rapidly, you may be uncertain about whether personnel should be treated as employed or self-employed, directors, partners or consultants. We will explore the benefits and risks associated with each scenario and help you make appointments that suit your business.
In the event that you want to change a contract of employment, you may be legally obliged to consult with the affected employees. We will advise on this process to ensure that it runs as smoothly as possible.
Employment policies and company handbooks
Having up-to-date, accurate and compliant employment policies and company handbooks – and ensuring that your HR function and employees know about them – is a one of the best ways of avoiding employment disputes and tackling them early. We will provide you with bespoke jargon-free employment policies and staff handbooks, individually tailored to your business requirements and industry sector.
We will advise you on appropriate policies required by law and on the most practical ways of applying them, both to manage your business’s relationship with its workforce and to protect your interests should a dispute arise. Whether we are drafting entirely new documentation or amending your existing documents, we will ensure that they reflect the most recent employment legislation and best practice, as well as the needs of your business.
Post termination employee restrictions
- drafting effective contract clauses
- review of existing contract clauses
- instigating action against former employees
- defending action threatened by a former employer
It’s natural to want to prevent former employees from accessing your clients and customers, key staff, or appropriating confidential information and intellectual property. However, while you are entitled to protect your business interests, post-termination contract clauses are often deemed to be anti-competitive and may therefore be unenforceable. So, getting the right clauses in your employment contracts that you can rely on, is important.
At Morrisons, we will provide you with effective contract clauses that prevent your employees and ex-employees from soliciting or dealing with your clients, misusing your confidential information, ‘poaching’ your skilled employees and, in certain situations, preventing them from competing with you. We can advise on whether existing restrictive covenants are likely to be enforceable and whether you need to change existing terms of employment.
If you are faced with an employee or ex-employee poaching your clients or misusing your confidential information to divert your business you need to act promptly. We will work with you to stop or limit damage to your business, including, where appropriate, instigating court proceedings through our Dispute Resolution Team. We can also assist if you (or an employee of your business) are threatened with legal proceedings by a previous employer.
- Obligations to employees
- Notifications to the state
- Redundancy procedures
- Buying an insolvent company
Whatever the cause of insolvency, it’s important to deal with employees correctly. Our team of employment law experts will advise you on your obligations towards employees in all insolvency situations. This includes advising on whether contracts will terminate automatically, whether any redundancy procedure is necessary including any collective redundancy consultation, any notifications that must be made to the secretary of state, advising you of what payments should be made to the employees or whether, in some cases, the state itself will pick up the costs associated with any employee terminations from the National Insurance Fund.
We can also provide advice to you if you are considering buying an insolvent company, for example from pre-pack administration, and on your obligations towards any of the insolvent company’s present or former employees, including whether you are responsible for employing or making payments to them, and on any employment tribunal claims.
Changing terms and conditions of employment
There may be times when you wish to alter the terms and conditions under which some or all of your staff are employed, such as where you wish to impose a pay cut or to restrict employees from working for a competitor for a period after leaving your employment. We can advise on whether you have the contractual power to vary your employees’ contracts of employment, and on all aspects of changing terms and conditions of employment, including any individual or collective consultation obligations. We can also help you to understand whether any such changes are likely to give rise to claims and, if so how best to deal with the situation so as to minimise the risk.
We can advise on whether you have the contractual power to vary your employees’ contracts of employment, and on all aspects of changing terms and conditions of employment, including your consultation obligations. We can also help you to understand whether any such changes are likely to give rise to claims and, if so how best to respond and, in particular, how best to communicate and consult with relevant trade unions.
- Preparation and review of HR communications to staff
- Ad hoc queries e.g. on family leave or holiday entitlement
- Discrimination in recruitment and in employment
- Grievance and disciplinary issues
- Capability, sickness, and redundancy procedures
- Negotiated exits
Having easy access to expert support on HR issues will provide your team with reassurance and ensure that you are able to address any issues that arise quickly and appropriately. We provide a responsive service, with advice available by phone, email or in person, to ensure you receive the right advice when you need it. We can also help with the preparation of appropriate letters or emails to ensure that your communications immediately begin to move issues towards resolution.
Our team will provide you with practical advice, tailored to the needs of your business, on all aspects of employment law from recruitment to termination, including issues around discrimination, grievance and disciplinary matters and redundancy. We are tactically adept and will ensure that situations are managed in a way that puts you in the best possible position in case matters progress to litigation.
It is unlawful to discriminate because of any of these protected characteristics:
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Gender re-assignment
- Marriage and Civil Partnership
Allegations of discrimination can put your business at risk of significant financial and reputational damage. Your response in such circumstances needs to be based on expert advice, both to limit exposure and address the substance of the claim. Your business could be faced with an employee who has raised a grievance based on alleged harassment, perhaps because of their sex or race, or you may wish to discipline someone who is alleging that a process is tainted by discrimination, or you may be reluctant to agree to an employee’s request for flexible working and concerned that their disability or childcare responsibilities puts you at risk of a claim. In all of these situations, your business is significantly exposed.
Morrisons’ experienced employment team will advise you on how to deal with these issues quickly and effectively. We can also assist you in handling a specific complaint of unlawful discrimination, whether made as part of a grievance or through an employment tribunal claim.
In higher-risk HR areas, such as your recruitment and selection processes, we can provide training for your managers/supervisors and auditing of your recruitment documentation to ensure that they comply with the anti-discrimination laws and good practice. We can also advise on how to draft an Equal Opportunities policy and ensure its effective implementation within your business.
- Pay and working conditions
- Changes to terms and conditions
- Restructuring and transfer of employment
- Alternative dispute resolution
Workplace disputes can arise for a variety of reasons but they are always disruptive to business and have the potential to be very damaging.
We will help you to understand and negotiate the framework in which workplace disputes are conducted, for example via collective bargaining, the internal grievance procedure or through any other dispute resolution mechanisms that may be unique to your organisation. We will help you to identify a target outcome and explore with you the steps that will be necessary to get there.
We will ensure that you are fully apprised of the strength of your legal position and, based on this understanding, that you are aware of the approaches you can take in the negotiations and the risks and benefits associated with each option. We will also advise you of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as workplace mediation, and, where appropriate, will support and advise you through these procedures.
Redundancies and collective consultation
- Redundancy consultation
- Statutory payments
- Alternatives to redundancy
Redundancy situations will generally occur for one of three reasons:
- Complete cessation of your business
- The closure of a site
- Reduction in the number of employees needed to do a particular job
In any redundancy situation, you are obliged to consult your employees. In the case of large-scale redundancies (20+), you may also be required to collectively consult with employee representatives and to notify the government.
Where redundancy is not the real reason for dismissal, or there has been no genuine consultation, or the employee feels they have been unfairly selected for redundancy, you may find yourself facing employment tribunal claims for unfair dismissal or discrimination, so redundancy proceedings should be approached with caution – they are not a catch-all for other forms of employment termination.
We will advise you on all aspects of redundancy, including the consultation process, redundancy selection and the calculation of the correct statutory redundancy payments.
We recognise that redundancies are usually a last resort and will assist you in exploring alternatives such as short-time working, temporary lay-offs, staff re-organisations or pay reductions
- Dismissal procedures
- Settlement agreements
We can assist you with determining whether you have a fair reason for dismissing an employee and ensure that you follow a reasonable investigation and the appropriate dismissal procedure. There are currently five potential fair reasons for dismissal:
- Conduct e.g. theft, unauthorised absence from work, insubordination, failed drug test
- Capability e.g. where the employee is not performing to the required standard or has ill health
- Statutory illegality i.e. where it is illegal to employ an individual, such as where the employee does not have permission to work in the UK
- Some other substantial reason e.g. unreasonable refusal to accept changes to terms and conditions of employment or a breakdown in the working relationship
In any of these circumstances, we will advise you where the ACAS code on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures applies and, where it does, the consequences of failing to comply, including potential uplifts to tribunal awards. Where appropriate, we will advise on a severance package and can facilitate termination negotiations under a settlement agreement. We can also advise you of the risk of a successful claim and how best to minimise that risk.
Employment issues when buying, selling or outsourcing
If you are acquiring or disposing of a business, or involved in the outsourcing or insourcing of in-house services such as Payroll or HR, the employment rights of affected employees may be protected under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, commonly referred to as TUPE. Understanding what this means for your business and finding a strategy to deal with it is essential.
At Morrisons, our employment specialists will take the time to understand your business and circumstances, and, drawing on the expertise of our Corporate and Finance and Commercial teams, will help to minimise the risk of claims and the impact of the transfer on affected employees.
We can provide answers to queries such as:
- What happens to employee contracts?
- What are your consultation obligations?
- What employee information are you obliged to provide to the other party in the transaction?
- What happens if you need to make redundancies or other changes in connection with the business transfer or outsourcing arrangements?
- Writing settlement agreements
- Negotiating with employee’s advisers
When you want to terminate employment at short notice, a settlement agreement is often the most efficient way of addressing matters and avoiding damage to the business or the time and cost of undertaking a full dismissal procedure. A settlement agreement is a written agreement under which the employee (or ex-employee) will refrain from issuing or continuing legal proceedings, usually in return for a lump sum payment.
We regularly assist employers in negotiating tax-efficient termination packages for senior executives and other employees where a quick exit is required. Such situations need to be handled carefully and we can assist in all aspects of the settlement, including the value of the settlement, the appropriate time to offer a termination package and providing briefing notes for your without-prejudice discussions.
We will prepare a suitably worded agreement to protect your business interests and, because the employee is obliged to take legal advice on its terms, we can also negotiate settlement on your behalf with their adviser to achieve the best outcome for your business.
ACAS Pre-claim conciliation
The requirement for employees to notify ACAS before they can bring an employment tribunal, and ACAS’s efforts to find a settlement, has led to a rise in employees threatening employment tribunal claims against employers as a tactic to achieve improved terms. Faced with such a claim you need expert advice on its value and merit, so that you can decide whether to settle and avoid tribunal proceedings or wait and see if the employee is willing to incur the cost of filing a tribunal claim.
Alongside our expertise in the law and understanding of latest trends for settlement, our experience in undertaking pre-claim conciliation will help you to secure a better result and greater protection in any agreed settlement. We have an excellent record of achieving withdrawals and low settlement figures for our clients.
Employment tribunal litigation
- Settlement of claims
- Defence against tribunal claims
Employment tribunal claims can be costly and time consuming to defend. Even if you win, it is unlikely you will recover your legal costs, and if you lose you could be required to make a large compensation payment. So, early, commercially informed and expert advice that leads to a resolution is essential. It’s also the case that employees are increasingly threatening a tribunal claim as a tactic to trigger a mandatory ACAS intervention in the hope of achieving a favourable outcome before the full tribunal. We recommend that you contact us as soon as you receive notification from Acas or an employment tribunal claim, so that we can help you establish the merit of the claim and the best course of action for your business.
If you decide to defend a claim, we will represent you in tribunal proceedings, providing robust arguments and using our skilled judgment and expertise to prepare your case. Recognised and respected by leading firms, having Morrisons defending your case says that you mean business. We have extensive experience of defending and also negotiating settlements in all types of employment tribunal claims, including constructive/unfair dismissal, discrimination claims and claims of unlawful deductions from wages. You may have a counter claim against the claimant.
We can run the defence for you or you may prefer to engage us on a pay as you go retainer where you instruct us to undertake specific tasks. Whether you wish to settle a claim or to fight it at tribunal, we will advise you on the best strategy for your business.