U.K. Employment Law Update: Worker Status, Non-Compete Restrictions and COVID-19 Dismissal

Clarification on Worker Status

In Nursing and Midwifery Council v Somerville [2022] EWCA Civ 229, the Court of Appeal (CoA) considered whether an obligation on the part of a worker to perform a minimum amount of work was a prerequisite for worker status.

The CoA held that Mr. Somerville was a worker on the basis that he was required to perform personally any work that he accepted, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council was not a client or customer of Mr. Somerville’s business. It was not a prerequisite to a finding of worker status that there should be an obligation to perform a minimum amount of work.

Enforceability of 12-Month Non-Compete Restrictions

In Law By Design Ltd v Ali [2022] EWHC 426 (QB), the High Court (HC) considered the enforceability of 12-month non-compete restrictions contained in a service agreement and a shareholders’ agreement.

The HC upheld the non-compete restriction in the service agreement on the basis that it was no wider than was reasonably necessary to protect Law By Design’s legitimate business interests. However, the HC found that although the restriction in the shareholders’ agreement sought to protect legitimate business interests, it was wider than reasonably necessary to protect those interests and therefore unenforceable. This was because it would prevent Ms. Ali from being involved with any law firm in England and Wales that competed with any part of Law By Design’s business as operated in the 12 months prior to Ms. Ali’s termination, irrespective of whether or not she had any involvement with that part of the business.

COVID-19 Dismissal

In Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Ltd [2022] EAT 69, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered whether an employee who did not return to work because of concerns over COVID-19 had been automatically unfairly dismissed.

The EAT held that, in principle, the pandemic could give rise to circumstances of danger that an employee could reasonably believe to be serious and imminent. However, Mr. Rodgers’ refusal to return to work was not directly linked to his working conditions but was rooted in a general concern about the virus. As such, Mr. Rodgers’ dismissal was not automatically unfair.

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