Kellogg Brown & Root (UK) Ltd v Fitton and Ewer
If an employee has a mobility clause in their contract and, in a redundancy situation, it is reasonable for the employee to relocate, dismissal (and a redundancy payment) can sometimes be avoided.
In this case, two employees whose office in Greenford was closing refused to relocate to their employer’s premises in Leatherhead. They were dismissed and each claimed unfair dismissal and a statutory redundancy payment.
Mr Fitton had objected to what would be a two-hour commute each way. He didn’t have a car, so that was an extra complication. Mr Ewer was approaching retirement and said that he shouldn’t have to have the additional stress of a 47-mile (as opposed to his usual 18-mile) commute each way. It would mean getting up at 4am in order to miss the traffic, he told his employer during his disciplinary.
At separate hearings the same tribunal reached the same conclusion. The instruction to work at Leatherhead was unreasonable and the company hadn’t put in place any measures that were relevant to these two men. They had been dismissed for redundancy. A proper redundancy process hadn’t been followed and the dismissals were unfair.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal didn’t agree entirely. The employer had dismissed the men because it believed they had failed to comply with the reasonable instruction to relocate to Leatherhead. That was misconduct, not redundancy. But the dismissals were still unfair. The instruction to relocate was unreasonable. And it was reasonable for the men to have refused.
There’s a big message here. If you want to rely on a contractual term to require employees to relocate, look very carefully at that proposed relocation in the context of each person and their particular circumstances. Reasonableness is key.