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Employment relationships begin before work commences

Certain employment rights are governed by the length of service at a company, such as the ability to claim unfair dismissal and to receive statutory redundancy payments.

In a recent decision at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), EAT president Mr Justice Langstaff ruled that, for the purpose of calculating length of service, employment relationships can be considered as “governed by a contract of employment” from when a job offer is accepted rather than when the work commences.

The appeal was brought by Mr Welton, who had his employment terminated after the Deluxe Retail store in Sheffield where he worked closed down. During what would have been the next working week, he accepted a job with the same company in Blackpool, with the employment commencing the following week and ending a few months later.

The Employment Rights Acts states that when an employment relationship is governed by a contract of employment for any part of a working week, that week is considered as part of an employee’s continuous employment with a firm.

However, the gap between the two periods when Mr Welton was actually working meant he would not have had sufficient length of service to claim unfair dismissal, unless the week during which the offer of work was accepted counted as part of his continuous employment.

Mr Justice Langstaff agreed that this was indeed the case. “The week in which the contract of employment was made is a week which counts,” he said. “There was no week during the whole of which his relations with his employer were not governed by a contract of employment. On this basis, there was continuity of employment.”