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Brian Rogers

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Are MPs opening the floodgates for unfair dismissal claims?

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Brian Rogers, head of compliance at law firm Lewis Hymanson Small, argues that the recent announcement that MPs can no longer have members of their family working for them will have far reaching implications for HR professionals and businesses across the UK.

The proposals have not detailed how family members will be sacked and if legal procedures are to be followed. If the correct rules are not followed, there could be a number of unfair dismissal claims.

Proposals to axe relatives of MPs from being on the payroll, forms part of a report on changes to the way MPs use public funds. The report’s author, Sir Christopher Kelly – tasked by Gordon Brown to carry out his review – said the practice of MPs employing relatives was unacceptable. Sir Christopher believes challenging reforms are needed in order to restore public faith. Although MPs would have until 2015 to adjust to the changes, the proposals could lead to a flood of resignations. Over 200 MPs employ family members putting an average £33,000 a year into the family coffers.

MP outcry
The proposals caused outcry from MPs across the UK with Commons leader Harriet Harman saying that it is not fair to make MPs axe relatives. Eve Burt, wife of Tory MP Alistair, has been an office manager for her husband for 15 years, she said: “It would appear they are looking for scapegoats.”  The wives of some MPs are already hatching plans to defy the ban by swapping jobs with one another.

It’s clear there are many legal and HR implications and the controversy surrounding the announcement shows the process has clearly not been explained. Many MPs have had relatives working for them for a number of years and these employees have employment rights. If they don’t want to leave the role, there are legal implications of this.
Some couples have already indicated that they will be taking their cases to tribunals to prove the move is wrong.
For businesses across the UK, the proposals bring up a raft of employment and discrimination law issues: for example, could the new arrangements be justified as ‘some other substantial reason’? This is one of the ways of justifying a dismissal but would a tribunal see it this way? Another example is that of indirect discrimination. If it could be shown that in the main, wives fulfill these roles, then it is possible they are being subjected to unfavourable treatment due to their sex. The report needs to give clarification on how exactly family members will be ousted.

Do not follow suit
Small businesses in the UK must not be tempted to follow suit if they want to dismiss a family member. Before doing anything, the employment contract must be examined to see if there are any rules written down. If nothing is documented, it can be assumed that bother parties were happy with the working arrangement. If an employer becomes unhappy with a member of staff they must give verbal and written warnings before taking any action. Obviously in the case of the MPs, this has not occurred and therefore, questions have to be raised about the legality of the proposed sackings. If there is no prior indication that the performance has not been up to scratch, it could end up in an expensive legal wrangle.

The recommendations will now be handed to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority who will decide how to implement them in coming weeks, though Sir Christopher said he expected the bulk to be in place after the next election. Clarification about how the changes will be implemented must be made along with any future announcements.
 

Brian Rogers is head of compliance at law firm Lewis Hymanson Small.

One Response

  1. question

    Am I correct in thinking that MPs are technically unemployed for the three weeks or so of an election? If so where does this leave the status of those they employ? Do their staff get any redundancy pay if the MP is not re-elected? Are the staff on some form of fixed/limited contract?
    Anyone know?
     

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