Employing family still means you have to follow the law.

Many small family businesses have informal working arrangements, but that does not excuse them from the legal requirement to have proper procedures in place to ensure fair treatment of employees. A tribunal made that point in a case concerning an undertaker and joiner who was unfairly sacked by his own parents.

The man had worked for the partnership run by his parents for 37 years but had never been provided with a written employment contract. Members of the family tended to work for the business from a young age, as and when required. During the final three years of his employment, the man was continuously off work, having suffered disabling injuries in a quad biking accident.

He was keen to return to work, but a family rift developed after his aging parents decided to sell the business with a view to retirement. Bad feeling worsened when the business was sold to the man’s son, with whom he had had a serious falling out. The man had not spoken to his father since then.

After the man launched proceedings against his parents, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that his dismissal was unfair. There had been no semblance of formal procedure leading up to the termination of his employment; there had been no meeting or discussion of any kind, nor had alternative resolutions been considered.

However, the ET went on to find that the reason for his dismissal was the underlying breakdown in family relations and his father’s genuine belief that he could not work with his son. On that basis, the ET found that there was a potentially fair reason for his dismissal and that, even had a fair procedure been followed, there was a 60 per cent chance that he would have lost his job in any event.

The man also failed to establish that he had been discriminated against because of his disability. Given that he had been medically certified as unfit for work, the duty to make reasonable adjustments for him had not been triggered. Any unfavourable treatment that he had endured did not occur because of something arising in consequence of his disability.

In ruling on the man’s challenge to those parts of the ET’s ruling that were unfavourable to him, the Employment Appeal Tribunal accepted that a different view of the evidence could have been taken. However, in dismissing the appeal, it could detect no errors of law or approach in the ET’s decision. The amount of the man’s compensation remains to be assessed.

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