Promotion or Change of Role Does Not Necessarily Prevent a ‘Stable Working Relationship’ for the Purposes of an Equal Pay Claim

In the case of Barnard v Hampshire Fire and Rescue, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that a series of role changes or promotions will not necessarily break the ‘stable working relationship’ for the purposes of calculating time limits for an equal pay claim.

Under the Equal Pay Act 1970, a Claimant has 6 months after a stable working relationship ends, to bring a claim.  The Claimant was employed by Hampshire Fire and Rescue in a series of roles: station administrator, business support officer, fire safety officer, office manager and finally community safety delivery manager. Two of the changes came about due to promotion.

Mrs Barnard brought an equal pay claim at the employment tribunal, which related to the full duration of her employment. As a preliminary point, the tribunal had to consider whether any part of the claim was out of time. In order to do so, it was necessary to establish whether any of the Claimant’s role changes had broken the ‘stable working relationship’, as this would affect when the 6- month limitation period would run from.

At first instance, the tribunal held that the Claimant’s promotions amounted to a significant change to her employment which broke the continuity of a stable working relationship.  The EAT applied the earlier Court of Appeal authority of North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust v Fox and others, which held that that when considering whether there has been a stable working relationship, tribunals should apply a broad, non-technical test and look at the character of the work being undertaken. This case made it clear that contractual terms would only be relevant to the extent that they threw light on this issue.  

On appeal however, the EAT concluded that the tribunal had failed to properly explain why it considered Mrs Barnard’s promotions to be a significant change. In referring the case back to a fresh Tribunal to be re- heard, the EAT made it clear that in its view, a series of job role changes did not necessarily disrupt the stable working relationship.

This case went further than the previous authority, by indicating that a stable working relationship can be maintained despite a series of promotions.

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