In what circumstances can employees bring claims in British courts when their employment is outside Great Britain?  This issue was addressed by the EAT in the case of Ministry of Defence v Mrs Wallis and Mrs Grocott.

In this case the Claimants were wives of service personnel working at NATO headquarters in Belgium and in the Netherlands.  They obtained employment in schools attached to those headquarters and were dismissed when their husbands’ service came to an end.  They claimed in British courts for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.  The MOD appealed against a decision of the Tribunal that they did have jurisdiction to hear both claims notwithstanding that the Claimants worked abroad.

The EAT upheld the decision of the Tribunal.

In relation to unfair dismissal, decisions as to territorial jurisdiction are determined by reference to the case of Serco Ltd. v Lawson (where the Claimant worked as a security guard at the RAF base on Ascension Island).

In relation to expat employees, this case made it clear that the fact that the employer is based in Great Britain and that they were British nationals is not enough alone to bring employees within the scope of British employment legislation.  There has to be other features peculiar to their employment which creates a ‘special connection’ with Great Britain.  In this case, the ‘special connection’ was thae fact that their spouses had been posted abroad as part of the British military contingent.  The ‘special connection’ does not, therefore, have to be some inherent feature of the work.

In relation to sex discrimination, on the face of section 6(1) and 10 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to entertain the claims.  However, this has to be viewed in context of the decision in Bleuse v MBT Transport Ltd [2008] and Duncombe v Department of Education and Skills [2010]. As the Claimants were complaining of treatment contrary to the Equal Treatment Directive then the Tribunal is under a duty to construe any legislation to give effect to those rights.  Bleuse applies that approach to territoral limitations.  Therefore, the Tribunal judge rightly read into section 6(1) of the SDA the necessary qualifying words to give the Tribunal jurisdiction over the claim (even though the Act does contain express territorial limitation).