Over the past few years, Brodies has proactively developed its relationship with Royal Bank of Scotland to the point where last year it advised on around 98 per cent of the entire bank’s tribunal work. The firm has developed a unique employment partnership with the bank and through the firm’s innovative approach it has become a central part of the group’s HR function. Currently, it is advising the bank on groundbreaking applications involving 83 claims under the fixed-term workers’ regulations, as well as an equal pay claim, which looks set to result in a reference to the European Court of Justice.
Clifford Chance’s Bruce Hedley and his team had a highly significant win in the Court of Appeal last year, which clarified the complex position of agency workers. The issue of whether agency workers have the right to be treated as an employee has already generated considerable academic debate – not to mention costly litigation. Advising longstanding client Brook Street Bureau in the Court of Appeal, Hedley emerged victorious after a ruling which found in favour of the agency. Although the individual claim was capped at a little over £50,000, the outcome of the case was highly significant in protecting the position of employment agencies across the board.
A consistently strong performer in the employment arena, Eversheds this year impressed with its role in the formation of Ofcom. Partner Helga Breen won the mandate to advise on the deal because of her past experience on the formation of the Financial Services Authority – but this proved to be more challenging still. In the space of just 10 months, the team faced an extraordinary number of challenges, including working closely with the Department of Trade and Industry to draw up new legislation because the existing Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (Tupe) legislation did not apply to the reorganisation of a public body. Negotiating in a highly charged atmosphere, with the outgoing regulators often directly opposed to the creation of Ofcom, the team managed to transfer 90 per cent of staff onto new contracts, with the use of cutting-edge contracts policies and procedures.
This year marked the culmination of four years of successful strategic and practical partnering between the Hammonds employment team and the group strategy team of the Manchester Airport Group (MAG). MAG originally brought on board Hammond’s Sue Nickson and her team in an effort to address critical issues relating to MAG’s corporate structure, terms and conditions of employment and shift patterns. The issues were legally complex and further complicated by existing onerous contractual undertakings. Hammonds and MAG worked to successfully keep the airport open, limit the extent of industrial action and implement the changes to employment conditions, saving the airport group an estimated £16m per annum.
Mishcon de Reya
Led by James Libson, this 12-strong employment department is known for handling high-profile cases and the past 12 months have been no different. Steven Horkulak’s action against Cantor Fitzgerald takes top billing. An unprecedented success, the court awarded Horkulak nearly £1m in damages, in a ruling that resonated throughout the City. The judgment backed Mishcon’s contention that no matter how high the pressure, or how great the financial stakes and rewards, there are basic behavioural standards that every employer is obliged to meet. The success of the team in this and other disputes saw the department post a 100 per cent hike in turnover last year.
National Union of Teachers
During the course of its 55-year existence, the legal team at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has truly become a force to be reckoned with. The 15-strong team provides advice for members relating to problems in the course of their employment and union activity. But rather than just being reactive, the team focused its legal work alongside the NUT’s policy objectives in a bid to improve the working environment for teachers. This is admirably demonstrated in the 2003 case of Barber v Somerset County Council – one of the leading cases on workplace stress. Led by Graham Clayton, the team took the case all the way to the House of Lords, where it emerged victorious with a ruling that has ensured employers must take more responsibility for protecting their employees from workplace stress.