What’s in a name? well quite a lot actually by the sounds of it…

July 24, 2009

Commercial, contract, disciplinary, tax

Sources: Full case report – http://www.employmentappeals.gov.uk/Public/Upload/08_0505rjfhwwDA.doc 

Lambden v. Henley Rugby Football Club & Henley Rugby Football Club Ltd [2009] UKEAT/0505/08/DA

The case concerns the sacking of Jon Lambden, the 54 yr-old Head Coach and Director of Rugby at Henley Hawks Rugby Club on 18th February 2008. The case itself is an appeal from the decision of the 2008 Employment Tribunal in Reading that dismissed Lambden’s claim for unfair dismissal.

At issue in the case, is the nature of the claimant’s employment relationship with the club. The claimant contends that he was employed and therefore because the club summarily dismissed him without going through the full employment procedure, he is entitled to compensation. The Club on the other hand maintains that the claimant was actually self-employed and therefore it was entitled to terminate his services as it did.

Although there was a question mark over whether the Rugby club itself or the limited company set-up to manage the club that engaged in a contract with the claimant, the Appeal  Tribunal agreed with the earlier Tribunal that the Rugby Club had no contractual relationship with the claimant and that any action would be against the limited company [36].

So why was the claimant’s employment relationship so controversial?

The problem was that Henley Rugby Club had merged two previous roles (one self-employed, the other employed under PAYE) and offered the claimant the choice of which tax status he wanted to be [21]. The claimant chose self-employed and set up his own limited company (JKNA Training Ltd) [23]. In doing so, the Tribunals found that the claimant had a clear idea as to the difference in status between the two methods of taxation [26]. This decision was not so clear-cut however when the full facts of the contractual relationship were examined

  • The claimant’s hours of work were all training evenings and match days
  • The work for the club amounted to just under one half of all JKNA invoices
  • The claimant had autonomy over playing and sporting matters (the tribunal held that this was not an indication of self-employment but rather specialist expertise superior to the club [32]).
  • The claimant was under the control of the Chairman of the Club Management Committee
  • A notice period of three months on either side was agreed
  • Salary was fixed at £27,500pa regardless of how many hours were actually worked, with provision for a bonus and importantly, 4 weeks holiday pay
  • Also included was a fully insured, leased car from the Club’s fleet and a Club credit card (although the Tribunal held that provision of a car and credit card were usually indicative of employment rather than self-employment status, it gave little weight to them, preferring the substance of the arrangements instead [27]).
  • The claimant was not expected to provide a replacement or substitute if he was unable to provide his services

Although both Tribunals held that there were aspects that pointed more to employment than self-employment, no single point was decisive and in the absence of an unequivocal finding more weight had to be given to the parties self-description (ie self-employment) [57].

Ultimately though, the decisive point in the case was the fact that the Employment Appeal Tribunal could only overrule the earlier Tribunal decision if it felt that it was in some way perverse or misdirected in law [45]. On these facts, it was impossible to say that they had and the claimant’s action failed.

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About Kris

Associate Professor in Sports Law, Staffordshire University; British Gymnastics Senior Coach

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