The normal time limit for an equal pay claim is six months from the end of employment. However, if an employee has been engaged on a series of different contracts, they have to bring a claim within six months of the end of the "stable working relationship" to which those contracts relate. The issue for the EAT in Barnard v Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority was whether a promotion within the same department ended the claimant's stable working relationship with her employer, meaning that her equal pay claims in relation to periods before her promotion were out of time. The EAT found that the stable working relationship continued, despite the promotion, so her claims could proceed.
Ms Barnard worked in a number of different roles within the fire service, on different contracts each time, from 2009 until she resigned in 2017. She brought equal pay claims after her resignation. The issue for the tribunal and EAT was whether her claims in relation to roles she held prior to her promotion to the position of Office Manager were out of time, because her promotion to manager ended the stable working relationship between her and her employer. If the stable working relationship came to an end with that promotion, her claims in relation to the earlier roles had not been brought within six months of the end of the relationship and were out of time.
The EAT, overturning the tribunal decision, found that the promotion to office manager did not break the stable working relationship between her and her employer. A natural progression within the same department was entirely consistent with the continuation of a stable working relationship. Tribunals should take a broad and non-technical approach to whether a stable working relationship continues, looking at the character of the work and the employment relationship in practical terms. In this case any change in job content was incremental and reflected the fact that staff were expected to progress and be promoted into new roles within the department. The factors that the tribunal had relied on to find that there was a break in the stable working relationship – grade and pay increases and a change in job content – were in fact entirely consistent with the continuation of the relationship.
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