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Work Relationships May Be Informal But Employment is Employment

When you engage someone to work in the informal sanctum of your own home, it is easy to forget that you are very likely to owe them all the legal duties of an employer. An Employment Tribunal (ET) powerfully made that point in upholding a home carer’s unfair dismissal complaint.

The carer was employed by a mother to look after her son, who had round-the-clock care needs. His role demanded the utmost trustworthiness and reliability. He formed a close bond with his charge and, although the employment relationship ultimately came to an unhappy end, the mother regarded him as a very good carer.

After the son made a number of serious allegations to his mother concerning the carer’s conduct, all of which he vehemently denied, the mother sent him a text message announcing that he was being let go. Shocked and upset by the termination of his employment, he launched proceedings.

Upholding his claim, the ET noted that his employment in a domestic setting had a high degree of informality and familiarity about it. The mother had described herself as just a mum seeking to provide care for her son. It was entirely understandable that she should regard herself first and foremost as a parent. However, the ET emphasised that she was also an employer.

The mother was, on any view, a small employer. However, the carer was entitled to the benefit of a process that satisfied the basic elements of fairness. At the very least, he should have been given the chance to respond to the mother’s concerns about him. A fair process need not have taken long and could possibly have been completed within a week. The ET also found that the carer’s dismissal without reasonable notice amounted to a wrongful breach of contract.

Although there was no contributory fault on the carer’s part, the ET ruled that the amount of his compensation should be reduced by 80 per cent. That was because it was highly likely that his relationship with the mother and, crucially, her son had broken down irretrievably and that he would have been dismissed in any event. Other remedy issues, if not agreed, would be the subject of a further hearing.

Published in
9 June 2022
Last Updated
26 June 2022