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Case law: Employees working for employer's only customer are not automatically protected under TUPE rules

Employers should note that TUPE does not automatically protect employees working exclusively for one client who then takes the work in-house, if the company only has one client, following a legal ruling.

Legal Alert

This update was published in Legal Alert - February 2015

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

A company employed three painters and decorators and at the relevant time, its only client was a local authority. The local authority ended the company's contract, saying it was taking the work in-house. The employees claimed protection under the TUPE rules.

The TUPE rules are designed to protect employees in certain circumstances by preserving their jobs and their terms and conditions of employment. The circumstances when jobs are protected include a 'change of service provision' when work they do as an independent contractor is brought in-house. However, in order for TUPE to apply on a change of service provision there must be an 'organised grouping of employees' which 'has as its principal purpose the carrying out of the activities concerned on behalf of the client'. In those circumstances, the employment contracts of the employees assigned to the organised grouping of employees will pass to the client, but not otherwise.

The local authority argued there had been no organised grouping of employees at the company so it did not have to take the employees on. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that the correct approach was to look at the organisational structure of the company, and the employees' contractual roles within it. In this case, the company could have required the employees to do other work (including work for other customers) at any time. The employees had not been consciously allocated to the local authority work – it just so happened that there was no other work available at the time. One employee had also taken on extra work internally, by becoming company secretary.

There was therefore no organised grouping of employees dedicated to the local authority's work, and TUPE did not apply.

Operative date

  • Now


  • Businesses wishing to claim that TUPE protects their employees if there is a 'service provision change', should ensure their employees are consciously allocated to an organised grouping of employees, and cannot – and do not - call upon them to do other work.
Case ref: London Borough of Hillingdon v Gormanley & Ors [2014] UKEAT 0169_14_1912

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