Employment Team of the Year

Leigh Day

The issue of zero-hours contracts was a political hot potato throughout 2014 and in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, with Labour leader Ed Miliband pledging to ban them had his party won the election. Leigh Day was one of the driving forces behind putting the issue in the public eye and keeping it there, with a multi-pronged attack including bringing a tribunal claim and civil litigation against retailer Sports Direct – while working predominantly on a pro bono basis.

Although many lawyers believed that employment legislation and case law meant that zero-hours contracts could not be challenged, Leigh Day partner Elizabeth George disagreed. Along with Cloisters barrister David Massarella, George used a 2006 House of Lords case to argue that those on zero-hour contracts could compare their treatment to those on guaranteed-hours contracts.

The initial claimant, Zahera Gabriel-Abraham, settled with Sports Direct and the company was forced to change its policies. Leigh Day is now bringing a group action on behalf of other employees.

George has also been advising campaign group 38 Degrees on the issue and the resulting public consultation led to clauses protecting the rights of zero-hours contractors in legislation which came into force this year.

Runner up
  • Linklaters

Linklaters’ employment team takes second place for its pro bono work acting for whistleblowing cardiologist Dr Kevin Beatt in his claim against Croydon Health Services NHS Trust.

Beatt was dismissed in September 2012 after he raised concerns about patient safety. In October 2014 an employment tribunal upheld his claim for unfair dismissal. In April 2015 the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) rejected the trust’s appeal. Linklaters partners Nicola Rabson and Jillian Naylor took on Beatt’s case at tribunal stage, and, alongside 11KBW’s Harini Iyengar as counsel, continue to act for him in remedies hearings before the EAT.

The firm’s relationship with whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work has also seen it take the lead on a campaign to raise awareness of the issue – a factor praised by our judges.

Third place
  • Burges Salmon

Burges Salmon takes third place in this category for its work advising US listed pre-paid solutions company Wex Inc on the employment and HR aspects of the acquisition of Esso’s fuel card business from Exxon Mobil, which involved nine European jurisdictions.

The instruction came on the back of a referral from an existing client and Burges Salmon won a competitive pitch to provide employment, pensions and employee benefits advice across the nine jurisdictions. It led the work alongside eight independent firms which are part of Burges Salmon’s preferred firm network. A single fee structure was agreed across the network and fixed costs adhered to. A mark of the success of the work was that all employees were successfully transferred to Wex with no claims arising.

  • CMS
  • Covington
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • Seyfarth Shaw (UK)