When an individual employee is working outside Great Britain are they still covered by employment protection that would allow them, for example, to claim unfair dismissal? Clearly they can if they normally work in Great Britain, and their overseas duties are merely incidental to the duties here in Great Britain. But what about the situation when the employee performs all their duties abroad? This was the issue in the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Ravat v Halliburton Manufacturing and Services Ltd  UKSC1.
In this case, Mr Ravat claimed unfair dismissal. Ravat worked overseas in Libya, 28 days on, 28 days back at his home in England. When he was back home on leave his only work duties were checking his emails. Although he had been employed by a company in Scotland (a subsidiary of an American parent), Ravat carried out his duties in Libya for the benefit of a German subsidiary in the same group.
The difficulty in establishing whether employment protection covers those working outside Great Britain is because of the way the relevant legislation is drawn.
Section 94(1) of the Employment Rights 1996 provides: “An employee has the right not to be unfairly dismissed.” Section 230(1) of that Act defines “employee” as “an individual who has entered into or works under (or, where the employment has ceased, worked under) a contract of employment.” Neither of these provisions contains any geographical limitation. The Act does extend to England, Wales, and Scotland, but not to Northern Ireland (section 244(1) of the Act), which has its own legislation. Therefore, an individual working under contract in Great Britain is covered; those working under contract abroad would appear not to be covered.
This means the Courts must decide what must have been in the minds of Parliament when the Employment Rights Act 1996 was enacted? Are there occasions when the way an overseas worker's duties are performed could be deemed to be as if they were working under contract in Great Britain? The Supreme Court reviewed the principles contained in the House of Lords (as then was) judgement in a major test case on this matter – Lawson v Serco  UKHL 3, and commented on in Duncombe v Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (No.2)  UKSC 14.
The Lawson case involved three employees: (1) Mr Lawson, employed as a security adviser at the British RAF base on Ascension Island; (2) Mr Botham, employed as a youth worker at various MOD establishments in Germany; and (3) Mr Crofts, employed as a pilot by a Hong Kong airline, but based at Heathrow. The Duncombe case concerned teachers employed by the British Government to work in European schools.
The principle that arose out of these cases is that where it appears to be that the employment has a much stronger
connection both with Great Britain and with British employment law than with
any other system of law, the employee is still covered by domestic employment law. In other words, the employment relationship must have a closer connection with Great Britain than with the
foreign country where the employee works.
Therefore, if an employee lives and works abroad, and is based abroad, their connection with domestic employment protection provisions is decidedly weakened. Of course, by the same reasoning, in the case of Mr Croft, because he lived in Great Britain, worked out of Heathrow, which was also his base, he had a very strong connection with domestic employment law.
In the cases of Messrs Lawson and Botham, although they worked abroad and were based there, nevertheless it was like they were still working in Great Britain because of the nature of the site(s) where they worked, and therefore, they were still protected by the employment law of Great Britain.
However, in the case of Mr Ravat, the question remained as to whether the connection between the circumstances of the employment in Great Britain and with British employment law was sufficiently strong to enable it to be said that it would be appropriate for Ravat to have a claim for unfair dismissal in Great Britain?
The Supreme Court set out its steps to reaching a conclusion. The company that employed Ravat was based in Great Britain. It was this company that sent Ravat to Libya, even though the actual work itself was in the furtherance of the business of another Halliburton subsidiary or associate company. It was the company in Great Britain that chose to treat Ravat as a commuter for this purpose, with a rotational working pattern familiar to workers elsewhere in the oil industry which enables them to spend an equivalent amount of time at home in Great Britain as that spent offshore or overseas. Therefore, in Ravat's case, this meant that all the benefits for which he would have been eligible had he been working in Great Britain were preserved for him.
The Court did acknowledge that deciding whether section 94(1) (right not to be unfairly dismissed) applies to an overseas workers is not straightforward. Of course, the answer is obvious where an overseas worker has no connection at all with Great Britain. Allowing an overseas worker the benefit of British employment protection “will be the exception”.
“The connection between Great Britain and the employment relationship must be sufficiently strong enough,” stated the Supreme Court, “to enable it to be presumed that, although the individual is working abroad, Parliament must have intended that section 94(1) should apply to them. In the case of those employees who are truly expatriate, because they not only work but also live outside Great Britain requires an especially strong connection with Great Britain and British employment law before an exception can be made for them.”
Unless there is a change in the legislation, this argument as to the connection of an overseas employment with the law of Great Britain is not going to go away. It will all depend, not only on what is stated in terms and conditions of employment, but also in how those terms and conditions are actually exercised.