Unfair Dismissal: Employee Shareholder Status not altered by subsequent service agreement
In Barrasso v New Look Retailers Limited UKEAT/0079/19 the EAT had to consider how ‘employee shareholder status’ is terminated, as it is not provided for under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (‘ERA’). The concept of ‘employee shareholder status’ was introduced in 2013. It applies to those who are employed by a company in which they are issued £2,000 worth of fully paid up shares, having first agreed to be an employee shareholder and received information about the status, its rights and independent legal advice. Having the status means they retain some key employment rights but give up others (in return for the shares), such as the right to claim unfair dismissal or receive a statutory redundancy payment. S.205A of the ERA prescribes how one achieves this status but it silent on how it is terminated.
Mr Barrasso was employed as UK Managing Director by New Look until it was sold to another company and he was offered 7,000 shares in the parent company if he signed an Employee Shareholder Agreement (and met the criteria under the ERA), which he did. He was reassured by side letter (signed as a deed between the parties) that he would receive contractual benefits equal to the statutory employment rights he was giving up. He subsequently signed a new director’s service agreement (to standardise terms for all the directors) as a deed. This agreement contained a ‘complete agreement clause’ which purported to preserve the effect of the side letter (not mentioning the Employee shareholder agreement), whilst superseding all other agreements.
Believing that his employee shareholder status had been terminated by the service agreement when Mr Barrasso’s employment was terminated he brought a claim for unfair dismissal. The tribunal dismissed his claim on the basis that the service agreement made no reference to the employee shareholder status – therefore did not supersede it – and the side letter meant the statutory rights had been removed in favour of his contractual rights. He appealed to the EAT, who agreed with the tribunal’s findings. They also looked at how the status could have been terminated practically-speaking, given that the ERA is silent on this, citing examples such as: a new contradictory contract, or an agreement to sell back the shares. It was clear to the EAT however, that the intention of the parties was not to alter Mr Basrrasso’s employee shareholder status by signing his service agreement.
Published: 25 September 2019