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Location, location, location

Aziz v The Freemantle Trust

Ms Aziz was a care worker who had relocated to the Trust’s Dell Field Court site. Issues arose between her and two other workers, and this triggered a period of difficulties, complaints, suspensions, absences and grievances.

The situation was deemed to be dysfunctional, and the Trust decided that Ms Aziz should be moved to another site. She was given three weeks’ notice and confirmation that she would be paid her additional travel expenses in line with the employer’s relocation policy. But Ms Aziz didn’t take up what she said was her employer’s offer to move to a different location. This led to her dismissal for unauthorised absence, failure to engage with the Trust and, ultimately, a fundamental breakdown in trust and confidence.

In respect of her unfair dismissal claim, the tribunal found for her employer who, it said, had a clear business need for Ms Aziz to relocate. But on appeal, she argued that there was no proper basis for the employer requiring her to relocate. The question for the EAT was: had there been a lawful exercise of a mobility clause in Ms Aziz’s contract?

The contract included this wording:

“……It is, therefore, a condition of your employment that should the need of Freemantle’s business require it, you will change your place of work or base office for the performance of your duties.”

Ms Aziz argued said that that should be seen in light of the Trust’s relocation policy which applied to the closure of an establishment, a rebuilding operation a relocation of services, or a new service development – none of which arose here – and covered things like relocation expenses, and consultation.

However, the EAT held that the policy didn’t limit the scope of the mobility clause. The employer had, in response to a genuine business need, been entitled to require Ms Aziz to relocate under the terms of her contract. The tribunal had correctly scrutinised the employer’s approach before reaching the conclusion that dismissal for refusing to obey that instruction was fair.