Tribunal orders defunct law firm to pay staff outstanding wages

Wages: Firm ordered to pay thousands

A defunct family law firm has been ordered by an employment tribunal to pay two female members of staff unpaid wages and damages.

Employment judge Whittaker said the firm – Elizabeth Hassall Family Law (EHFL) – did not engage with the case or attend the hearing, and “failed completely to comply” with case management orders.

Judge Whittaker said the claimant, Ms L Goodwin, was given a contract in March 2015 saying her employer was another family practice, Acorn Law North West Limited, but she was to work as a secretary for Ms Hassall, who was trading as EHFL.

Both firms were Manchester-based alternative business structures – Acorn since 2012, until its licence was revoked in 2017, and EHFL from 2016, until the firm closed in October last year. They were set up and run by non-lawyer Martyn Maund.

When EHFL became a limited company and ABS in February 2016, Ms Goodwin said she was told that her employment transferred from Acorn Law to the firm.

However, she said she was not given a statement of the particulars of her employment, including the disciplinary rules, under the Employment Rights Act 1996, either at the time she started working for Acorn or was transferred to EHFL. She resigned in May 2018.

Judge Whittaker said: “The tribunal finds that this is a significant and unacceptable failure on the part of the two limited companies… to provide such basic particulars, especially in view of the fact that both firms were operating as law firms and ought therefore to have been fully aware of the legal obligations placed upon them when employees were employed.”

The judge said the contract issued to Ms Goodwin in 2015 was “completely silent” about any power the company had to suspend an employee.

He said Mr Maund then alleged in June 2018 that he was investigating “matters in relation” to Ms Goodwin’s performance. However, there were no references to her being suspended.

“The claimant vigorously denied that there were any grounds whatsoever to properly or justifiably criticise her performance.

“The company provided no particulars whatsoever of the manner in which the claimant’s performance had in any way been unsatisfactory.

“The claimant was never called to any disciplinary hearing and was never supplied with any evidence whatsoever to justify any criticisms of her.”

Ms Goodwin brought a single claim against the law firm, alleging that it had failed to pay her last month’s wages

The tribunal ruled that EHFL must pay the claimant a month’s wages of just over £1,350 together with damages of £1,250 for “failing to provide appropriate employment particulars”.

In a separate tribunal ruling, EHFL was ordered to repay Miss R Meehan over £3,100 following an “unauthorised deduction” from her wages.

It had also to pay Miss Meehan damages of £1,700 for being dismissed “in breach of contract in respect of notice”.

We have tried to contact Mr Maund. The eponymous Elizabeth Hassall left the firm last summer and told Legal Futures she was not involved in the events behind the claims.


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