UK Employment Law Update: Injunction - to compel performance of an employment contract?



The case of Ashworth v Royal National Theatre was unusual in that the claimants were professional musicians working on the long-running play 'War Horse' and whose contracts were terminated when they were replaced by recorded music.

What was not so unusual was that, when they claimed a mandatory injunction requiring their employer to continue to engage them, the High Court rejected their claim.

The general rule remains that, even if the employer has wrongfully terminated the contract, the courts will be very reluctant to order the employer to take the employees back. The courts will not enforce an employment contract (because they are so personal in nature) when a claimant has an adequate remedy in damages or compensation.

Points to note –
• This case confirms previous decisions. Although judges have acknowledged that nowadays the relationship of most corporate employers with their employees is far more impersonal, the general rule relating to injunctions will still be hard to satisfy –  injunctions will only be awarded in exceptional cases and usually only as an interim measure.
• The facts will have to be exceptional for an injunction to be granted. In the much-cited case of Powell v Brent LBC the claimant was only successful in obtaining an interim injunction to preserve the status quo because she had not yet been dismissed. Objections had been raised to her recent promotion. Her promotion had not been confirmed and all she asked for was as order restraining the employer from re-advertising the post until the issue was resolved.