Firms given legal update at Birketts employment law conference

Birketts Employment Law Conference 2016 at Rowley Mile Racecourse, Newmarket.

Birketts Employment Law Conference 2016 at Rowley Mile Racecourse, Newmarket. - Credit: Birketts

How businesses can protect themselves in the 'war for skills' in East Anglia was one of the topics covered at an employment law summit.

With non-compete clauses becoming part and parcel of many contracts it is becoming ever more important for businesses to understand how to frame them.

But speaking at the Birketts Employment Law Conference, at Rowley Mile Racecourse, Newmarket, the head of the legal team for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, David Thornloe, said the government had looked at whether such clauses prevented start-ups and innovation and had carried out a consultation over the summer.

He said: 'Non-compete clauses have sparked concerns around restricted government. They stop workers from going and setting up another business.

'Does that disrupt or limit innovation, should we be encouraging people to start up businesses?'

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He added no decisions had been made as yet.

Birketts partner Jeanette Wheeler said it was important for companies, particularly the small and medium firms which make up much of the east's business landscape, were making sure any clauses were valid and not too wide reaching.

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She added: 'There is a war for skills. Companies are trying to get and retain talented, skilled people.

'In this region, particularly in the oil and gas industry, until recently, there has been a shortage of engineers for example.'

She added that while people were entitled to earn a living legislation was in place to prevent an employee gaining an advantage through inside knowledge when leaving a firm.

Ms Wheeler said because East Anglia was an attractive place to live and work many workers remain in the area and so end up employed with competing businesses.

She said: 'The key thing for businesses is a) to enforce these clauses when they have them and b) they have to be really careful as to the drafting of them.'

Around 250 representatives of businesses attended the conference which featured a mock injunction on non-compete clauses, which had Birketts partner and employment judge Kevin Palmer presiding over it.

Mr Thornloe and speakers from Birketts team also discussed new case law, the impact of Brexit on legislation and incoming laws such as gender pay gap reporting.

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