Farmer Worker Accommodation
Farmers and landowners continue to provide accommodation for their employees. As employers, great care has to be taken when making these arrangements to ensure that problems do not arise, for example when the employment ceases. Mike Bracegirdle highlights some potential pitfalls and the way to avoid them.
One of the safer options is the creation of a service occupancy although the circumstances when these are available to the employer is limited. They can only be used when the employer needs the employee to reside on the employer’s property in order to meet the employees’ duties. The employee has a licence to occupy the property as long as they continue in the employer’s employment and one of these two conditions are met;
- The occupation is essential for the proper performance of the employees’ duties
- The employment contract expressly requires the employee to live at the property for better performance of the employees’ duties under the employment contract
Livestock enterprises may meet one of these conditions, for example milking duties on a dairy farm, but may not be applicable on a sheep farm when only at lambing time is it necessary for the employee to be readily available. Many factors need considering in each case.
A word of warning
As farmers diversify their business, an employee’s role may change and they may cease to be eligible to meet the service occupancy. In a recent case I was involved in, the employee was taken on in a milking role but the farmer no longer had milking stock. The employee had been retained in a part time game keeping role and therefore no longer met the criteria.
If an employer inadvertently creates a residential tenancy or the service tenancy morphs into a residential tenancy due to changes in the employees’ role, the employee may gain protection under the residential tenancy and as such the employer cannot readily obtain vacant possession of the property. Additional issues arise for those farmers who may be on a tenancy themselves – does the farm workers letting breach their own head lease?
Before entering any agreement for an employee’s accommodation, whether formal or otherwise, getting proper legal advice is essential. A dairy farmer being able to offer accommodation may be the difference between attracting a well-qualified and dependable employee, capable of maintaining milk production and thus sustained profitability, or facing the prospect of constantly changing staff or having to rely upon contract staff at much higher unit cost.
Equally if an employee ceases to be able to perform their duties (for whatever reason) the employer needs clarity and certainty that they can obtain vacant possession.
For the employee they equally need clarity – for their family’s security as well as for themselves. If the employee falls ill or on retirement they need realistic time scales to seek satisfactory alternative accommodation – a second floor retirement flat with no pets allowed would not be suitable for an elderly farm worker subject to arthritis with his sheepdog.
Butcher & Barlow LLP
Butcher & Barlow’s experienced Agriculture team work collaboratively with the Dispute Resolution team and Employment team and are happy to provide advice on any agreement at the outset of any employment or should problems arise during the course of the employment or upon termination.