Ellen Shipton

Solicitor

DATE PUBLISHED: 16 Jan 2020 LAST UPDATED: 04 Jul 2022

Uphill struggle– Jess Varnish permitted to appeal the decision over her employment status with British Cycling

In 2019, Jess Varnish, former Great Britain cyclist, took both British Cycling and UK Sport to an Employment Tribunal following her abrupt “drop” from the GB team before the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The Employment Tribunal decision

Jess believed that she was dropped from the 2016 Rio Olympics in “retaliation” for her criticism of her coaches. She argued that she was in reality an employee and therefore should be afforded certain protections under Employment Law such as sick pay, a pension and the right to bring a claim for unfair dismissal.

The former GB cyclist claimed that the sporting organisations’ control over her was akin to an employment relationship, and therefore she had employment rights. In addition she argues that the £25,000 grant provided by UK Sport was in reality a salary and not a grant.

The Employment Tribunal found that Jess was not, in reality, an employee and did not have an employment contract with either organisation. As a result, Jess was not able to pursue Employment Tribunal claims.

During the tribunal hearing, Jess also raised a number of issues including welfare concerns, the balance of power with governing bodies and the control that athletes are put under. A small victory for Jess from the case is likely to be that UK Sport and British Cycling both confirmed that they have taken on board the issues raised and will review how athletes are allegedly treated.

The appeal

Following the decision of the Employment Tribunal last year, Jess has now won the right to a full appeal on the question of her employment status with British Cycling. No doubt this will prove to be a highly anticipated decision for athletes due to the repercussions if the previous decision is overruled. The hearing is due to take place in the first half of 2020.

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