Impact of break-ups in a pub team

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Employment Partner

Coulson: problem of breaking up
Coulson: problem of breaking up
Peter Coulson explains the implications of a relationship breaking up while still trying to run a pub.

As you can imagine, I receive a number of communications these days from licensees who are in financial or commercial trouble in one way or another.

Unfortunately, in many cases the situation is well advanced and there can be little in the way of helpful advice or a magic wand to put everything right, especially where it is not really a trade issue.

One such factor is the breakdown of a relationship. This happens everywhere, but by the nature of the business of running a pub, it presents some immediate problems when it happens behind the bar.

So it is not surprising that I have been asked about the situation when a marriage has run into difficulties and the joint licensee/manager needs to know what will happen if his wife is no longer assisting him in running the premises. In this instance they have a joint contract with the brewery.

Of course, employment law recognises that there will be circumstances in which a couple, whether legally husband and wife or not, may be jointly employed to carry out the job in question.

This happens in both the pub and club trades and has been an acknowledged practice for some time.


In cases that have come before the tribunals or the courts, it has been held that misconduct or incapacity by one member of a husband-and-wife team justifies the termination of the contract for both. It is considered "some other substantial reason" (in the jargon of the employment acts) that would justify dismissal.

So where it has been made clear at the outset that the contract involves both partners, that they are jointly employed and expected to perform the duties laid down as a team, then the departure of one of them effectively torpedoes the whole contract, so that the remaining partner appears to be 'dismissed'.

What has happened in law is that the performance of the contract required by the employer is no longer possible. Even if there has been no fault in terms of the performance of the job, what was originally agreed between the parties cannot be carried out.

Now, that may not be the end of the affair, particularly nowadays, where breweries and operating companies may make contracts with any variety of pairings or groups. There may well be a way out of the problem by negotiation. But in terms of the agreement originally made, the contract as it existed may well be at an end.

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