A Chef, who was dismissed via text message after questioning his rate of pay, has been awarded more than £15,000 after an unfair dismissal finding by an employment tribunal.
Christopher Hillis, a former chef at Glasgow restaurant Cail Bruich, asked the owner of the establishment about his pay being less than the national minimum wage on 19th September of last year after being employed for five months. The following day he called in sick and on 22nd September sent a text to his manager enquiring when his next shift was. The reply he received accused him of inventing his illness, was abusive in nature and resulted in dismissal, concluding with: “We don’t want you back”.
The Tribunal found that Mr. Hillis had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him compensation totalling £15,157 for unfair dismissal, breach of contract and claims under national minimum wage regulations. The tribunal found that the underpayment of wage was substantial, with Mr Hillis’ being paid £134 per week less than he should have received. He was also prevented from taking breaks because the kitchen was too busy, meaning his hourly rate was around £4.
This case highlights several issues critical to the employee-employer relationship, including the operation of the national minimum wage.
National Minimum Wage
The National Minimum Wage (NMW) is the minimum pay per hour almost all workers are entitled to by law. All employers must pay an employee wages, which is broadly calculated according to a worker’s age and whether they are carrying out an apprenticeship.
New National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015 came into force on 6 April 2015 and consolidated and replaced the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999 and a further 27 other statutory instruments. Responsibility for enforcing the NMW falls to HM Revenue and Customs, which has the ability not only to enforce payments of the NMW but also to impose penalties on employers who flaunt the regulations. The repercussions for non-compliance include:
- The ability to ‘name and shame’ employers who break NMW regulations, leading to public awareness of their business practice and more extensive media publication;
- Forcing underpaying employers to pay arrears of wages at the current minimum wage rate and the ability to impose financial penalties of up to £20,000;
- Serious violations may result in employers facing criminal prosecution.
Employers are permitted 28 days to appeal against a Notice of Underpayment. If no appeal is lodged or the appeal is unsuccessful, the Government will consider taking further action, such as publishing their name under the ‘name and shame’ scheme.
As of the 1st October 2015, the NWM rates will rise to:
- £6.70 for workers 21 and over
- £5.30 for 18 – 20 year olds
- £3.87 for 16-17 year olds (those above school leaving age but under 18)
- £3.30 for apprentices under 19 or 19 or over who are in the first year of apprenticeship.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the regulations’ changes is the introduction of the compulsory National Living Wage, due to be introduced in April 2016. This will set wage rates at £7.20 per hour for working people aged 25 and over.
There are a number of people who are not entitled to the NMW. These include:
- Self-employed people;
- Volunteers or voluntary workers;
- Family members, or people who live in the family home of the employer who undertake household tasks;
- Company directors.
All other workers, including flex workers, agency workers, commission workers and part-time workers must receive at least the NMW. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that each employee is paid appropriately.
An enquiry by employees regarding these rates should be welcomed with reference to these rates and justifications for that employee’s pay depending on their status.
The workplace environment, particularly in small organisations, can often lead to stressful and emotionally driven responses to incidents. Nevertheless, employers have a statutory responsibility to pay their employees appropriately. Emotional and personally motivated decisions taken in an employment context will likely be looked at very unfavourably by Employment Tribunals and may result in a similar outcome to that in the case of Mr. Hillis.
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