SUMMARY: The Sports Direct founder, Mike Ashley, faced the Business Innovation and Skills (“BIS”) Select Committee on 7 June 2016 for an evidence session into the working practices adopted by Sports Direct. A month later, it was widely reported that Sports Direct’s profits had been hit. Mr Ashley’s fortunes have not improved as this month it has been announced that shareholders will be asked to vote on whether there should be an independent workplace review – we will have to wait until September to see how this latest chapter unfolds.
But how did it come to this?
To recap, Mr Ashley received intense criticism stemming from the Guardian Newspaper’s investigation at the end of 2015, which uncovered allegations that his Company:
- Failed to pay its workers the minimum wage;
- Engaged a significant proportion of staff via zero hours contracts and short term hours agency worker agreements;
- Created a culture of fear throughout its workforce due to arbitrary and outdated disciplinary practices; and
- Conducted daily physical security searches of employees.
On the back of the ever increasing publicity of how some high profile companies treat their employees, we have produced a two part series to enable you to assess whether your company is inadvertently making the same mistakes as those reportedly made by Sports Direct. The first in this series explores the allegation that Sports Direct failed to pay its workers the minimum wage and sets out the law behind this complex issue.
HM Revenue and Customs (“HMRC”) are currently investigating allegations that Sports Direct paid its workers less than the National Minimum Wage (“NMW”) effectively saving the Company millions of pounds per year.
The underpayment allegedly arose as a result of workers being forced to undergo compulsory rigorous security checks at the end of their shifts as a theft prevention measure, adding as much as 15 minutes onto their working day (or up to one hour and fifteen minutes to their working week), which is unpaid.
In addition, it is also alleged that workers faced a 15 minute deduction from their pay for “clocking on” 1 minute after their designated start time, even if they actually arrived on site on time.
WERE THE SPORTS DIRECT STAFF WHO WEREN’T EMPLOYEES ENTITLED TO NMW?
All employers are obliged to pay the NMW regardless of their size, and the NMW applies to all “workers” ordinarily working in the UK who are over compulsory school leaving age, not just employees. This includes agency workers and apprentices.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT NMW RATES?
From 1 April 2016, there are now 5 rates of NMW:
|National Living Wage
||Workers aged 25+
|Standard Adult Rate
||Workers aged 21-24 (inclusive)
||Workers aged 18-20 (inclusive)
|Young Workers Rate
||Workers aged under 18 but above the compulsory school age
- Under the age of 19; or
- Aged 19 or over, but in the first year of their apprenticeship
HOW DO I DETERMINE IF MY COMPANY IS PAYING THE NMW?
In order to determine whether the NMW is being paid to your workers, you will need to determine their average hourly rate of pay.
On the face of it this calculation seems quite a simple one – sadly, this is not so. The average rate of pay is calculated by dividing the total amount of “money payments” that a worker earns across the relevant reference period, by the number of hours the worker has worked during that same reference period. However, what amounts to a “money payment” frequently trips up the uninitiated – see below.
The number of hours worked (known as “working time”) can also prove a tricky area for companies and one which has given rise to a raft of case law on its own. This is dealt with below.
Turning then to the relevant reference period, this is usually one month and cannot be greater than one month. However, if the worker is paid weekly or daily, then this is their reference period.
What Money Payments Should Be Considered?
Companies must exercise caution as some payments cannot be included as “money payments” for NMW purposes:
|EXAMPLES OF INCLUDED PAYMENTS
|Bonus**An annual bonus paid for example in December, will usually only count for the December reference period
|Commission/Incentive Payments Based on Performance
|Allowances Paid by HMRC Dispensation Agreements
EXAMPLES OF EXCLUDED PAYMENTS
|Benefits in Kind
|Loans Given by the Company
|Advances of Wages
|Lump Sum Payments on Retirement
|Premiums Paid for Overtime/Shift Work
|Tips and Gratuities
What About Deductions From Pay?
Certain deductions from a worker’s pay can reduce their pay for NMW purposes, including deductions made by a company in respect of expenditure in connection with carrying out their duties (e.g. the cleaning or purchase of uniforms). After these deductions have been taken into account the worker must still be left with at least the NMW.
Another famous retailer, Monsoon, was ordered to pay more that £100,000 to its employees in 2015 as a result of its practice of requiring staff to wear Monsoon clothes at work and deducting the discounted cost of the clothes from their wages. After the deduction, staff were left with less than the NMW.
Conversely, certain deductions do not reduce a worker’s pay for NMW purposes such as a deduction permitted by the contract between the Company and the worker due to misconduct.
In the case of Sports Direct, it has been reported that deductions were made from workers’ pay for lateness. If the deductions were not permitted by contract, the deduction would reduce the workers’ pay for NMW purposes.
A deduction of this nature could also amount to an unlawful deduction of wages, allowing the worker to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal.
What Is Classed As Working Time?
Finally, a key issue for the Sports Direct case is what is actually classed as working time?
Working time is defined as any time during which a worker is working, at their employer’s disposal and carrying out their duties. There has also been recent case law demonstrating that, for those workers without a fixed placed of work, travelling time to their first assignment of the day and travelling time from the last assignment of the day may count as working time.
Against this legal backdrop, should the time spent by Sports Direct workers undergoing compulsory security checks be considered working time that is counted for NMW purposes? It is highly likely that the answer to this question is “yes”. This is because workers are not free to leave the company’s premises until the compulsory security checks are completed.
How Can Your Company Avoid A Similar Fate?
Those companies operating in sectors where payment of the minimum wage is prevalent often adopt a proactive stance and schedule annual reviews to ensure legal compliance in this respect. These reviews can be linked to annual pay reviews or can form part of wider audits which align HR strategies to deliver the businesses’ objectives.
In any event, and at the very least, all companies need to:
- have an awareness of the current NMW rates which are updated twice a year;
- understand what payments can be included for NMW purposes; and
- understand what counts as working time for NMW purposes.
This then enables a company to identify any risks which may arise on the back of the publicity surrounding high profile NMW cases such as Sports Direct; at the very least this will enable that company to tackle those risks head on.
If you would like more information on this topic, audits or would like to discuss a specific concern in relation to your business, please contact us:
Call: +44 (0) 808 172 93 22 Email: email@example.com
This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive legal advice.