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Employers – Knee-Jerk Reactions to Fractious Situations Can Cost You Dear

When employees query the contents of their wage packets, terse conversations can ensue. As one case showed, however, knee-jerk reactions to such situations are a positive invitation to Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings.

The case concerned a hotel worker in her probationary period. She considered that her first payslip was about £1,000 short. She had been paid in accordance with the hotel’s payroll system, but that system had not been explained to her. Her initial reaction was to place a message on the hotel’s WhatsApp group chat, seeking rectification of the perceived discrepancy in her pay.

Following her subsequent telephone conversation with the hotelier’s wife, the latter was reduced to tears. Having seen his wife visibly upset, the hotelier’s response was to summarily dismiss the worker by email. He took the decision to terminate her employment within a few minutes of the telephone call ending.

The worker launched ET proceedings against the hotel’s corporate owner, claiming unfair dismissal. She asserted that she had been dismissed simply for asking to be paid. The hotelier, however, contended that the reason for her dismissal was that she had badly upset his wife.

Ruling on the matter, the ET noted that the worker was plain-spoken and not afraid to say things directly without necessarily intending to cause offence. However, at no point during the telephone call did either woman raise her voice or sound agitated. The call was conducted politely, but the hotelier’s wife was perhaps not used to being spoken to by staff in such a direct and blunt manner.

Upholding the worker’s claim under Section 104(1)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the ET was satisfied that, both during the call and in the WhatsApp message, she had alleged in sufficiently unambiguous and clear terms that her right not to have unauthorised deductions made from her wages had been infringed.

The ET found that the hotelier’s principal reason for dismissing her was probably her insistence during the call on being paid her wages in full, without deduction or delay. His wife’s emotional upset was not unimportant, but it was not the main reason for his decision. The worker was awarded £6,195 in compensation.

Published in
6 June 2022
Last Updated
26 June 2022