Fired by text for being paid less than Minimum Wage

This September 2015 Tribunal case is a reminder to employers that if they do not pay the minimum wage and employees complain about it, it is not only unlawful but a high risk strategy to dismiss them.

A former chef who complained to his employer that he was not being paid the minimum wage was sacked by his employer by text.  The Chef was employed for 40 hours a week and was paid a salary which would have met the minimum wage had he worked his contractual hours.

However, in practice he worked about 60 hours a week, which meant that his hourly rate fell below the minimum wage.

He raised this with his employer after about 4 months and a few days later went off sick. His employer then sent him abusive text messages accusing him of falsifying his sickness and dismissing him for gross misconduct.

The chef brought a claim of unfair dismissal, claiming that he had been dismissed because he had exercised his statutory right and raised the issue of not being paid the minimum wage. The Tribunal found in the employee’s favour, and awarded him £15,000 compensation for unfair dismissal, arrears of pay and compensation for his notice period.

The case is a reminder that although employees normally need 2 years’ service in order to bring a claim of unfair dismissal, there are important exceptions. One of these is that the dismissal is due to the fact that the employee raised an issue that the employer had breached a statutory right in this case by not paying the minimum wage.   The employee reasonably believed that they had, they had raised it and were dismissed as a result.

It is essential that employers paying at or around minimum wage rates do not push or coerce their employees to work longer hours and as a result breach the Working Time Regulations, or to fire them if they complain.

What about dismissing by text?   It is effective in that it communicates the message, but hardly good for employee relations and will have an adverse effect on the remaining employees and customers or clients of their business through unfavourable publicity.  Any employer who behaves like this is likely to be on the back foot in any litigation.