Important ECJ decision opens up the possibility of valuable retrospective holiday claims

I have written in this blog on many occasions about the importance of getting it right if you are going to treat all or part of your workforce as self-employed, rather than as fully fledged workers or employees. As you may recall, the Pimlico Plumbers case earlier this year ruled in favour of the claimants, finding that they were workers rather than being “fully” self-employed and therefore entitled to holiday pay and other benefits. The issue has been a hot topic throughout 2017 with the Uber and Addison Lee cases for example showing a willingness on the part of the courts to find that there was an employment relationship where, previously, there was assumed not to be.

But what basis should be applied for calculating losses if an entitlement to retrospective holiday pay or other benefits is established. The normal cut off point for calculations is six years, since this is the time limit for claims based on breach of contract. However, the entitlement to paid holidays arises under the EU Working Time Directive and this has a statutory footing.

This issue was recently considered by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU/ECJ) and judgment was delivered in the case of King v The Sash Window Workshop Limited and Dollar on 29 November. Mr King had started working for Sash Window Workshop (“the Company”) in June 1999 on a “self-employed commission only contract”. He continued to work for the Company until his retirement in 2012. He took numerous holidays during the 13 years that he worked for the Company, but was not paid for them. Following his retirement he asked to be paid all his holiday pay for the entire period of his engagement. Unsurprisingly, the Company refused.

Mr King took his claim to an employment tribunal which held that there were in effect three types of holiday claims: (i) holiday pay for 2012-13 accrued but untaken when he left, (ii) holiday pay for leave actually taken but in respect of which no payment was made and (iii) pay in lieu covering accrued but untaken leave (amounting to a further 24.15 weeks). The tribunal found that Mr King was a worker (within the meaning of the statutory definition – see the Pimlico case) and therefore ruled in his favour in respect of all three.

The Company appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Voluntary overtime included within holiday pay: freely given time isn’t free!

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), the Tribunal which hears appeals from the regular Employment Tribunal, has recently confirmed that regular payments for overtime incurred voluntarily by employees should be taken into account when calculating an employee’s allowance of 20 days of holiday pay (this is the statutory minimum amount of holiday leave outside of the 8 days usually allowed for bank holidays). This was in a case called Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council v Willetts.

 

This follows the well-publicised case of Bear Scotland v Fulton in 2014 which stated that overtime should be factored into holiday pay calculations (mainly by averaging payments over a defined period of time  and ‘bumping up’ employee’s holiday pay accordingly).

 

However, there have been arguments that there should be a distinction between mandatory overtime and voluntary overtime. Just for clarity, when I say ‘voluntary’ overtime, I mean overtime that an employee isn’t contractually obliged to perform (i.e. I don’t mean unpaid overtime).  You can see both sides on this one – from one point of view, employees have no choice but to accept mandatory overtime and therefore only that should increase holiday pay amounts, whereas on the other hand, employees will still be working overtime whether voluntary or mandatory and shouldn’t they therefore be rewarded for their voluntary act?

 

On this occasion, the EAT has come down on the side of employees and concluded that, as long as the voluntary overtime is ‘regular’ enough, it should be used within holiday pay calculations.  This is because ‘regular’ payments will constitute ‘normal pay’ for the purposes of holiday pay calculations.  Naturally, the phrases in quotation marks are still prone to argument and a lot depends on the individual facts.

 

So, what does this mean going forward for employees?  Well, it suggests that employees on a voluntary rota (or similar) who are called to work voluntary overtime are entitled to an increase in their holiday pay in respect of that voluntary overtime.

 

Let’s take the case of six employees: Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Ross and Chandler (yes, as you probably suspected, this is the cast of FRIENDS).

European Court of Justice gives OPINION on unpaid and untaken holidays

Does a worker’s holiday entitlement continue to accrue into successive years if they do not take their annual leave because their employer will not pay them for these holidays?

The Advocate General at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has answered ‘yes’ to this question, in a non-binding opinion.

In the case of King v The Sash Window Workshop Ltd, the Claimant, Mr King (who was a self-employed salesperson), brought an Employment Tribunal (ET) claim against the Respondent, The Sash Window Workshop, on the basis that he felt he was owed monies for annual leave that he had accrued, but not taken.  In addition, the Claimant sought compensation for annual leave that he had taken, but not been paid for during the 13 years he had been working for the Respondent – his claim for holiday pay therefore amounted to over £27,000.00.  It is of note that the contract under which Mr King was employed, provided no right to paid annual leave and that this contract was terminated in 2012, on his 65th birthday.  The Claimant also submitted a claim for age discrimination.

The claim was initially heard by the ET in August 2013.  It was ruled at first instance that Mr King was to be deemed a worker for the purposes of the Working Time Regulations 1998, and also that his discrimination claim was well founded.

The Respondent subsequently appealed against the decision of the ET in respect of the holiday pay aspect of the claim, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) allowing the appeal and remitting the holiday claim back to the ET.  Mr King then submitted an appeal to the Court of Appeal who referred the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

ECJ Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev, stated that employers had to provide “adequate facilities to workers” to enable them to take their paid annual leave.  Tanchev further stated:

“A worker, like Mr King, may rely on [EU law] to secure payment in lieu of untaken leave, when no facility has been made available by the employer, for exercise of the right to paid annual leave … Upon termination of the employment relationship a worker is entitled to an allowance in lieu of paid annual leave that has not been taken up.

“I appreciate that the answers to the questions referred I am here proposing would require employers rather than workers to take all the necessary steps to ascertain whether they are bound to create an adequate facility for the exercise of the right to paid annual leave, whether those steps be the taking of legal advice, consultation with relevant unions or seeking counsel from Member State bodies that are responsible for the enforcement of labour law.

“If an employer does not take such action, it will risk having to make a payment in lieu of unpaid leave on termination of the employment relationship. However, this would be in keeping with guaranteeing the effet utile of the right to paid annual leave, a fundamental right of substantive normative weight in Member State law, EU law, and international law, and would also be consistent with the practical reality, recognised in the Court’s case-law, of the worker’s position as the weaker party in the relationship.”

More news about modern working practices and the “gig economy”

Last week’s news was dominated by the Budget and the Class 4 National Insurance contributions’ increase which was announced and then, within 24 hours, kicked into the long grass. An interesting fact which emerged in the news is that the UK workforce now includes 15% who are classed a self-employed for tax purposes. However, as I have reported this month (in the Pimlico Plumbers case) many of these people are nonetheless classified as workers in the context of employment law and therefore have rights which can be pursued in employment tribunals.

On 22 February The Work and Pensions Committee heard evidence from executives from Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon and courier firm Hermes UK as part of its investigation into modern employment practices. It is estimated that there are now some five million workers in the “gig economy”, of whom some 910,000 are on zero hours contracts, an increase of 100,000 from 2015 to 2016 (ONS Labour Force Survey). UK and Ireland managing director of Deliveroo, Dan Warne, said that flexibility is important to its riders, adding:
We cannot offer that amount of flexibility to those riders if we’re forced to pay a given wage and a given hour to every single rider.
However, it emerged recently that Deliveroo had a clause in its contracts that banned workers from contesting their self-employed status in employment tribunals. Under questioning, Mr Warne acknowledged that the Company needed to “revise the contract”. He said:
This is not something that’s enforced, so there’s no need to have it in there… In practice, if they wished to contest their [self-employed] status they could do so and we wouldn’t challenge them on that.
Although the clause would almost certainly not have been enforceable, it is easy to see how it could operate as a powerful disincentive to low-paid riders with no guarantee of work.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that DPD, which deliver parcels for Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and River Island, fines their couriers £150 per day if they cannot find cover when they are ill. This has resulted in drivers being forced to work when they are sick. The fine, which is described as “liquidated damages”, means that couriers who earn on average £200 a day, lose £350 if they cannot work through illness and are unable to find a substitute. Chair of the select committee, Frank Field, commented:

The gig economy is producing wave after wave of evidence on the grim reality of life at the bottom of Britain’s labour market…A group of companies now controls the working lives of an unknown number of people, and yet evades its own responsibilities as employers and taxpayers by labelling those people as self-employed… This move [by DPD] makes the rest of the gig economy look as though it operates in the Garden of Eden.

A local example of dubious working practices came to light a few weeks ago. Mooboo Bubble Tea, a cafe chain, has a branch located in Liverpool One. New staff reported that they were being made to work a 40-hour trial shift with no pay and no guarantee of a job, apparently in direct breach of the minimum wage regulations.

Uber and the “gig economy”

I have been writing about employment status since this blog started a number of years ago. One of the most widely reported cases dealing with the issue was published last week in Aslam, Farrar and others v Uber B.V., Uber London Limited and Uber Britannnia Limited. As most readers will know, Uber is a controversial transportation system which provides app based bookings for private hire taxi journeys. It operates in 66 countries and 507 cities. There are some 30,000 Uber drivers operating in the London area. Uber B.V. owns the smartphone app. Uber London Limited is a licensed private hire operator and Uber Britannia holds licenses for district councils outside London.

At a case management hearing in 2015 two “test claimants” were selected for a preliminary hearing to determine the question of their status in the context of employment law protection (the action was backed by the GMB union). They claimed that, as workers, they should receive the minimum wage and be entitled to paid holidays as well as protection from whistle-blowing. Uber contended that they were independent contractors and not workers, and therefore not entitled to the rights claimed. The preliminary hearing took place over five days between 19 July and 12 October 2016, with the decision published on 28 October. The tribunal summarised how the Uber system operates. Passengers register their information on the app, including credit or debit card details. Once registered they can request journeys by using the app. They do not have to state their destination but, if they do, they may choose to receive a fare estimate. Uber then locates the nearest available driver and notifies him of the passenger’s first name and rating (drivers and passengers can be rated on the app). He then has 10 seconds to accept the trip or it is offered to the next best matched driver. If accepted the driver is put in phone contact with the passenger to agree the pick-up location and advise about any delays but he is strongly discouraged from asking about the destination until he has picked up the passenger. Once the passenger is picked up the app specifies the route to the destination and this must be followed unless the passenger indicates otherwise. Once the journey is complete the driver confirms accordingly on the app and is then placed back in the pool of available drivers. The passenger pays via the app and the Uber software then generates what appears to be an invoice from the driver to the passenger. The driver is paid weekly based on the fares earned, less a service fee which is usually 25%.

What are the likely implications of Brexit on UK Employment Law/HR practices?

Employers may not be aware that much of the current legislation in place to protect employee rights actually derives from the European Union – for example, working time regulations, rights of the employees on a business transfer (TUPE) and family leave rights to name but a few. Indeed some Politicians for the ‘Leave Campaign’ will no doubt have argued that such laws were inhibitive to British businesses and produced too many rules and regulations having a negative effect on both time and profits.

What is likely to happen?

In reality it is doubtful that the UK Government would look to repeal any employment law which implements minimum EU requirements, the reason being that many of these laws simply complement existing UK law (equal pay rights for example). In addition, much of our existing employment law simply reflects good/acceptable practice in business (or indeed life generally!) such as the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, age, disability etc. Furthermore some UK Laws actually go above and beyond the minimum requirements of EU legislation – in respect of holidays for example, the EU Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC only requires EU Member States to provide for a minimum of 20 days’ annual leave for employees, whilst the UK statutory minimum leave entitlement is actually 28 days inclusive of normal bank and public holidays.

As a final point it is worth noting that despite a (potential) Brexit, the UK will still need to maintain strong trading relations with Europe. If the UK is a member of the EEA (European Economic Area) it would be required to remain subject to many aspects of EU employment law.

In light of the above, whilst in my view the majority of employment law legislation will not be repealed or significantly changed, the UK Government may look to alter some employment law that UK businesses have struggled with. The following are areas that may be most susceptible to change:

Commission must be included in holiday pay

You may remember some time ago we reported on the groundbreaking decision of the European Court of Justice in Lock v British Gas. The impact of this judgment was significant since this is the case that held that holiday pay should include provision for commission that the employee would have earned had they not been on holiday.

Given the financial implications of this decision to employers nationwide British Gas sought leave to appeal the decision on grounds that the Employment Tribunal should not have followed the Bear Scotland case because that decision was about whether overtime should be incorporated into holiday pay and argued that in doing so the EAT had wrongly interpreted the wording of the Working Time Regulations to conform with the EU Working Time Directive (No. 2003/88) that commission should be included in holiday pay.

The question in this appeal was whether the previous Employment Tribunal was right to insert wording into the Working Time Regulations to allow commission and similar payments to be included in holiday pay calculations. The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that they were, they rejected the appeal and upheld the previous decision that commission payments should be included in the calculation of holiday pay. Mr Justice Singh commented that such an interpretation would not go ‘against the grain’ of the legislation given that Parliament’s purpose in enacting the WTR was to comply with its obligation to fully implement the Directive. The EAT took the view that if the Bear Scotland case was wrongly decided then, that was an issue for the Court of Appeal to rule on.

However, we are not left without difficulty given that the EAT failed to provide any practical considerations or guidance on how the calculation of any holiday pay should be worked out.

Holiday calculations when work pattern changes

Kathleen Greenfield v The Care Bureau Limited is a decision of the European Court of Justice which provides very welcome practical and common sense advice for those tasked with calculating holiday entitlement when an employee’s working pattern changes.

The case was referred to the ECJ by the Birmingham Employment Tribunal in April 2014. Ms Greenfield had worked for The Care Bureau since June 2009. Her working days and hours could vary from week to week. She was entitled to 5.6 weeks’ holiday per year and the holiday year ran from 15 June. She left the employer on 28 May 2013, having taken seven days’ paid leave during her final leave year (in July 2012). In the twelve weeks prior to taking her leave her pattern of work was one day per week.

However, from August 2012 she worked twelve days on and two days off (taken as alternate weekends). This equated to 41.4 hours per week. In November she asked for a week’s paid leave but was told that as a result of the holiday taken in June and July she had exhausted her entitlement to paid annual leave. This was because the entitlement to paid leave was calculated at the date on which the leave was taken, based on the working pattern for the prior 12 weeks. Since that pattern was one day per week she had taken the equivalent of seven weeks’ paid leave, thereby exhausting (and exceeding) the annual entitlement.

Ms Greenfield took her case to the Birmingham Employment Tribunal and won. The Care Bureau Limited requested written reasons and the Tribunal proposed to reconsider its decision on the basis that the law was unclear, thereby justifying a reference to the European Court. However, after considering written representations the tribunal decided that a reference was unnecessary and confirmed its decision to find in favour of Ms Greenfield. The Care Bureau Limited appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

It also applied to the Birmingham Employment Tribunal to reconsider its judgment. It did so and revoked its judgment, partly on account of a mathematical error and also to enable the reference to the ECJ.

Ms Greenfield contended that leave already accrued and taken should be retroactively recalculated and adjusted following an increase in working hours in order to be proportional to the new number of working hours rather than the hours worked at the time that the leave was taken.

The Care Bureau Ltd maintained that EU law did not provide for a new calculation and there is therefore no need to make such an adjustment under national law.

Carrying over holiday pay when sick

Extended absence from work on sick leave can create odd situations, such as the accumulation of holiday entitlement. Most employers know that employees on maternity leave continue to accrue holiday entitlement and this is often added at the end of the maternity leave period.

In this month’s Employment Appeal Tribunal decision in the case of Plumb v Duncan Print Group the question was whether Mr Plumb, who had been off work for nearly four years, could claim all his accumulated holiday entitlement.

Mr Plumb was employed as a printer. He had an accident on 26 April 2010. He remained on sick leave until his employment was terminated on 10 February 2014. According to the terms of his employment his leave years ran from 1 February to 31 January. He was refused a request for holiday leave from 5 August 2013. When his employment was terminated he claimed holiday pay for 2010, 2011 and 2012. His request was refused in the basis that he could not demonstrate that he was unable, by reason of his medical condition, to take annual leave within the leave years.

Regular readers are aware that European law has dictated that holiday pay can accrue during sickness absence but there should be a cut off point. I wrote about this in the blog in 2011.

The employment tribunal took the view that Mr Plumb could not demonstrate that he was unable, by reason of his medical condition, to take annual leave while he was on sick leave and therefore dismissed his claim. That was not the basis on which the European decisions had excluded claims because they were based on the need for a cut off point.

The tribunal’s approach was wrong:

Holiday pay doesn’t include voluntary overtime, does it?

I rarely report decisions of the Northern Ireland courts because they are not binding in England and Wales. However, this is the second consecutive month in which a Northern Irish decision is worthy of comment, this time from the Court of Appeal in Patterson v Castlereagh Borough Council.

Mr Patterson, a lead claimant for the purposes of a multiple claim, alleged that there was an unlawful deduction from his wages because he was no longer paid holiday pay relating to casual work as a recreation assistant in addition to his post as an assistant plant engineer. His claim was amended to allege that his holiday pay did not take into account the voluntary overtime he worked in his full time post.

His claim relating to his casual work was successful and this was not challenged. Consequently his appeal was limited to the voluntary overtime aspect. In this case Mr Patterson was asked to work overtime by his employer and could choose whether or not to do so because it was not a contractual obligation. Hence its classification as voluntary. There was a technical point concerning whether Mr Patterson had established the earnings he received pursuant to the voluntary overtime but both parties agreed that the point of principle should be determined.

Assuming that the earnings were established evidence submitted for the appeal suggested that they would have amounted an average additional pay of £60 per week. Having considered the relevant sections of the Working Time Directive the Court went on to consider the relevant case law. In British Airways plc v Williams (2012) the Supreme Court considered whether, for the purposes of calculating holiday pay, a pilot’s remuneration should be treated as basic pay or whether it should be based on “normal remuneration”, i.e. including payments “intrinsically linked” to the performance of the employee’s duties. Having referred the question to the European Court of Justice the answer was that it should be based on normal remuneration.

In Lock v British Gas (2014) that principle was extended to include commission payments and in Bear Scotland Limited and Others (2015) employees were successful in having included in the holiday calculation overtime which they were required to work, but which the employer was not obliged to offer.