Home care workers claim under payment – what is ‘working time’?

Wednesday February 8, 2017

The strains are really starting to show in the care sector – easily one of the most stretched industries in the UK. Councils, dealing with budget cuts, pass the problem to the social care providers. And with an ageing population, the demands on the services just grow and grow.

The National Living Wage, questions about what ‘working time’ actually is and negativity around zero hour contracts aren’t helping. Just last week, 17 care workers employed by council contractor Sevacare, claimed that the organisation had failed to pay them even half the national minimum pay rates.

A timely case considering the National Minimum Wage rates (but not the National Living Wage) are set to rise on 1st Oct.

And only last year the Resolution Foundation think tank estimated that 160,000 carers were not being paid the National Living Wage in England and Wales. If Sevacare has, as alleged, failed to pay its staff properly, how could it have happened? What lessons can other businesses learn from the case?

First, get travel time right. Last year, European judges ruled the time spent by an employee (with no fixed office address) travelling to the first appointment should be paid, and from the last appointment to home. Mobile workers, such as carers, who are paid an hourly rate were most likely to be affected by this. If eligible workers aren’t being paid travel time, an organisation could be failing to pay its staff the National Minimum Wage. Employers need to check the number of hours worked against weekly or monthly pay, to ensure National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage rates are being met.

For Sevacare, things do get a little more complex. The case involves live-in care workers who, according to the company, it pays an agreed average pay of 10 hours during a 24-hour placement. Staff claim they’re not being paid for hours where they are on call and frequently disturbed, plus it raises the vexed question of travel time.

Zero hour contracts are again getting their name dragged through the mud. The HR Dept has spoken about them a lot . They’re very useful when used responsibly and under the right circumstances. In this instance, carers claimed Sevacare compelled them to take hours in fear of not receiving more work down the line. A reminder then to be open with staff about how you’re using zero hour contracts in your own business.

Finally, what about the National Living Wage. Only introduced in April of this year, it means employers must pay a minimum of £7.20 to staff aged 25 and over. Again we’ve blogged about this. We recommend keeping good records to ensure you’re paying the right staff the right wage.

This is a landmark case: definitely one to watch if you’re operating in the care industry. We look forward to hearing the court ruling which will hopefully help resolve these issues. Although funding any increase will put more pressure on an over-stretched service.

For support with any of the above, The HR Dept is here to help.

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