When does working time start and end?
The appearance of Mike Ashley (Sports Direct) at the House of Commons has raised several topical points. In particular, in amongst the mud-slinging and counter claims between high profile businessmen, lies an important issue that is relevant to managers of many organisations and their employees: when does working time start and end?
The Guardian revealed that Sports Direct staff spend upwards of 40 minutes going through security checks on their way in and out of the Shirebrook complex, effectively making their pay drop below minimum wage. Reportedly, this has been dealt with but rather than pay them more the boss has focused on tackling the 'bottleneck' which leads to long waiting times. The business is refunding any pay owed, but reports have suggested that workers still aren't being paid for time spent in security queues.
How does this affect other businesses?
The key fact is that Working Time includes all the time an employee is at work under the direction of the employer, so putting on/taking off scrubs, uniform etc, or cleaning /tidying up after work, all count as working time. These tasks must be included in the time for which the employee is paid.
Other issues raised in the case
Mr Ashley claimed to be unaware of other revelations about his business. He called the level of zero-hours contracts 'unacceptable' and agreed there should be more permanent workers. There are around 200 full-time staff at the Derbyshire warehouse and more than 3,000 agency workers.
Allegations were made of a culture of sexual harassment, where new female employees are called 'new meat' by some members of staff and sexual exploitation in the workplace is rampant. Mr Ashley said it was 'repugnant'.
The inquiry also heard evidence of a “six strikes and you’re out” policy, leaving staff afraid to take a day off work when they were ill - or even when about to give birth, because this counted as a strike against them. There were occasions when pregnant women come to work and had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance. One gave birth in a toilet of a warehouse in 2014. Mr Ashley insisted the policy was reasonable.
Mr Ashley pledged to implement a number of changes to working practices within 90 days, promising to write to MPs if the time frame needs to be extended.
The full Working Time Regulations are here http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1373
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Hazel Lonsdale, Chief Executive, Third Sector Services