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Office workers win £30,000 after row over annual leave

24 Oct 2017 By PM Editorial

Judge finds HR department failed to prove a solid business case for dismissing pair

A pair of office workers have been awarded almost £30,000 by an employment tribunal after a mix up with their HR department over annual leave entitlement.

The Central London Employment Tribunal heard that Imran Yousaf and Ying-Nan Wang were employed by Merrill Corporation, which provides back office services to financial sector companies. They both worked 12-hour shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Their contracts also stated that, if a bank holiday fell on a day they were supposed to be working, they would be required to work it or find cover. However, the evidence suggested that, in practice, weekend workers were rarely required to work bank holidays unless they wanted to.

In January 2015, the company began work on overhauling its staff handbook to make it globally consistent. By October that year, the work was almost done and HR began reviewing individual contracts. New contracts were sent out to weekend workers in February 2016.

Yousaf and Wang were sent their new contracts, with a note stating that they contained no material changes. However, Yousaf’s supervisor pointed out that the new contract included a reduction in the number of public holidays he was allowed to take leave for, from eight days to five, because the days were now being pro-rated.

Yousaf complained that he had previously received full entitlement to public holidays, but HR wrote back to explain that this was only because the handbook had been applied inconsistently in the past.

Both Yousaf and Wang refused to sign their new contracts and were eventually invited to a consultation meeting to discuss the matter in June 2016. After this, the company conceded that there had been a change to public holiday allowance, but proposed to implement the new five-day allowance from January 2017 anyway, with the added amendment that the pair would not be required to work a bank holiday if it fell on a day they should be working.

Merrill Corporation then issued another contract, but Yousaf and Wang also refused to sign this. They were called to another consultation meeting in August, but were warned beforehand that one course of action the company might take was to dismiss them under their current contracts and offer to re-hire them under the new ones.

After a third consultation meeting in September, Merrill gave both workers notice to terminate their current contracts and offered to re-engage them on the new terms. Both Yousaf and Wang appealed the decision, but neither was successful.

Of the five members of Merrill’s part-time weekend team, Yousaf and Wang were the only two not to accept the reduction in holiday and be dismissed. The other three accepted the reduction in days, although at different points in time and on different terms.

Allowing the claims for unfair dismissal, the tribunal determined that Merill had failed to prove that its rationale given for dismissing the pair – fairness and consistency across the company – were sound business reasons, and its business case had not been properly established.

“The conclusion of the tribunal is that this was not a substantial reason justifying dismissal,” the judgment from Judge Goodman read. “A reasonable employer would not have sought to remove a week’s holiday from the weekend workers in the interests of fairness across the board.”

Merrill Corporation was ordered to pay Yousaf £12,611.11, comprising of a basic award of £2,395 and a compensatory award of £10,216.10, and Wang £17,217.46, comprising a basic award of £3,832 and a compensatory award of £13,385.46. At the time of their dismissal, Yousaf and Wang had worked for Merrill for just short of six years and eight years respectively.

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