The Government has launched a £1.7 million awareness campaign to ensure workers know what wages they are legally entitled to, with Business Minister Margot James stipulating that "there is no excuse for not paying staff properly".
The campaign will seek to "raise awareness among the lowest paid in society" about what they are entitled to legally receive to ensure "everybody in work receives a fair wage".
This awareness campaign comes at a crucial period where from the 1st April 2017 the National Living Wage will be increased to new rates that were recommended by the independent Low Pay Commission.
To highlight the real danger in the workplace of employers abusing staff's right to the minimum wage, the government coincided the launch with the release of the 10 most bizarre excuses used by employers who were found to be unethically underpaying workers the National Minimum Wage.
Excuses ranged from; 'the employee wasn't a good worker so I didn't think they deserved to be paid the National Minimum Wage' 'She doesn't deserve the National Minimum Wage because she only makes the teas and sweeps the floors' 'My workers are often just on standby when there are no customers in the shop; I only pay them for when they're actually serving someone'.
The campaign shows that the government are ramping up efforts to not only raise awareness but also increase enforcement of the National Minimum Wage. These sentiments were mirrored in April 2016 when the HMRC's 'enforcement budget' was increased by £7 million and a further £4.3 million of funding was announced in the Autumn Statement. HMRC officers have the right to investigate employers if a worker complains to them.
Today the government has published its list of 360 businesses which failed to meet the legal requirements for paying their staff.
It is a criminal offence for employers to not pay someone the National Minimum, or National Living Wage.
What is the National Minimum Wage?
The National Minimum Wage is the minimum pay per hour that almost all workers are entitled to. The NMW is divided into categories and which category you fall into will depend on your age, and whether you are an apprentice or not. All employers have to pay this minimum, regardless of whether they are a small company, or if they're accountant speaks a different language, or if you are still learning…
What to do if you think you are not being paid the National Minimum Wage?
If the HMRC find that the employer hasn't paid the National Minimum or Living wage, then they will issue a notice for the arrears along with a fine. HMRC can also take the employer to court on behalf of the worker if the employer still refuses to pay.
Alternatively, you can go directly to the employment tribunal yourself. If you have been dismissed because of a dispute with your employer about the Minimum Wage then you may be able to pursue your employer for unfair dismissal.
As an employer how do I make sure I am not falling outside the law?
The National Minimum Wage is reviewed each year in October. Any increase to the National Minimum Wage is released in the Autumn Statement. It is important that all employers are aware of any changes and are able to increase their wages as necessary when the implementation happens. It is essential for payroll staff to ensure they are kept up to date with this. If employers are unsure whether they pay their staff the correct minimum wage, they should seek legal advice. Legal advice does not necessarily mean costly advice as free services are available online (ACAS, for example) which can help to clarify any legal issues in relation to this.
- Be aware of any rises to the current minimum wage. Remember this applies to existing employees as well as newly hired employees;
- Make a calendar entry for the implementation of rises to minimum wage to ensure you change your payroll in time. Ensure this is not only on your radar but also on your payroll staff's radar;
- Sign up to some helpful HR news and updates. This will help your business as an employer to be aware of any changes to legislation that take place. Many of these email updates are free and can ensure your business keeps on the right track. If you need further help and advice to understand the updates to legislation, seek legal advice;
- Attend Employment Law training sessions or seek guidance to questions online. Many national agencies like ACAS hold annual Employment Law updates across the Country. These events would ensure you are aware of the Law and would be able to follow it in your business. Many of these sessions can be found locally in Norfolk so extensive travel is not always necessary; and
- Have your employment contracts and payroll services reviewed annually. This can either be by an independent expert (accountant or solicitor) or it can be an internal procedure done by yourself.
If you believe that you may be paid less than the National Minimum Wage then it is best to contact ACAS as soon as possible. Each Call is followed up by HMRC. For more information on how Clapham & Collinge Employment solicitors can help you with wage disputes as well as any other matters that may arise in the course of your employment please call 01603 693500.
If you are an employer and have concerns about the minimum wage, or wish to speak to our Business Employment solicitors please call 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham, Sheringham and Brooke offices.