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My partner recently was offered a job at a corner store which she was delighted about - and I was too, she's been struggling to find work for months now (art graduate, lack of available art jobs). She started working there four weeks ago and things seemed to be going well for her - nice people, good work and full-time hours.

She was promised by the manager to be paid the living wage, weekly for hours completed. I should have asked more about whether this was actually happening, because in the last few days I have learned she wasn't being paid at all.

In addition, the manager had not given her a contract to sign. All agreements were made verbally. She requested a written contract multiple times - it never appeared.

Once I heard about this, I asked her to insist upon a contract and payment before doing any further work. Once her mother heard about this, she talked to the manager in-person and given what we know, she was told enough lies to end the conversation. This leaves me with the impression that this manager is entirely untrustworthy and will not willingly cooperate.

So, for the question:

  • What chance do we have to recover the wages she earned? To us, this is a significant amount.
  • Does their verbal agreement form any kind of verbal contract that we can use to do so?
  • What course of action is appropriate here? We've never done this before and are way out of our depth.

Thanks to anyone reading this.

Edit:

After folks in the comments raised some questions, I asked her if payment was ever offered in any form - the manager apparently offered to pay her after the 2nd week by cash-in-hand. She's worked some retail here before and cash payment is quite unusual, so she stated that she'd rather receive a payslip (and written contract) - this is a fairly big franchise so not an unreasonable request. He also claimed that her first week was a trial and not payable, which I don't believe is above-board without prior agreement.

All in all, it looks like he wanted her to work as an employee without legally being an employee - and skim corners off of her wages wherever he could. Being paid under-the-table like this would have also placed the burden of income reporting, tax/NI payment etc onto her. I also doubt he was paying into her workplace pension, which is a legal requirement for employers in the UK.

Conclusion:

Thanks to everyone for the outpouring of help and advice. Based on all of the answers we've seen here, we've decided to try settling this out of court - to begin with.

Her mother was the first to approach the manager, with a list of hours and sum payable, which didn't work well. We took a more confrontational stance after that, stating that we intend to speak with his franchise, ACAS and HMRC if necessary. Still no.

After that, we got in touch with the franchise and managed to talk to a guy from top-level management, who lives in the same city and will be visiting the store personally. We're also in touch with the payroll people within the franchise, who have promised to look into this. We hope this will resolve the issue and we won't have to go further.

In case we do, we have some forms of evidence (prominently, multiple SMS from him promising payment 'soon' + some other items) which we can hopefully use in a legal action against the store manager. I doubt it'll be cheap, but she has the support of myself and her family so she won't end up bankrupt via legal fee. Someone in the comments said we can reclaim the fees upon success - great if true.

All of the answers and comments helped us, I'm grateful to you all. I can only choose one answer however, so I'll pick the most popular.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 20 '18 at 10:13
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She does actually have a contract, even if not even a verbal contract was discussed. She has a contract because she turned up for work, and they let her work instead of sending her home.

It’s small claims court, and if she is really annoyed she can call HMRC, tell them that she was working for this company and ask them to check whether the company paid her taxes. That will cause them some trouble.

  • 42
    Thank you. We're interested in recovering wages above all else, but coming out of that process cash-positive seems less likely now. Given this, I like the HMRC recommendation - apparently some people were paid (!) by cash-in-hand rather than the usual payslip + BACS so it'd be interesting to see if this was all done above board. This store is also franchised so I wonder if the franchise itself would be interested in this story. We may go for this after all else is done. – TheBubbus Jun 18 '18 at 14:15
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    +1. Improvement idea - I would like to see ideas of the types of evidence that could be useful. As an example, OP says it was full-time hours, but what ways are there to show that? – Jeutnarg Jun 18 '18 at 14:29
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    Contacting the franchise is a good route I think, they don't want some unscrupulous manager/franchisee causing them unnecessary legal troubles just to make a bit more profit off their name. – Doktor J Jun 18 '18 at 16:47
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    Reporting the corner store proprietor to HMRC and to the franchise is not as useful as threatening to report to HMRC and to the franchise. Ask ACAS if blackmail is completely out of the question. – A. I. Breveleri Jun 18 '18 at 17:34
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    It's also useful to combine it with a fixed date: "if you don't bring me a written contract and the money until month:day, I'll go to HMRC" If you don't specify an exact date, they will probably give another bunch of empty promises or will bring up some excuses why they coudln't do it today but surely will bring it tomorrow. Also, don't be afraid if they tell that you can't report them because you worked illegally and you will be fined as well: it's a lie many such "employers" use to scare their employees from going to the police or suing them. – Val Jun 19 '18 at 10:13
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This is really terrible for you and your partner - you have my sympathies.

While a verbal contract is still a contract in UK law (and therefore your partner would be entitled to the wages as agreed) the problem comes from proving it. Unless she has some supporting documentation as to the fact that she was employed and the hours worked it will come down to her word vs the manager's and that is going to be a tricky one to win.

I suggest contacting ACAS and attempting the early conciliation procedure outlined here. If that doesn't get you anywhere you can take the company to a tribunal but I feel obliged to point out that doing so is expensive, time consuming and carries no guarantees of success. If you do decide to act you need to do so quickly as you can only raise the issue with ACAS within 3 months (minus one day) of the date when you should have been paid.

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    +1 a verbal agreement is worth the paper it is written on. – Retired Codger Jun 18 '18 at 11:21
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    While the contract itself might be hard to prove, the hours worked might not be if she had any coworkers or customers who saw her do the work. – Erik Jun 18 '18 at 12:38
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    Or maybe even security footage proving that she worked there – XtremeBaumer Jun 18 '18 at 13:54
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    This isn't proving it "beyond a reasonable doubt" - the burden of proof is less than you probably think. – Paul Becotte Jun 18 '18 at 21:31
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    Correct. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of proof in criminal cases. This is a civil case, where the standard is the balance of probabilities. The contract is sufficiently proven by the fact that she worked there, and that's not hard to establish in a civil court. – user207421 Jun 19 '18 at 0:13
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This is very sad that this kind of problems exist and they exist all over the world. Stand for your case, your partner has a legitimate claim for money here. While not based in UK I can only give a general advice, but I hope it may be of some help.

Some employers(1) tend to think young people, fresh to the job market will not take action upon being mistreated since they are inexperienced and still naive. So they push the limits. Avoiding a contract and then not paying the earned wages/salary is (unfortunately) a standard case. Such people usually seems much more obedient to the law as soon as they realise the person whom they try to cheat is taking legal action against them. Your partner should act quick not to lose any opportunity or evidence that might be later useful for her. A suggested course of action (performed by your partner, you can support her but don't try taking her place especially in contacts with the manager) might be like this:

  1. Write down the hours your partner has been working. As accurately as possible (i.e. list day and working hours from-to if possible; if no, at least number of hours at each day). Does she have any written information from the employer confirming those hours (low possibility as he probably intended to do so from the very beginning, so he made all the efforts not to leave too many traces)? Was she added to any employers systems? Maybe to the cash register? Collect any evidence your partner might already have proving she was working there. Think of the clients who might remember her. A shop around a corner will probably have mostly recurring clients from the neighbourhood, don't advance them yet, but list them.
  2. Go to the manager with a written information that she demands her wages. The document should have the hours that your partner claims she has worked and demands wages for listed, the expected amount and the time limit to fulfill the request before you take further actions (I recommend 3 days). Have it in two identical copies. Talk to the manager, explain that she will take the case to authorities and court if needed. Present the document and request the manager the sign one copy confirming he has received the document (he doesn't have to agree with the contents but this way your partner will be able to prove she tried to resolve the conflict amicably). If the manager refuses to sign (quite likely) send it over the e-mail and if required by the legal demands of a country also by a post with a return confirmation of reception.
  3. If the employer doesn't react to that, start taking legal actions. I don't know specific measures for UK but usually there is a dedicated office to handle HR-related conflicts. Also list any other spotted misstatements or mistreatment.
  4. If there is still no reaction from the manager, talk to the clients, ask if they could confirm she worked in the shop. Don't explain the situation unless explicitly asked by the client, in which case just plainly explain the manager refuses to pay her and she might need to prove her contract in the court. Note - this is a subtle thing and you have to wage this step well before performing it. In some countries it could be treated as a try to lie away manager's reputation and might cause legal countermeasures. If that's the case it's better to skip this step. Anyway those clients should be listed as potential witnesses when taking any legal actions (so already in the previous step).
  5. If everything else fails, go to the court.

From my personal experience, step 3 (sometimes 2) is enough to get what you've earned. Well, I was in a better position since I had a written contract.

Additionally learn from this a couple of lessons:

  • never agree to work without a written contract of at least some form.
  • don't even think going back to work to this particular place.

(1) Calling them employers is too much praise for them. They are fraudsters.

  • Thank you, sorry to hear that you were in a similar position. We have already begun similarly to your step 1 and 2. In addition we've managed to gain some support from the franchise which licenses its name to this store - hopefully this is enough to make escalation unnecessary. – TheBubbus Jun 19 '18 at 9:14
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    Also just to clear up confusion, the HMRC isn't a HR related office, it's (in a nutshell) the tax office. They might be interested to hear about a shop that pays cash-in-hand and refuses to hand out contracts, hence the recommendations. – TheBubbus Jun 19 '18 at 9:16
  • Oh yes, reaching out to the franchise is a very good option too. Loosing a license might cost the manager more than paying the wages. Now and in the future ;-) Well, I've been working for 4 months during which I received in total as much as 1/2 of a 1-day rate (!) before eventually I handed out my resignation. Step 3 worked, I've received all my money in less than a month (in 2 interests). Later I found out that the company went bankrupt in some 2 years or so after I left (not because of my leaving of course ;-) ). These are old days now, I moved on and have a lot of work security these days. – Ister Jun 19 '18 at 9:45
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This is sad to hear and a case of inexperience, as without an employment contract, the amount of work to be done for the employer should always equate to 0.

You should totally file a HMRC complaint, but others have said that.

She needs to go find another job and move on from the loss regardless of the result of the complaint as it may take a long time to resolve. Thereby your course of action should be to file a HMRC, and move on.

-1

I was in a similar situation once.
The legal advice that I was given is that unless I had something in writing, the wage would generally be assumed to be the Federal minimum wage regardless of verbal promises of (significantly) more. It worked out for me, eventually.

Don't know how helpful that is in the UK, but for what it's worth I'd say your conversation with the franchise is the most likely to result in her getting a "living wage" (whatever number that is to her).

  • Living wage is what the UK government call minimum wage now. – Ian Turton Jun 19 '18 at 17:43
  • Ah. Here minimum wage is whatever it is (between $7 and $8/hr) and (in the realm of politics) "living wage" is an amorphous concept not associated with a actual dollar amount (at least not a figure agreed upon nationwide) that is above federal minimum wage by 50-200% depending on where you live. Comment is not intended to be political - just explaining my "number" comment in the second paragraph. – J. Chris Compton Jun 19 '18 at 18:43
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    There was and still is a campaign to raise the minimum wage to an actual amount that people could live on, but the government just renamed the minimum wage instead. – Ian Turton Jun 19 '18 at 18:44
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    -smile- Interesting that, no matter where you live, government brilliance seems to be limited to talking points. Now they can say, "You now have a living wage!" even if they didn't increase it. Since most people don't pay close attention it will probably be in the history books 75 years from now as a wonderful positive thing that 'they achieved through tremendous struggle with the opposition party'. Yeah, I'm cynical :–) – J. Chris Compton Jun 19 '18 at 18:50
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Why not go up the store yourself. Bring your partner and ask the manager what is going on and why she hasn't been paid. You should then be able to figure what is really happening here fairly quickly.

On the books or not, very few small business owners would completely refuse to pay employee without a good reason for it..

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    Absolutely not. It makes her look like a child that her mother and partner go to the store for her. this makes her position weaker not stronger. It is also extremely bad for her self esteem if people rescue her. She is an adult, she needs to learn early on to stand up for herself. – HLGEM Jun 18 '18 at 19:44
  • If there is a good reason, fire her. No payment is not an option. – Siddharth Jun 22 '18 at 5:45

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