An employee who worked for his employer for just six months has been awarded over £15,000 after he was dismissed by text message.
Christopher Hillis (H) began working as a chef at the Cail Bruich restaurant in Glasgow in April 2014. On 19 September, believing that he was being paid below the national minimum wage (NMW), H questioned his boss over his rate of pay. The following day H called in sick. Later on that same day, he sent a text message to his boss asking when he was next required at work for a shift.
His boss’s text message reply read as follows:
“Your not. You must think im a f***y. You’ve left me & the team in the sh*t twice now on a Saturday with your b******t sickness excuses. You were totally fine on Friday night & even asked Jake out for a drink, then to miraculously develop a sickness bug in a few hours is f***ing b*****ks. We don’t want you back [sic].”
H believed that he had actually been sacked for raising a query about his rate of pay, not his sickness excuses as stated.
Although short-serving employees don’t have a general right to claim unfair dismissal, they may claim automatic unfair dismissal in certain situations such as where their dismissal is connected to them asserting their statutory rights under the NMW legislation, as H did at the tribunal.
However, it wasn’t the unfair dismissal claim that led to the award of £15,000+ in compensation. The tribunal found the employer had routinely paid H below the NMW and failed to make appropriate holiday payments. The tribunal ruled that throughout his employment H was paid, on average, £4 per hour. Therefore, awarded H reimbursement of the monies due in line with NMW plus his unpaid holiday pay which increased his overall compensation. This case shows how dangerous dealing with employees via text messages can be.
If the employer dealt with H’s suspected fraudulent sickness absence properly on his return the result may well have been different.
Although text messages are a convenient method of communication, work-related issues should never be raised or discussed via text message – this is far too dangerous. Our advice is to only permit text exchanges where it’s absolutely necessary or about mundane issues.