A recent decision of the Labour Court (Stablefield Limited v Ana Lacramioara Manciu) to award €20,000 to an employee who worked in excess of the maximum working week demonstrates that the Court is prepared to award significant compensation where there is a conscious breach of an employee's rights.
The case is a further reminder that the onus is on employers to keep proper records of their employees' working time and in the absence of these records it may be difficult to defend such claims.
The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (the Act) states that the maximum average working week for many employees cannot exceed 48 hours calculated over 4 months, or 6 months in certain industries.
The employee began working for the employer as a mushroom picker in 2012. She claimed that her hours of work during the relevant period for the purposes of the Act, were 6.20 am to 9.20 pm, six days every week, totalling almost 80 hours per week. She alleged that records which showed a 40 hour working week were a ‘lie’ and that she always worked in or around 80 hours per week. She stated that she had raised the question of her working hours with her employer and she was told that the hours were noted ’only for the record’ and that she was on a fixed wage, so it did not matter how long she worked.
The employer denied the allegations and claimed that at no time did the employee or any other employee work more than 48 hours in a week. He produced pay slips and pay analysis sheets, all of which were signed by the employee to support his denial. He said that the employee worked from 6.30 am to 1.30 pm each day and stated that the allegation that records were altered just to ‘keep it legal’ was untrue.
Employers are required to keep records of working time in the form prescribed by law. If there is no electronic recording system, then employers are obliged to record working hours using an OWT1 form or similar. The Act provides that where records are not kept in the prescribed form, the onus is on the employer to prove legal compliance. The Court determined that the records presented by the employer to the Court consisting of pay slips and pay analysis sheets were not records of the type intended by the relevant Regulations and did not provide conclusive evidence of the hours worked by the employee.
The Court held the employer had not rebutted the employee's claim to the satisfaction of the Court. The Court was satisfied, on the basis of evidence presented, that the employee regularly worked at least 80 hours a week.
Under the Act the Court can award compensation of up to two years pay to an employee, subject to a limit of two years’ pay. The CJEU has determined that sanctions for breaches of community rights should be effective, proportionate and dissuasive and should reflect the gravity of the breaches and should act as disincentives against future breaches. Taking the foregoing factors into account, the Court awarded the employee compensation of €20,000.
The case is a reminder to employers that they are obliged to keep records of their employees working time. In the absence of records employers face an uphill task in defending any working time claims by employees.