The Employment Court recently ordered Smiths City Group, a national retail chain that operates over 34 stores, to pay employees for the unpaid 15-minute meetings employees were expected to attend before the stores opened each day.

The core issue was whether these meetings constituted "work" under the Minimum Wage Act 1983. The Court looked at the real nature of the activity, including the constraints placed on the employees, the responsibilities of the employees and the benefit to the employer of the meetings. It also considered whether the meetings were an integral part of the employee's principal activities.

It found that the meetings were an integral part of each employee's work as sales staff. While there was no contractual requirement to attend, employees were expected to attend so as not to be seen as poor performers and they were required to sit, listen to and absorb the work-related information being imparted at the meetings. As such, the morning meetings constituted work, and Smiths City was required to pay employees for their attendance at work. Smiths City argued that the commission and discretionary incentive payments made to employees covered its requirements to pay for those meetings. The Court disagreed. The employees in question were paid by the hour, and commission or incentive payments were additional income earned over and above the contractual hourly rate.

The Labour Inspectorate has indicated that this case is a useful reminder that employers must pay individuals for all work they do, including briefings, handovers and in some situations, travel time to and from a work site. Further, as in this case, while there may be no contractual requirement to attend a meeting, in practice, an expectation to attend may be just as binding.