Last year a key legal judgement established that sleep-ins carried out by workers should be included in calculations for the National Minimum Wage (NMW). This means that members, and potential members, who do ‘sleep-ins’ and are low paid may be entitled to a pay rise and potentially back pay.
The Whittlestone EAT judgement has established that sleep-ins are covered by the National Minimum Wage (NMW) regulations. So even if a worker is allowed to sleep at work, if they are required to stay at their workplace, then all their hours are covered by NMW regulations.
This means if any worker is paid – on average – less than the NMW over their pay reference period, they will be entitled to a pay rise to ensure NMW compliance. They may also be able to pursue a claim for back pay. However, because working patterns vary enormously between individuals; this will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
UNISON is aware that the introduction of the NMW Regulations 2015 led some employers to think that this meant that they now did not have to pay for sleep-ins (reversing the Whittlestone EAT judgment), however this is not the case
The new NMW Regulations 2015 are consolidating regulations and therefore the legal position from the Whittlestone EAT judgement remains unchanged and “sleep-ins” continue to be covered by the NMW.
Each case will need to be looked at on an individual basis, however the starting point is to look at the nature of the work being undertaken by the member. Does the worker have an obligation to be physically present at their workplace? For example, what would happen if they left – would the worker be disciplined?. If they would be disciplined or they are otherwise prevented from leaving then case law suggests that the time spent at work, whether awake or asleep, is subject to NMW compliance. This is because being present is work in itself.
It may be that the worker is able to sleep (as Ms. Whittlestone was able to) for most of the night but the relevant issue is that the worker could not simply be absent for one night or part of a night and that their physical presence is required.
The sections which appear to be causing concern for employers (reg. 27 (2) and reg. 32(2)) only come into play where it can be shown that the worker is available for work (but not actually working) and qualify the situations in which payment must be made (i.e. when the worker is woken and carries out duties).
These would be circumstances where the individual was genuinely “on-call”. For example if a worker was required to sleep on the premises, but could come and go as they pleased (they are under no obligation to be physically present), this would be categorised as “on-call”. Our experience suggests that this would be an unlikely scenario in the care sector. It is more likely to be relevant in the service industry where people may live above a pub for example.
UNISON’s position is that someone who is required to be present (awake or asleep), and who is not permitted to leave the premises during their shift or sleep in is working rather than available for work so the qualifications in reg. 27(2) and reg. 32(2) do not apply.
The law is a useful tool in pushing employers to change current arrangements, and potentially for back pay claims. We will support individual members’ legal cases where they are assessed as having reasonable chances of success.