Supreme Court strikes again in latest ruling on teacher’s pay deductions

Posted by Endeavour Partnership LLP on 13/07/17

Legal

Here are ‘need to know’ details on the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Hartley and others –v- Kind Edward VI College [2017] in respect of deductions from teachers’ pay whilst on strike.

Background

Hartley and others are employed as teachers at the sixth form college King Edward VI College. As is usual in most employment contracts, they are paid their annual salary on a monthly basis.

What is most factually important here, is that their contracts of employment incorporated a working time collective agreement called the ‘Red Book’. A collective agreement is an agreement between an employer and the Trade Union, which can include terms on, for example, hiring and firing or allocation of work.

In this case, the Red Book also stated that teachers are required to work up to 195 days of ‘directed time’, which includes their normal teaching, but also will be required to work ‘undirected’ time. ‘Undirected time’ includes work outside of normal teaching hours, such as lesson prep, report writing and marking, which would typically be done during evenings and/or weekends.

In November 2011, the teachers went on a full day’s strike.

This meant that the Red Book provisions kicked in, and the College was entitled to withhold their pay for the day on which they had been on strike.

Because of this, the College deducted 1/260 of each teacher’s annual salary, 260 being the number of weekdays in a calendar year.

This all seemed to make sense under the provisions of the Red Book, however…

What happened next?

The teachers brought proceedings alleging that this calculation was a breach of contract. They argued that the College was only entitled to deduct 1/365 of their annual pay, given that there are 365 calendar days in a year. They relied upon long-standing law, dating back to 1870 (!) which states that amounts such as salaries should be considered as accruing calendar day by calendar day; not just working day by working day.

The decision…

The teachers lost their case. It was decided that the College’s approach, relating pay to working days only was ‘sensible and acceptable’.

You might say here if you are a teacher yourself or know a teacher, that this is unfair due to the amount of extra work that teachers have to undertake in their “undirected” spare time. Well, the teachers also saw this as unfair and appealed to the Supreme Court.

The appeal…

The Supreme Court upheld the teachers’ appeal.

Where an employment contract is an annual contract, as was here, it must, therefore, be apportioned on a daily basis over 365 days, yielding a daily figure of 1/365. The College was therefore only entitled to make deductions from the teachers’ pay at a daily rate of 1/365 of their annual salary.

Conclusion

The most important point for employers in the Education sector to take away from this development is that the principle of equal daily apportionment will apply unless your employment contracts, in clear terms, say it should not apply and should be replaced with, for example, what the College wanted here; a deduction rate of 1/260 days.

You can see therefore how vital it is to have up to date employment contracts, drafted in line with the ever-changing case law in the Education sector.

If you require up to date employment contracts or advice on whether your employment contracts need updating, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Employment team.

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