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In a recent case, the Court of Appeal considered whether an employer was entitled to withhold one working day's pay or one calendar day's pay when its employees went on a one day strike.
The case of Hartley & Others v King Edward VI College concerned strike action by teachers at a sixth form college. As a result of the strike, which lasted one day, the college deducted what it considered to be the appropriate amount of pay, namely 1/260 of the teachers' annual salary. This calculation was based on a five day working week and represented working days and paid holiday.
The teachers accepted that the college were entitled to deduct pay for the day of the strike but brought breach of contract claims on the basis that the sums deducted should have been the smaller amount, 1/365 of annual salary. The teachers argued that pay accrued equally from day-to-day for each calendar day, not just working days.
The county court held that the correct deduction was 1/260 and the teachers appealed this decision.
The Court of Appeal (CA) dismissed the appeal. It held that the rate of accrual of salary should be construed on the basis of the contractual terms. In this case, the teachers' contracts specified working days as Monday to Friday and clearly did not envisage that pay would accrue by equal amounts per calendar day. The Court therefore held that the deduction of 1/260 was correct. The CA made it clear however, that a deduction based on calendar days would like be appropriate in the absence of anything to the contrary in the employment contract.
This case is a useful reminder for employers that when working days are defined in an employment contract, deductions to wages for strike action can be calculated on the basis of working days. Employers should also be mindful however that where a contract is silent on the issue, a deduction based on calendar days is likely to be appropriate.
It is therefore preferable for employers to clearly define working days in employment contracts and specify the rate of accrual, in order to avoid disputes of this nature.