Contract caterer Initial has narrowly escaped a trip to the employment tribunal after docking pay from staff when snow disrupted work in March.
About 30 catering staff at schools across East Sussex had money deducted from their wages after they were told by Initial not to come to work because of the heavy snowfall, or to go home early because schools were shut.
When the weather improved, unit managers informed staff verbally that because they had not worked their full hours, they would not be paid for them.
But trade union Unison advised staff that Initial was both bound under the Employment Act to inform employees in writing should their wages be reduced for any reason, and that the company had no right to do so in the first place.
Alex Knutson, Unison branch secretary for East Sussex, said: "Our belief is that staff are contractually entitled to payment for these hours and consequently that the company's decision to deduct a sum of money is unlawful, both in relation to the actual deduction and owing to a failure to notify staff of the deduction."
He added: "Employers are usually understanding in these kinds of circumstances. It's just penny-pinching."
Responding to Caterer‘s enquiries, Initial issued a statement saying it had "apologised to staff" and promised to reimburse the deducted wages.
An Initial spokesman said: "We regret that some of our staff who were unable to get to work during the recent snow were not paid for the hours missed. We can confirm that all staff who contacted us on the morning in question will be paid in their next pay packets.
"We have reviewed our procedures and put measures in place to ensure that, in future, staff will automatically be paid for days missed by severe weather, provided they contact their manager that morning."
This is the second gaff in as many months by the contract caterer, which was recently exposed by Caterer for refusing to allow staff to talk to the media regarding school meals during Jamie Oliver's high-profile campaign to improve standards.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 21 April 2005