An employment tribunal has ordered a hotel owner to pay more than £55,000 to a housekeeper who was paid just £1.41 an hour, made to sleep in the laundry room in the cellar and did not have a day's holiday during her three years of employment.
Gary Hesp, the owner and managing director of the Great Western hotel near Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, which sleeps up to 30 people, employed Julie Miles from January 2015 to May 2018 to clean and cook at the hotel.
During this time, Miles did not take a single day of holiday leave – when she requested to use annual leave her employer was said to have told her: "We can't spare you. You worked last year without a day off – you can do it again."
During her employment, Miles was at times paid as little as £1.41 per hour for 60 hours' work per week. Before being provided with a bedroom in 2017, she slept in a chair in the laundry room while having £80 deducted from her wages for accommodation.
The judge said Hesp "exploited" her vulnerable circumstances due to her financial difficulties and because she did not have a home, and described the relationship as that of "master and servant". Miles resigned in 2018 citing "unreasonable working conditions".
Miles also received unwanted conduct of a sexual nature from Hesp on three occasions in which he slid his arm around her waist when they were alone together. The tribunal found each of these events to be an act of sexual harassment.
Employment Judge Laura Howden-Evans accepted that Hesp did not intend to violate Miles' dignity or create a humiliating environment; however against the backdrop of these incidents occurring when they were alone, and on one occasion in the room that was supposed to be her personal sleeping accommodation, and as he was her boss and she was a mature lady trapped in a powerless situation, she reasonably perceived his actions as violating her dignity and creating a degrading and humiliating environment for her.
On each occasion Miles stepped away from Hesp to indicate she was not consenting but she felt powerless to say or do anything further. She perceived herself as being an older woman in a vulnerable situation with no one to complain to, as Hesp and his wife were her bosses. She believed that if she complained she would be ousted from the hotel and would have nowhere to live, so she felt her only option was to act as though it had not happened.
Miles won £55,194, including for unauthorised deductions to her wages, compensation for unfair dismissal, money for holiday not taken and compensation for injury to feelings as a result of sexual harassment.
Hesp will also be required to write a letter of apology and attend a training course in discrimination and harassment.