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28 October 2003

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A recent decision by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has caused concern within certain industries. In the case of Wright v Scottbridge Construction the EAT ruled that Wright, who was a night watchman, should be paid for the period he was allowed to sleep whilst on the premises.

Wright was employed as a night watchman seven nights a week between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. for a weekly wage of 210. His main function was to be available if an intruder set off an alarm. When not performing any specific tasks he was entitled to watch TV, read, or sleep.

Mr Wright made an application to an Employment Tribunal claiming that he was entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for the whole of the time he was on the employer's premises even though he was not actually working for the whole 14 hour period. The tribunal rejected his claim stating that the NMW Regulations provide that time during which a worker is allowed to sleep 'shall only be treated as being time worked when the worker is awake for the purpose of working'.

On appeal, the EAT held that this provision only applied to a situation where an employer specifically allows a worker to take a number of hours off for sleep during a working period. It does not apply where staff are required to be on the premises for the purpose of their duties and can choose to sleep for some of the time. As such, Mr Wright was entitled to the NMW for the whole of the 14-hour period he was required to be on the employer's premises each night.

If allowed to stand, this decision could have serious consequences on those industries that employ people in such circumstances whereby staff are available for occasional emergency situations.

November 2001

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