A HOTEL-owning couple who paid their ‘vulnerable’ elderly housekeeper as little as £1.41 an hour and made her sleep in a cellar chair have been ordered to pay £55,194 in compensation.
The former teacher who we are referring to as ‘M’, aged 69, took Gary and Loraine Hesp to an employment tribunal over her treatment at Abergavenny’s Great Western Hotel, which heard that she had been treated like “a servant” and “exploited”.
A virtual hearing in Cardiff was also told that Mr Hesp sexually harassed M by putting his arm around her waist three times when they were alone together at the Station Road hotel.
The tribunal ruled that M, who had nowhere else to stay, was paid way below the minimum wage after “unauthorised deductions” to the tune of more than £35,000 were made from her pay.
She was also unfairly dismissed and not compensated for earnt holiday pay.
It heard that over three and a half years from January 2015 to 2018 when she felt forced to resign, M “was working 60 hours per week on average; 52 weeks of the year”.
In its ruling, the panel said: “Whilst the respondent has deducted £80 per week for accommodation from the claimant’s wages, throughout the relevant period, the tribunal noted that the claimant was only provided with a bedroom from May 2017 and had been sleeping in the laundry room in the cellar prior to that date”.
It added that M had not been allowed to take “a single day of holiday leave, since her employment commenced on 5th January 2015”, amounting to some 84 days owed leave.
“We found the respondent had refused to permit the claimant to exercise her right to take paid annual leave – the claimant had requested time off and had been told “We can’t spare you. You worked last year without a day off – you can do it again”.
The tribunal found that: “At all times during her employment with the respondent, the claimant was in a vulnerable position because of her financial difficulties and not having a home…
“For over a year she slept in a chair in a cold laundry room in the cellar…
“On average, the claimant was working for the respondent 60 hours per week; 52 weeks of the year, undertaking cleaning for the whole hotel (except the area behind the bar); changing, washing, drying and ironing bedding and after the chef left, preparing breakfasts.”
After an £80 weekly deduction for accommodation, M was paid as little as £84 a week, the panel said.
She was sexually harassed by Mr Hesp three times, added the tribunal panel - when he “slid his arm around the back of her waist when they were alone” in an upstairs guest room, the cellar and at the entrance to the hotel on New Year’s Eve.
While the panel “accepted that Mr Hesp did not intend to violate the claimant’s dignity or create a humiliating environment… she felt her only option was to ignore the touching and act as though it had not happened…
“She felt trapped in a difficult situation as there was no-one to complain to, as her bosses were Mr Hesp and his wife and she believed that if she complained she would be ousted from the hotel and would have nowhere to live,” added the judgement.
The penalty imposed includes £35,057 for unpaid wages and £10,172 for injury to feelings from Mr Hesp’s unwanted advances.
He was also told to write a letter of apology and attend a training course in discrimination and harassment, to cover sexual harassment.
“We are not dictating the words to be used in this letter of apology, rather we expect Mr Hesp to reflect on the impact his actions have had on the claimant and to write a suitable letter,” the panel ordered.
The hotel owners must also notify its workers of written policies and procedures covering grievance procedures and equality and diversity.
Employment Judge Laura Jane Howden-Evans said: “The relationship that existed between (M) and (her employers) was one of master and servant.
“It was only by (her) complying with (their) every instruction, completing work quickly, turning her hand to whatever was necessary to get the rooms ready and more importantly by being at Mr Hesp’s beck and call around the clock, that Mr Hesp was able to keep the hotel ticking over whilst working full-time in Devon and Cornwall.”