Unsuitable Housekeeper – Legal Jungle

Unsuitable Housekeeper – Legal Jungle

This could happen to you…a real life scenario. Three weeks after engaging a new housekeeper you decide she has to go. She owes you money, can you withhold wages to recover the loss…?

We have substituted Ms. X for the true name of the person involved. Precise details of sums of money have also been altered to ensure anonymity

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Ms.X employed a housekeeper and during the third week Mrs. X booked her a ticket to return to her home country, paying the entire amount, £900 for the ticket.    Ms. X agreed to pay 50% of the ticket price and would take back the other 50% (£450) from the housekeeper through her salary.

However, the housekeeper was asked to leave at the end of the third week, so Ms. X recovered the 50% of the ticket price that the housekeeper owed them by withholding payment of her third week’s salary (£450 net).  So although she did not stay with the client, they still paid half of her ticket.

We asked our own “legal Eagles”, Hine Legal of London, employment law experts, (www.hinelegal.com +44 (0) 203 008 5718) for advice as to Ms. X’s legal position.

Their legal opinion in full is below.

First, as there was no employment contract and therefore no contractual provision allowing Ms. X to deduct monies from the housekeepers wages, Ms. X should pay the housekeeper for week 3 as well as for the day she was dismissed.   If her salary is not paid, the housekeeper could bring a claim of unlawful deduction of wages and/or breach of contract.

Second, please note that the housekeeper is unlikely to be owed a weeks’ salary in lieu of notice.  This is because she was employed for less than a month, and an employee only acquires the right to payment of a week’s statutory notice pay once she has been employed for a month.  There can be an exception to this if it is common practice or reasonable for an employee at her level and in that industry to receive such a payment.  However, I suspect that a weeks notice would not be the norm where the housekeeper has under a months service and therefore – on balance – I do not consider it likely that Ms. X owes the housekeeper any notice pay. 

 Finally, please note that if the housekeeper were to bring a breach of contract claim, then Ms. X could bring a counter-claim for the ticket fare.  Ms. X could also bring a claim via the small claims track for the ticket fare, although Ms. X would probably need some proof that there was an agreement that this would be paid back to Ms. X. However, if Ms. X were to withhold payment of her third week of work then Ms. X could be prevented from bringing such claims.

 In summary, I advise that based on the information available:

(a)     Ms. X should pay wages for week 3 and for the first day of week 4;

(b)      does NOT need to pay notice pay;

(c)        could consider bringing a claim against the housekeeper for the monies owed.

We are indebted to Hine Legal for their assistance in this matter.