Apprentice wins battle for fairpay after a fair week of work

Chloe Sceal quickly realised she'd made a career path mistake shortly after she accepted an occupational health apprenticeship, but ended up in a protracted battle with her employer when they quibbled about paying the wages they owed her.

Wednesday, 10th May 2017, 1:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th May 2017, 10:49 am
Chloe Sceal came to Streetwise for help after she wasn't paid Picture: Sarah Standing (170590-1311)

The 18-year-old Waterlooville student had initially set her sights on a teaching career but found it too demanding.

Surfing the internet for potential openings, she was impressed with a service advertised by Havant South Downs College designed to put students in touch with potential employers.

She registered an interest and when they alerted her to an alternative occupational health employment opportunity with Emsworth-based Working Health Solutions Ltd, she decided to give it a go.

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Chloe says that last December the well-respected firm offered her an apprenticeship opportunity which she accepted.

In due course the company sent her an email confirming a start date in early January.

It also set out a number of conditions of employment, including holiday entitlement, the working hours, pay of £5 per hour, and payment arrangements.

However, much to her disappointment the first week induction course revealed the job didn’t come up to her expectations.

Rather than beat around the bush and waste everyone’s time, she gave them notice to quit.

Chloe thought no more about it, and resumed her job search. But at the end of January the payment of £187.50 for the week she put in with the company didn’t materialise.

She said: ‘I contacted South Downs College, who initially advised me to speak to Citizens’ Advice.

‘They recommended I emailed the company directly and took the matter up with a more senior member of South Downs staff.

‘After getting in touch with the firm and asking for payment, they emailed back essentially saying no chance.

‘The college apologised for the way I’d been treated, and confirmed I was owed the money.

‘South Downs contacted them and to avoid any unpleasantness they eventually agreed to pay me. The firm asked for my bank details and advised that I’d receive my money at the end of March as they’d already closed the payroll for February.’

A determined Chloe believed that finally the matter had been sorted but to her astonishment at the end of March still no money turned up in her account as promised.

Annoyed and angry as being messed around she got back in touch with the college and gave them a deadline to obtain payment.

Battle lines were finally drawn in early April, when after an extensive six-week exchange of emails between the college and the firm’s admin department, Chloe was told the company was refusing to pay up.

The firm’s company secretary spelled out their reasoning and said this was the first time they’d 
experienced a similar problem.

Despite all the promises that had gone before, they didn’t feel under any obligation to pay her because she’d not contributed anything at the workplace during her short period of employment.

Just to do five days and then give up on the apprenticeship had been a waste of the firm’s time and effort, they said.

Chloe took issue with the response and again contacted the college who said there was nothing more they could do.

They gave her details of Acas – the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service – which can advise or step in to sort out employment disputes.

However, Acas could only advise her to go to law, and put in a claim for her wages in the small claims court.

Chloe was so angry and frustrated at the months of shilly-shallying and being given the run-around she turned to Streetwise for advice.

We looked over the offer of employment email Chloe received from Working Health Solutions Ltd, and formed the view that when she accepted it a formal legally binding contract had been established.

While to be fair we could understand the company had a legitimate point of view, they’d explicitly failed to spell out the duration of the apprenticeship or any restriction on payment of wages.

The refusal to pay Chloe amounted to a breach of contract. It appeared to be trying to shut the stable door after the horse had bolted. Chloe was asking only for what had been initially agreed at the time she was taken on.

In the circumstances, we went along with the college, and asked the company to comment.

However, two days after our intervention, a cheque in settlement for the full amount of Chloe’s wages turned up in the post.

Director and company secretary Mary Shand insisted the matter had been done and dusted.

‘As far as I am aware there are no outstanding payments to be made to any individual and on checking with our payroll office I can confirm that everything is in order, ‘ she said.

Chloe felt that after months of beating about the bush justice had finally been done.

‘I just wanted to say a massive thank you,’ she said. ‘You have been able to do what myself, citizens’ advice, and South Downs, hadn’t been able to do.

‘I honestly don’t know how you managed to do it, but just want you to know how grateful I am for helping me.’