St Albans hotel in payout for employee’s breach of contract

Sopwell House Hotel

Sopwell House Hotel - Credit: Archant

The sacking of an employee has resulted in a costly payout for a St Albans hotel.

AB Hotels Limited, which owns Sopwell House Hotel, was recently taken to an Employment Tribunal after it dismissed a senior member of staff, but then failed to pay her contracted salary.

Employment Judge Michael Southam, in his August 8 judgement, ordered AB Hotels to pay former employee Michelle Reynolds £8,389.22 in damages due for “failure to give adequate notice of termination”.

Mr Southam said Mrs Reynolds was entitled to three months’ notice of the termination of her employment. However, she received pay in lieu of just one week’s notice.

Mrs Reynolds’ husband, Dr John Yates-Reynolds, told the Herts Advertiser that his wife, 44, who had been working for over eight months as director of spa leisure at Sopwell, was “ordered to leave her hotel accommodation on Christmas Eve”.

Dr Yates-Reynolds presented Mrs Reynolds’ case on her behalf, as she was unwell and unable to attend a recent tribunal hearing.

In Mr Southam’s judgment, he says that Mrs Reynolds submitted her claim to the tribunal on February 16 this year, bringing complaints about notice and holiday pay and “other payments”.

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She was seeking a payment by way of unlawful deduction from wages in respect of a failure to pay her three months’ notice in accordance with her contract, where only one week’s notice was paid.

Her dismissal was not for gross misconduct.

The proceedings were served on AB Hotels, the umbrella name for a collection of three family-owned hotels including Sopwell House, a hotel in St Albans.

Mrs Y. Kamdeerally, group HR manager appearing for AB Hotels, tried to amend the hotelier’s response by including an argument that Mrs Reynolds was dismissed for gross misconduct, and that she was, therefore, not entitled to notice in accordance with her contract.

Dr Yates-Reynolds objected to that application, saying that his wife’s letter of dismissal did not mention gross misconduct.

The termination letter stated: “The company has lost complete confidence in Michelle’s ability to perform in her role. In addition the company has a complete lack of trust in Michelle’s behaviour towards staff members and customers.”

It added that her employment was terminated with notice, that she was not required to work her notice, “and it will be paid in lieu”.

Mr Southam said: “In the light of that undisputed evidence, I decided to refuse the respondent’s application to amend the claim so as to argue that the claimant was dismissed for gross misconduct.”

He said it would be an “injustice” to grant such a late amendment.

The judge also pointed out that while AB Hotels was a “limited company” with resources to seek legal advice, “it appears they did not do so...instead they left the application until the hearing, when the claimant would not have known that this argument was going to be taken against her.”

Mr Southam said that payment in lieu of notice “is a payment of damages for breach of contract.

“It is compensation for the failure by the employer to give the employee the correct notice to terminate the contract of employment.”

He said three months’ net of Mrs Reynolds’ salary was £9,462.84, and that following deductions, including the one week’s pay already given, the final amount for AB Hotels to pay stood at £8,389.22.