"Hooray. It's pay day! Oh...no deal."
A tribunal has ruled that a firm unfairly dismissed a trainee at the start of the lockdown, after she complained about unpaid wages.
Nicolette Browne-Marke joined NR Solicitors in January 2019 as a paralegal. Although the firm had never registered her as a trainee, the employment tribunal said that Browne-Marke effectively worked as a trainee, as NR Solicitors had promised her that role after a short probation period.
Browne-Marke, who represented herself at the tribunal, said that her annual salary of £14,000 was paid in an "intermittent and erratic" manner and sometimes in cash. As a result, she had financial issues, and told her boss that she did not have enough money for her bus fare, or to pay for travel expenses to court.
In March 2020, Browne-Marke had to work from home due to the office being close because of the pandemic. The firm claimed that she had neglected to file a piece of work on time - but Browne-Marke denied receiving such instructions. She also said she was unable to send files from home as her Wi-Fi had been cut, as the firm hadn't paid her wages in full.
The trainee emailed the firm's management stating that there was a shortfall in her pay, and asked for an update as to when she would be paid in full. However, NR Solicitors dismissed the trainee four days later, which fell on the first day of the full lockdown. The firm claimed that it had fired her due to her performance and attitude, as well as an unauthorised absence.
The firm had given a "muddled and contradictory account" as to why the trainee was dismissed, said the tribunal, and ruled that the principal reason for the firm dismissing Browne-Marke, was her email complaint about not being paid in full.
The tribunal ruled that NR Solicitors pay £14,251 to Browne-Marke in compensation.
"My reaction to the tribunal finding in my favour was one of shock and joy," Browne-Marke told RollOnFriday. "On the one hand, I did believe I had a strong case and I had been treated abysmally by the firm, but on the other hand as I was doing everything by myself and I was against a law firm, I didn’t think it would be found in my favour. I am just happy that the judge accepted my truthful version of events over their muddled and incorrect version."
NR Solicitors told RollOnFriday that the firm is appealing the decision.