Bracknell Coppid Beech Hotel staff haven’t been paid minimum wage for five years due to ‘technical misunderstanding’

A well-known hotel in Bracknell failed to pay its staff minimum wage over a period of five years, government data shows.

Staff at the Coppid Beech Hotel in John Nike Way, Binfield were not paid the lowest possible salary for a period between April 2012 and November 2017.

The company, Nike Group Hotels, inadvertently saved £24,863 by underpaying 138 workers during the period.

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The company claims the underpayments were due to an error where staff who lived at the hotel made deposits on their accommodation.

When this money was taken, it meant that some staff members were technically paid below minimum wage.

Chief Financial Officer John Larssen told BerkshireLive the company was investigated by HMRC when the underpayments came to light.

He said: “The filing pushed some of the staff below the minimum wage threshold, which I guess you could call a technical foul.

“We reimbursed everyone concerned as soon as we could, and all before the end of March 2018. Everything was sorted out.

“It was a technical misunderstanding on our part, which we have decided to eradicate. From now on, we no longer take deposits from our new staff.”

Mr Larssen added that many of the staff left the company when the money was refunded and said the company tried to work with former employees to explain why they were suddenly refunded “between £150 and £200”.

He said it was money owed to them for their work so “we didn’t hesitate to pay them back”.

He also added that he supported the government’s “naming and shaming” of companies that do not pay staff minimum wages, but stressed that the Nike Group’s involvement was “in no way malicious”.

The company, which also operated Bracknell’s John Nike Leisuresport ice rink before it closed last year during the coronavirus pandemic, is one of 208 companies named by the government for failing to pay their staff the national minimum wage.

Another Berkshire firm, VVG Healthcare, which was disbanded in December 2019, also failed to pay two staff members £5,818 between September 2014 and August 2016.

The business was based in Bradfield but was dissolved when one of the partners retired.

It now continues as Valley Veterinary Group with branches in Bradfield, Pangbourne and Spencers Wood.

Branch manager Valerie Chamberlain told BerkshireLive there was some “confusion” during the period.

She said the payments were for one member of staff and related to staff accommodation, out-of-hours coverage and salaries.

She added that the staff member was fully reimbursed for any lost wages once the mistake was revealed.

Labor Markets Minister Paul Scully said: “We want workers to know that we are on their side and that they should be treated fairly by their employers, which is why payment of the statutory minimum wage should be non-negotiable for business.

“Today’s 208 businesses, regardless of size, should know not to sacrifice hard-working employees, whether intentionally or not.

“With Christmas fast approaching, it is more important than ever that money is not held back in workers’ pockets. So don’t be a scrooge – pay your staff properly.”

Among the ways workers were underpaid were deductions for having to conform to dress codes, not raising wages to match government increases, or paying the wrong rate – for example, if someone was paid the wrong rate for his age.

Since 2015, the government has ordered employers to reimburse £100m to more than a million workers across the country.

It is also important to point out that not all minimum wage underpayments are deliberate.

Bryan Sanderson, Chairman of the Low Pay Commission, said: “The minimum wage is a success story hailed by employees and employers alike, but it only works if everyone without exception obeys the law.

“We hope this latest round of nominations can continue to raise awareness of the most common mistakes companies make and help protect low-wage workers from unfair treatment.”

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