Debenhams Underpaid Almost 12,000 Workers, U.K. Government Says

  • Retailer blames ‘technical error’ that it has since fixed
  • U.K. names 360 employers underpaying almost 1 million pounds

U.K. department-store chain Debenhams Plc underpaid almost 12,000 workers, the government said, as it “named and shamed” its largest ever list of employers that failed to adhere to the legal minimum wage.

Debenhams underpaid 11,858 workers by a total of almost 135,000 pounds ($168,000), the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said on Wednesday in an e-mailed statement. The retailer was the most prominent name on a list of the latest offenders dominated by smaller, local businesses ranging from hotels and restaurants to nurseries, plumbers and hair salons. In total, 360 businesses underpaid 15,520 workers by 995,233 pounds.

“Every worker in the U.K. is entitled to at least the national minimum or living wage and this government will ensure they get it,” Business Minister Margot James said in the statement. The government is “sending the clear message to employers that minimum-wage abuses will not go unpunished.” 

Debenhams put the underpayment down to a “technical error in payroll calculations,” identified by the tax agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

“As a responsible employer, Debenhams is committed to the national minimum wage, and as soon as the error was identified by a routine HMRC audit last year, we reimbursed all those affected,” the retailer said in an e-mailed statement. “We have apologized to all our colleagues affected and have taken steps to ensure it cannot happen again.”
Since introducing the name-and-shame lists in 2013, the business department has identified more than 1,000 employers in breach of the rules, charging them more than 2 million pounds in fines and identifying arrears owed to employees totaling more than 4.5 million pounds. Excuses provided by employers include making tips count toward pay, docking earnings to pay for staff Christmas parties, and making staff buy their own uniform, the department said. The standard minimum wage is currently 7.20 pounds an hour and will rise to 7.50 pounds an hour in April.

— With assistance by Sam Chambers

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