Government names and shames law firm for failing to pay paralegal the minimum wage

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By Alex Aldridge on

But Rowe Sparkes Solicitors reckons the low pay was legit


Underpaid paralegals throughout the land will be cheering after the government included a law firm on a public list of employers who have failed to pay the minimum wage.

Portsmouth firm Rowe Sparkes appeared alongside 70 other businesses on the list, which was published yesterday by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills minister Jo Swinson.

The criminal defence outfit is said to have “neglected” to pay £530.96 to a worker, who it has since emerged is a paralegal who was initially employed on an apprentice contract.

Upon the completion of a course at a local college, the paralegal should have had her wages raised from a rate “considerably above the apprenticeship rate”. The apprentice minimum wage is £2.73.

But Rowe Sparkes — which in fairness will be feeling the pain of the legal aid cuts — says that, on the advice of an HR consultant, it kept her on the same money.

The firm has released this statement explaining its position:

“The apprentice was signed off by her college in October 2012 but remained on the apprenticeship contract of employment. Advice was taken from an HR consultant as to her status and her pay rate.

“HMRC conducted an investigation and determined that, despite the advice we had been given, the apprentice should have been paid the non-apprentice minimum wage for the period after her college course finished. We fully cooperated with this investigation through our accountants Fiander Tovell, who were of the view that the decision made by the HMRC was wrong.

“We relied reasonably on what we maintain was correct advice throughout and believe that we did not underpay anyone but rather paid in excess of the applicable rates.

“We were advised that whilst we had a very good case, we could not expect to receive any of our costs for the appeal back and so as an SME we decided on an economic basis to pay the amounts calculated by the HMRC. In doing so we made it clear that we in no way accepted HMRC’s determination.”

Meanwhile, Swinson said:

“Paying less than the minimum wage is illegal, immoral and completely unacceptable. Naming and shaming gives a clear warning to employers who ignore the rules, that they will face reputational consequences as well as financial penalties of up to £20,000 if they don’t pay the minimum wage.”