Claire Tomlinson-Blake, a Mencap support worker in the East Riding of Yorkshire, appealed against a Court of Appeal ruling that carers are only entitled to the minimum wage when they are required to be awake for work – and not while asleep.
She challenged the decision at the UK’s highest court at a hearing in February last year alongside a linked appeal brought by John Shannon, a Surrey care home worker whose case was heard along with Mrs Tomlinson-Blake’s at the Court of Appeal.
On Friday morning, the Supreme Court dismissed both Mrs Tomlinson-Blake and Mr Shannon’s appeals.
In the court’s written ruling, Lady Arden said that “sleep-in workers … are not doing time work for the purposes of the national minimum wage if they are not awake”.
She added: “The sleep-in worker who is merely present is treated as not working for the purpose of calculating the hours which are to be taken into account for national minimum wage purposes and the fact that he was required to be present during specified hours was insufficient to lead to the conclusion that he was working.
“I consider that the reasons for dismissing this appeal given by the (employment) tribunals and the Court of Appeal were correct.”
The judge also said: “The arguments in this case were completed before the first coronavirus lockdown, which has introduced stay-home measures for many workers.
“We have therefore had no argument as to any effect of those measures on the calculation of the national minimum wage. I wish to make that clear.”
It comes after the court heard how Mrs Tomlinson-Blake received a salary for her full-time job helping vulnerable adults living in their own homes, and sometimes had to work a sleep-in shift between 10pm and 7am.
For those shifts, she was paid an allowance of £29.05, which included pay for an hour’s work.
She argued that she was always working even while asleep because she had to remain on guard in case of possible issues.
Care England – the body that represents independent care providers – said that the case could have cost the sector £400 million in backdated pay and £200 million a year from 2020 if the court had ruled workers should be paid the minimum wage.
After two employment tribunals, including Ms Tomlinson-Blake’s, new guidance in October 2016 said at-home carers should receive minimum wage even if they were asleep.
However, Mencap won a Court of Appeal ruling against that policy in July 2018.
Ms Tomlinson-Blake later appealed to the Supreme Court.
Carer John Shannon also made an appeal to the Supreme Court, after he spent years sleeping overnight at the Clifton House care home in Surrey, but was also dismissed.
He claimed if he had been paid minimum wage for all the time he slept on call, he could have been paid almost £240,000 extra.
His case was repeatedly denied.
Matthew Wort, a partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors – which represented Care England – said: “The Supreme Court’s decision means UK care providers no longer face a potentially catastrophic financial outcome that could have jeopardised the care of thousands of people.
“This case was not about what care workers should be paid. Instead, it focused on the interpretation of national minimum wage regulations, with the law and previous government guidance making clear that carers are not working while asleep.
“Today’s judgment puts an end to many years of uncertainty. It should be seen as a line in the sand, with the focus now on ensuring changes are made in how workers are remunerated to ensure appropriate pay for time asleep.”