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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
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In 2013 I had an interview with Stagecoach with a view to becoming a bus driver. The inter

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In 2013 I had an interview with Stagecoach with a view to becoming a bus driver. The interview went well and when asked if I had any questions, I asked if I could see the drivers shift pattern. I was told that there was different patterns according to routes etc. and left it at that. I will say that I have worked shifts all my working life and have no problem with earlies, lates or nights and accepted that there would be some weekend working. I Also made it quite clear that I valued my time off. I got the job and started training in January 2014. I was asked to sign a form stating that because they were putting me through my training to get my PCV licence they expected me to remain in their employ for two years. If I left before the 2 years had elapsed then they would claim back the cost of training. They said that the cost of training was £3000 reducing on a monthly basis. It seemed reasonable to me at the time for them to expect something back for their investment and duly signed. On
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 2 years ago.
Ben Jones :

Hello, my name is ***** ***** it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today. I think your question was cut off, can you please check and resend the rest?

Customer:

In 2013 I had an interview with Stagecoach with a view to becoming a bus driver. The interview went well and when asked if I had any questions, I asked if I could see the drivers shift pattern. I was told that there was different patterns according to routes etc. and left it at that. I will say that I have worked shifts all my working life and have no problem with earlies, lates or nights and accepted that there would be some weekend working. I Also made it quite clear that I valued my time off. I got the job and started training in January 2014. I was asked to sign a form stating that because they were putting me through my training to get my PCV licence they expected me to remain in their employ for two years. If I left before the 2 years had elapsed then they would claim back the cost of training. They said that the cost of training was £3000 reducing on a monthly basis. It seemed reasonable to me at the time for them to expect something back for their investment and duly signed. On completion of my training and a short period being mentored by another driver on the route, ticket machine etc. I started driving solo on route X5. This is one of Stagecoach’s flagship routes operating a ½ hourly coach service between Oxford and Cambridge. In addition to the shockingly awful Stagecoach uniform I was given another uniform specifically for the X5 which comprised of X5 monogrammed blazer, waistcoat and tie. Most of the drivers attached a certain amount of Kudos to being an X5 driver.

To start with I was put on an AD (as directed) Rota. There was no pattern to it and was a mixture of lates and earlies and I didn’t know what shifts or rest days I would have until the Thursday before I was due to work them. At this point I should mention that I have a disabled wife who is unable to leave the house without me, having had several operations to remove a brain tumour. These shifts left us unable to make any plans or book appointments. I worked these shifts for over a month before I was then placed on the nursery rota. This was a three week rotation which ended with one weekend off in the whole three weeks. Although not ideal, I at least knew in advance my shifts in order to make plans and in addition, I was enjoying the job.

The subject of leave then arose. Because I had joined the company late in the financial year, I had missed any opportunity to express any preferences. Other drivers in the same situation had been allocated blocks of annual leave but for some reason I had been overlooked.

I went to see the detailer (duty planner), who had a reputation of being extremely unhelpful. I had already had a one dealing with her when I requested a day off to attend the funeral of a close friend to be told that I needed to give more notice. She was unable or unwilling to comprehend that people having heart attacks while playing golf tend not to give very much notice of their demise. I spoke to the Assistant operations manager who helpfully authorised my absence.

I informed the detailer that for some reason I had been omitted from the annual leave allocation. I also said that rather than me keep asking for particular weeks and her to say no, why she didn’t just give me a list of weeks that were available and I would pick some. A few days later I received notification that I had been allocated 1 week in November 2014 and 3 weeks in December.

To avoid confrontation with the detailer I had another meeting with my manager who agreed that the allocation was poor and very helpfully authorised a week in June, 2 weeks in October and another week in spring 2015.

A few weeks later I approached my manager with regard to my shifts. I was struggling with the Nursery rota which by its very name, I thought would be a short term situation until vacancies arose on the normal rotas. My home and social life were suffering. I said that I felt that Stagecoach owned me, to which he replied, “They Do”. Apart from that, he was sympathetic and printed off copies of the X5 4 and 5 day rotas for me to have a look at. I opted for the 4 day rota which meant longer shifts but a shorter working week with more weekends off and occasional blocks of 5 and 6 day breaks. A couple of days later I told him that I would like to be considered for the 4 day rota and he said that he would arrange it.

A week or so elapsed and I was informed that the Nursery rota in its present form did not comply with driver’s regulations in relation to sufficient weekly rest and we had been driving illegally. The company response was to swap one of the working days and rest days around which then meant that there would be two blocks of working 6 days straight in one rotation. I went to see the detailer and said that I was not prepared to work that particular shift pattern and that I been informed that I could go onto the 4 day rota. The assistant Ops manager was on holiday and she said that she knew nothing about it and that I would have to work the amended nursery rota. I said that I would be resigning at the end of the day and left to continue my shift. While I was paying my takings in at the end of the day she came to me and informed me that I would be starting the 4 day rota the following week.

Once on the normal rota I really enjoyed the job but importantly I had a better work life balance. Things were going well until it came to this year’s leave allocation. The opening date for requests was 1st September 2014 for people to put in their bids. Rather naively perhaps on my part, I didn’t realise that it was a race and didn’t put my bid in until about 6 weeks later when I returned from leave. I deliberately didn’t ask for any time during the school holidays and while I cannot recall the exact days I believe I asked for weeks in May and June along with second choices if these were unavailable. Imagine my dismay at being allocated 1 week in September and 2 weeks in February. Posted on a wall I could see other driver’s allocations with some being given two or even three week blocks during what I would call peak holiday time between June and September. I went to see the detailer who said that it was first come first served and I was too late.

I was later told that lots of drivers come into work on the 1st of September each year whether they are working or not at the crack of dawn to get their leave requests in. I was also told that it appeared to be the same people getting the same premium leave dates every year. In all of my previous jobs, people have been given the opportunity to express preferences and where there is a conflict of too many people wanting certain dates then it would be looked at starting with who had what dates the previous year. In my opinion the current system operated at Stagecoach was unfair and lazy.

I decided that I could not keep running to my manager every time I wanted some leave and decided that this was the last straw. Stagecoach have now sent me an invoice for £1600 to recover their training costs and threatened court action if I do not pay.

I enjoyed the job and the other X5 drivers were a great bunch of people to work with. I have a strong work ethic with a 100% attendance record at Stagecoach and I was always at work 20 to 30 minutes before my start time. As previously stated, I have worked different shifts all my working life but I feel that on this occasion it was under stated that I would have to work more weekends than I had off and the impact of these shifts on your social life. I also believe that within reason, I should be able to take my leave when I want it, and although I accept that is not always possible there should be some compromise. I had every intention of completing my two years and even enrolled in their pension scheme and share purchase scheme but I could no longer work under those conditions. I am now driving for another company. They pay £2 an hour less but the hours and conditions are better. Could you tell me where I stand in relation to paying this amount. Thanks.

Ben Jones :

Employers can spend a considerable amount of money on training their employees, only to see them leave shortly afterwards. In order to ensure that the employer can provide an employee with training and that the employee does not take advantage of the situation by leaving soon afterwards, it is common practice to have a repayment provision in the contract of employment. Under it the training costs are deemed to constitute a loan to the employee, which becomes repayable if they leave their employment within a certain period after the training completes.

Whilst it is legal to have such clauses, employers must be cautious to ensure that the amount of costs they are trying to recover is a genuine pre-estimate of the damages which they have suffered as a result of the employee leaving early. In the event that it is not, such clauses could be considered a penalty against the employee, which would make it legally unenforceable. Therefore, if the employer has derived some benefit from the employee undertaking the training course during the fixed repayment period (e.g. where an employer has been able to charge customers more for an employee’s services by virtue of that training or qualification) then the amounts which may be recovered from the employee should be reduced to reflect that benefit.

The contract should also contain a sliding scale of repayment whereby the repayment amount reduces according to the length of time the employee remains with the employer after the training has been completed. For example, 100% of the fees to be repaid if the employee leaves within 0-12 months after the training has finished, 50% if they leave 12-24 months after, 25% if they leave 24 - 36 months after.

There are a couple of ways for the employer to try and recover these fees - by deducting them direct from the employee's wages or, if the employee has already left and paid up fully - by taking them to court.

If the matter goes to court, it would be for the employer to show that the repayment clause was reasonably drafted and that the costs they are trying to recover are reasonable in the circumstances.

As to the reasons for you leaving, unfortunately they are not very strong to claim that the employer’s behaviour has so serious that the whole contract was breached and you were constructively dismissed. The employer can ask you to work whatever shift pattern they feel is needed, especially as nothing specific was promised at the start of the job. Everyone would like to have a nice work-life balance but that is not always possible and the employer’s failure to meet the employee’s personal expectations does not mean they are in breach of contract. Similarly, the holiday issue is not something they have done anything wrong with – it is nice to be able to choose your holidays but the law actually allow the employer to reject any holiday requests by employees and they can also nominate when employees take their leave. So this is again not a breach of contract. Therefore, at first sight it would seem you have to repay this unless you wish to take the chance of fighting this in court.

Customer:

Thanks for your prompt reply. I figured I didnt have much of a case but I thought it would be a good idea to seek advice before handing over such a large amount.

Customer:

thanks again

Ben Jones :

you are most welcome

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