Domestic Staff And Unfair Dismissal: Lessons Learnt

While everyone hopes the employer/employee relationship will continue without a hitch, issues can of course occur. In these situations, it is best to have clear roles and responsibilities set out for each party so it is easy to see if someone is not keeping up with expectations.

Take the recent unfair dismissal case between Robin Pyke and his employers, Mr and Mrs Gottschalk. It is unclear from the facts whether Mr Pyke was a housekeeper, gardener, nanny, "live in manager," or a combination of all of them, leading to most of the confusion.

Mr Pyke's dismissal followed Mrs Gottschalk finding out that his partner was staying at the property he was looking after without her knowledge. The Gottschalks also claim Mr Pyke abused his position of trust by using the family's cars without permission and running a side business (dog sitting) from the property. Mr Pyke had been working for the family for 13 years in many roles, starting first as the gardener before changing roles to the "house manager." The family often travelled to different overseas homes and left Mr Pyke to look after the property alone.

During the Tribunal, the Gottschalks stated they were under the assumption their staff "don't count the hours" and expect them to "go the extra mile" when working for them. The couple stated that Mr Pyke left the home in a disappointing condition. There were issues with the cleanliness of the house and his "over familiarity". Mr Pyke believes the family placed too many demands on him, leaving him overworked and stressed.

While the Tribunal will decide the unfair dismissal claim and whether the proper procedures were followed, it raises several important points for employers. Employers should make sure that job roles are referred to in the employment contract. If the employee's role changes, employers should update the contract or issue a side letter to reflect the necessary changes.

The contract should include clear boundaries for employees about what behaviour is acceptable or not. This is increasingly important for a role such as this that involves the employee living in the employer's home...

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