WH Smith, M&S and Argos fined millions after failing to pay workers minimum wage

Three major retailers have been fined for failing to pay their workers minimum wage
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Major highstreet retailers WH Smith, Marks & Spencer and Argos have been fined around £7 million after failing to pay some members of staff minimum wage. The government has ‘named and shamed’ employers after investigations by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs found that almost £5m was found to be owed to around 63,000 workers, dating back as far as 2017.

The employers have been made to pay back what they owed, and in addition were fined around £7m. According to HMRC, WH Smith was the worst offender with the new figures claiming it failed to pay around £1m to 17,607 workers.

However, the retailer said this was a ‘genuine error’ related to its company uniform policy.

A spokesman for WH Smith said: “Following a review with HMRC in 2019, and in common with a number of retailers, it was brought to our attention that we had misinterpreted how the statutory wage regulations were applied to our uniform policy for staff working in our stores.

“This was a genuine error and it was rectified immediately with all colleagues reimbursed in 2019.”

Kevin Hollinrake, minister for enterprise, markets and small business, said: “Paying the legal minimum wage is non-negotiable and all businesses, whatever their size, should know better than to short-change hard-working staff.

“Most businesses do the right thing and look after their employees, but we’re sending a clear message to the minority who ignore the law: pay your staff properly or you’ll face the consequences.”

Bryan Sanderson, chairman of the Low Pay Commission, said: “Regular naming rounds should be a useful tool in raising awareness of underpayment and helping to protect minimum wage workers.”

WH Smith, M&S and Argos fined for failing to pay minimum wageWH Smith, M&S and Argos fined for failing to pay minimum wage
WH Smith, M&S and Argos fined for failing to pay minimum wage

It also reported that Marks & Spencer failed to pay £578,390 to 5,363 workers.

In response, an M&S spokesman said: “Like many other organisations, M&S is only named in the list because of an unintentional technical issue from over four years ago.

“This happened simply because temporary colleagues were not paid within the strict time periods specified in the national minimum wage regulations and was remedied as soon as we became aware of the issue.

“Our minimum hourly pay has never been below the national minimum wage, it is currently above it and no colleagues were ever underpaid because of this.”

Meanwhile, Argos, which is owned by Sainsbury’s, was named for failing to pay £480,093 to over 10,000 workers.

WH Smith, M&S and Argos fined for failing to pay minimum wageWH Smith, M&S and Argos fined for failing to pay minimum wage
WH Smith, M&S and Argos fined for failing to pay minimum wage

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “Back in 2018, a payroll error was identified which affected some Argos store colleagues and drivers and dated back to 2012, before Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos.

“We launched an immediate investigation, working alongside HMRC, and put this right at the time.

“Since then we have completed the integration of Argos onto Sainsbury’s systems which will prevent this from happening again.”

The government also said Lloyds Pharmacy was another employer at fault, reporting that it failed to pay £903,307 to 7,9116 workers.

Lloyds has been contacted for comment.