Keri Hudson – quoted in ‘The Legal Question‘ section of this site – is one of the few people in British legal history to successfully take a former employer to court and win back pay.
Starting in December 2010, Keri internship at online review site My Village for six weeks. She says that during that time, she worked regular hours every day, headed up a team of interns herself, was chiefly responsible for the site’s new content going online. She also says that, despite her employer claiming they would eventually pay her, she received nothing.
After leaving the site, Keri took her case to HM Revenue And Customs. With the support of the National Union Of Journalists, Keri was able to take TPG Web Publishing, the owner of My Village, to tribunal and, in May 2011, was awarded over £1000 for the work she had done, as well as pro-rata holiday pay.
I spoke to Keri about why she had decided to take legal action against her former employer, whether she had been worried about the potential effect on her future career, and whether she would like her case to stand as an example to other interns.
Age Of The Intern: Why did you decide to take your case to court?
Keri: Firstly, they told me I would be getting paid for the work I was doing.
I didn’t ever sign a contract, but there was always a kind of “oh we, have to work it out, we haven’t sat down yet, but we will give you a figure soon”, which, apparently is quite common.
But secondly, I just thought it was a massive piss-take really. Basically, the guy who was actually in charge of running the website – he was off on holiday in Morocco – and I was left to, literally, run the website for him, which, I knew, because I was helping to implement advertising onto the website, I knew he was making money out of.
And I thought: “Well, I deserve to be reimbursed for what I’ve done, at least.”
AOTI: So you were doing a job that, if you weren’t there, they’d need someone to do?
Keri: Yeah, exactly, so the entire website actually was run by interns. There was me, and I’d run a team of six others.
A normal day would be, I’d get in early, because I’d have to set briefs for everyone in the team, I’d have to be liaising with PR to get us into film screenings or to review restaurants, and then I’d literally just send those guys out to do it, proofread their articles, check them for SEO, then I’d train them how to use the website system, whilst liaising also with the guys who build and maintain the website – various bugs that kept cropping up.
So, literally, I was the person who did everything – if I wasn’t there, or someone else wasn’t doing what I did, there would’ve been nothing new on it; it would’ve come to a complete standstill.
AOTI: Why do you think they thought they could get away with doing that?
Keri: Because, I think the problem is, and actually I overheard the manager of [TPG Web Publishing] saying “look at this team of people, [the owner of My Village] clearly knows what he’s doing!” and laughing about it.
It’s just the fact that when people are young – a lot of people aren’t like me; when they’re made to do a job and not paid for it, they’re not going to take anyone to court, it’s not going to happen.
So I think employers, they just think they can get away with it, that they’d never get their comeuppance. They thought they’d carry on doing it – drip feeding us this potential hope that we might get paid for it.
AOTI: What did you have to prove in court?
Keri: It was a witness testament, so all I really needed to do was talk about what I did, talk about the kind of hours that I worked.
Because you have to prove that you’re a worker, obviously, so you have to prove that you’re in for a certain amount of hours, and that you’re doing tasks that a permanent member of staff would be doing, not just shadowing someone.
I just basically went through what I’d done, what my day to day working would be like, the fact that I was in charge of six others – unfortunately, none of them wanted to be witnesses because, again, the problem is that all their hard work would’ve been for nothing – if they had been a witness on my case they would’ve not got a reference from the managers.
I accounted for what I did, and that was enough for the judge really. In a court case you have to go and stand up and read your statement out, but I didn’t even have to do that – by the time we’d got into the room, the judge had already read it, and he said he’d seen enough and had already made up his mind…
AOTI: So, did you get the impression that it was basically an open and shut case?
Keri: Oh, yeah, definitely! You just needed to lay down what I’d done in front of any person and they’d be able to see that I’d see that I was doing what a working person was doing, and in no way at all was I doing any sort of experience.
AOTI: How common do you think the situation you went through is?
Keri: I think that, perhaps – yeah, I think there’s a lot of people out there who are owed a lot of pay – but, I think, perhaps my case was quite an extreme one; I doubt there’d be many people who’d been in a senior position.
But even the people on the team, who had to be in the office from ten to six each day, and had certain duties to fulfil – that’s still working. At no point was there a permanent member of staff there training them, teaching them things, showing them things.
AOTI: Were you ever worried about putting off future employers?
Keri: It did worry me, but I also thought, firstly, I felt so strongly about setting it straight, and secondly, I thought that if someone found out what I’d been doing as a job and then found out I’d been doing it unpaid, then they wouldn’t take me seriously anyway.
I think that employers know that its wrong, and if they meet someone that can fulfill a job for them, and they have all the right things, and then they find out that they sued someone because they didn’t get paid, I don’t think that’s going to put them off.
AOTI: Evidently not, since you’re working now [Keri now works in PR – and, indeed, had a new job by the time the case went to court]. How does it feel being one of the first few to win a tribunal like this?
Keri: Well, I feel quite good, I feel kind of like I wanted to set a precedent, I wanted to be like: “oh, you can do this.”
I think I was the right person to do it, because I’m quite headstrong. But I feel glad that people can look at my case and feel that it can be done, and I know that a few other cases have kind of sprung up now.
The more that get passed through the court and win, the better – so it’s definitely encouraging.