Bullied groom speaks up on job that was ‘killing’ a colleague as study finds illegal employment rife

  • More than half equestrian staff still do not have contracts, research has found – as one groom said the situation at her last job was “killing” a colleague.

    The British Grooms Association (BGA) and Equestrian Employers Association (EEA) found that a “deeply concerning” 55% of grooms have no written contracts of employment, in a recent survey released to mark its 2023 Good Employment Week (20–26 November).

    The BGA and EEA’s campaign for the week is focused on employers and staff “putting their hands up” if they do not fulfil the legal requirement of having a contract.

    A spokesman for the associations said the statistic “demonstrates that the equestrian industry remains a place where too many yards are ignoring the most basic employment legislation”.

    “Staggeringly, 75% of those in part-time or zero-hours positions also said they do not have a written contract. This is a stark figure and the BGA and EEA are using Good Employment Week 2023 to inform employers and employees to wise up.”

    BGA and EEA executive director Lucy Katan said the survey shows the industry has a long way to go before it is a place of good employment.

    “The first question HMRC asks when conducting an investigation is evidence of the written contract,” she said. “By not having one, employers are putting their hands up to adhering to non-compliance. The lack of a written contract is often a red flag for other employment issues within the workplace.

    “More than 4,000 contracts have been produced using the EEA contract creator online tool, so why are so many employers putting their businesses at risk when an affordable solution exists? I think we are past the point of saying employers aren’t aware that it is a legal requirement!”

    H&H spoke to one groom who did not have a contract and had been in her job since last May. She said it was the bullying, from another employee and her employer, that finally made her leave this month, having had advice from the BGA. She wanted to speak up in the hope her story might help others.

    “They put up an ad for a new groom before I left, and what terrifies me is that they will do the same thing to someone else,” she said.

    The groom said the bullying from the other employee was relentless and she was put on anti-anxiety medication, but when she told her boss about it, she was told to “grow a pair and deal with it”. She said when she resigned, her employer told her she would never work in the industry again.

    “It was shocking,” she said. “I was bullied at school so I know what it is, but had never experienced it as an adult in the workplace.”

    The girl said she was taking home £1,400 per month for working weeks of 70-plus hours. Her mother told H&H she looked into her payslips and wages after the job had finished and found huge discrepancies; some months her pension had been paid, some months it had not.

    “I looked into her national insurance contributions and going by them, she was being paid about £9,000 per month – which she definitely wasn’t!” the mother said. “I asked a friend what it meant and she said it looks like they’ve told HMRC she was earning more than she was so they could claim it back. I’ve shopped them to HMRC and filed a constructive dismissal claim. My solicitor says they’ll likely settle out of court but it’s not the money. I want a formal apology; you can’t treat people like that.

    “She’s home now but she’s skin and bone, looks like she hasn’t eaten for months. It’s been horrific.”

    The groom added that she has secured another job and will not start it until a contract is signed.

    “As much as I didn’t get on with the other groom, when I had to pick her off the floor in floods of tears, I told her the job would make her ill, and I wasn’t going to be in a position where it made me ill too. She was 80% of the reason I left, but I could see the job was killing her and the bosses didn’t care.”

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