Workers in Boohoo’s warehouse are allegedly being punished for smiling, checking their mobile, being a few minutes late or mistakenly mixing up trolleys of stock.
Every order made on the fashion website is processed in a warehouse in Burnley, Lancashire, which according to the company’s careers website is the “driving force” of the brand and has “an exciting, ambitious and supportive work ethic”.
However, according to Keiron Hardman, who until very recently had been working at Boohoo’s warehouse, managers and supervisors at the warehouse requested he give people “strikes” for minor issues.
“Occasionally you get guys that will check the time on their mobile phones and we’ve been asked to give people strikes for that,” Hardman told ‘Dispatches’, in an episode that airs on Channel 4 on Monday 30 January.
“In one particular instance I received an email to ask me if I could give somebody as strike because somebody was actually smiling.”
Hardman started working at the warehouse for the agency Tailored Recruitment Services limited (TRS). Agency recruits don’t have the same rights as company staff, even if they are doing an equivalent job.
“We start a 6 o’clock in the morning, finish at six every evening, 12 hour shifts, three on, three off,” Hardman explained
“We have a mixture of Boohoo staff, which are on permanent contracts and agency staff.
“If you work for TRS, if you receive three strikes for anything, okay that will be the end of your employment at Boohoo.”
In a statement sent to The Huffington Post UK, a Boohoo spokesperson said the company “does not operate a ‘three strikes policy’”.
“Boohoo, like most employers, has policies in place to manage the performance, conduct and attendance of its staff,” they explained.
“We are disappointed that some individuals may still refer to ‘strikes’. This is not in line with our current policies, and is legacy language passed on by a former agency with which we have ceased working.
“We are working, and will continue to work within the warehouse, to ensure that there is consistency in communication across all managers and team leaders.
“We are disappointed in the news that an employee has been penalised for smiling at work. We will of course investigate this further to ascertain the circumstances in which it occurred in order to ensure that it does not happen again.”
Dispatches sent an undercover reporter to the Burnley warehouse, as an “order picker” - meaning it was her job to collect the orders and take them to the packers to send to customers.
She was hired by the agency TRS and was paid £7.20 an hour, the legal minimum.
The reporter found that if you arrive just one minute late, you’ll be docked 15 minutes pay and a supervisor told Hardman that the same rules apply to Boohoo staff: “My opinion is, if you’re one minute late you’re late and the rules are you get docked 15 minutes, as simple as that.”
Employment lawyer, Liana Wood, told Dispatches, she believes this rule could be considered “unlawful.”
“If that individual is one minute late and they have to work 14 minutes unpaid, then that is potentially unauthorised deduction from wages,” said Wood.
“Certainly if that person is on the National Minimum Wage, that would bring their hourly rate below the National Minimum Wage, and if that is the case that would be unlawful.”
However, Boohoo states all warehouse staff (both agency and permanent) are paid more than the National Minimum Wage.
“On average we pay employees 12.5% above the national living wage,” the spokesperson stated.
“We have made a substantial investment in a new automated HR system, which is scheduled to be implemented by May 2017 which will significantly improve existing payroll processes.”
According to the Dispatches reporter, pickers walk approximately 20 to 25 miles per day, up and down six flights of stairs. They can put trolleys with packages in the lift, but they must take the stairs.
“New guys struggle to walk because they have huge blisters on their feet,” said Hardman.
“It’s relentless. If somebody stops working for five or 10 minutes it will come up on the system.
“We know everything about that person. We can track everything that person is doing. Where he is in the warehouse and whether he’s hitting target or not and his down time as well.
“It does get to people. People are stressed. People feel under pressure to perform. It is a very simple job picking, and yet people are suffering from stress.”
However, Boohoo dispute this claim, stating:
“As part of independent measurements that are taking place, it has been independently ascertained that the average distance walked by an employee is currently around 12km or 7.5 miles.
“We are also in the process of introducing a new zoning process that will further reduce the level of walking required and the number of stairwell movements involved.”
TRS told Dispatches it has “not been made aware of any workers colleagues suffering from stress’… and if they had ‘they would’ve taken appropriate actions.”
The Boohoo spokesperson told HuffPost UK the company had invited Dispatches to return to its Burnley warehouse last week, “to film openly without having to rely on already obtained covert footage, but regrettably they declined our offer.”
“We want to stress that although we have experienced rapid growth in the past few years, the wellbeing of our employees has remained one of our top priorities,” they added.
“We recognise that we don’t always get everything right first time, however, we have a number of policies and procedures in place to protect our people and we work hard to ensure that high standards are met.
“We recognise that there are always improvements that can be made and we will continue to work hard to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect our employees across the business.”
Last week’s Dispatches investigation exposed poor conditions in clothing factories in Leicester, including factories making clothes for Boohoo.com, Missguided, River Island and New Look.
HuffPost UK has contacted TRS for comment and will update this piece on their response.
Dispatches - Undercover: Britain’s Cheap Clothes airs on 30 January at 8pm on Channel 4.