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
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
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
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. For example, if an employee has access to a
car, it should be clear in the contract under what circumstances
they can use it. Once clear expectations are set, both parties will
know whether either is falling short of their obligations. For
example, if Mr Pyke knew to notify the Gottschalks (or how much
notice to provide) before having his partner stay over, this issue
could have been more easily discussed and negotiated between the
It is important to have clear guidelines on job descriptions and
roles for employees to assist with expectations and to avoid issues
further down the line. Whilst a clear contract will not guarantee
disputes will not occur between the parties, it is the best case
for certainty parties can have. The need to formalise and update
employment contracts remains a pressing point in the news for
employees and employers alike.
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