Staff from two Hawke's Bay boarding schools could be in for a massive windfall after a victory in the Employment Court.
The 11 current and former staff worked as boarding supervisors at Iona College and Woodford House, often sleeping over at the premises.
Claiming to have worked up to 140 hours a fortnight, including 40 to 60 hours of sleepovers, the staff argued they should have been paid the minimum wage during sleepovers.
For a non-rostered sleepover, they were paid $25 a night.
During the evening period, between 11pm and 7am, the supervisors were expected to attend to incidents in the night including illnesses, student disturbances and security checks.
How often the staff members had to respond to such tasks was disputed by the two parties.
Defence lawyer Richard Harrison said the schools relied on written records of incidents to assess how frequently these occurred, but staff argued only the more serious incidents were recorded.
The schools also argued the staff were exempt from the Minimum Wage Act because they were paid an annual salary, but Chief Employment Court Judge Graeme Colgan disagreed.
"The MW Act can hardly be said to create a bonanza of riches for employees covered by it," he said.
"Those who should justifiably expect its protection should not be turned away from it by the technicality of an employer's choice of an annual salary as the method of remuneration payment." He ruled the staff were able to claim backpay.
"Whilst the plaintiffs were able to rest and sleep during some of those periods, and sometimes for substantial proportions of them, there was both a significant disruption to them and the need to be constantly available to deal with unpredictable events that could not have meant that they were simply paid to sleep and to be available to turn to only very occasionally."
The staff will receive backdated pay likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, unless the schools decide to appeal against the decision.
Woodford College now employs separate staff for sleepover shifts, who must stay awake during the night and are paid an hourly rate.
- The Dominion Post