Whether an individual is an employee, worker or self-employed governs their entitlement to employment law protection. Employers must ensure that they correctly categorise those providing services to them to avoid tribunal litigation.
Following on from the recent decision that Uber drivers are workers (read more), the Court of Appeal has considered the status of self-employed plumbers.
Mr Smith, a plumber, carried out work for Pimlico Plumbers between 2005 and 2011, under a self-employed contract. The company required all its plumbers to wear company uniform, drive branded vans and work set hours. Mr Smith was also restricted in his ability to work for other companies.
Mr Smith brought claims against the company after he was dismissed in the aftermath of a heart attack. He asserted that he had been an employee and claimed unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, unpaid wages, a failure to provide a written contract and disability discrimination.
The employment tribunal found that whilst Mr Smith was not an employee, he was a worker and was entitled to protection from disability discrimination. The Court of Appeal agreed that Mr Smith was a worker.
The Court of Appeal was heavily influenced by the fact that Mr Smith had to be available to work at least 40 hours a week and he was prevented from working in the Greater London area for 3 months after termination. The fact that Mr Smith was allowed, on occasion, to swap work with other plumbers and bring in an external contractor, did not prevent a finding that he had to carry out work personally – crucial to worker status.
This is the latest in a spate of high-profile cases where self-employed contractors have successfully claimed worker status. Whilst Lord Justice Underhill warned that observers “should be careful about trying to draw any very general conclusions” from this decision, it is clear that this is a hot topic and individuals and unions are currently much more likely to question self-employed contracts.
All employers should urgently review their self-employed and casual worker arrangements to ensure they are correctly classifying each relationship. If you require guidance on how to audit your practices and assess any risks then we would be happy to help.