What do a plumber, a mini-cab driver and a bike courier all have in common?

According to a string of recent cases, each of them is a worker and therefore protected by UK employment law. The ‘gig’ economy and the concept of worker status is currently a hot legal topic. The law recognises three categories of employment status:

1.)        Employees with contracts of employment, entitled to employment law rights.

2.)        Truly self-employed who take on risk, generally not protected by employment laws.

3.)        Workers who are not quite employees but not genuinely self-employed either, entitled to some but not all employment law rights – a complicated area as both employee and worker status require personal service, mutuality of obligation and some degree of control by the employer.

A recent Court of Appeal case illustrates this: Pimlico Plumbers considered Mr Smith, a plumber, was  self-employed.  He had to provide his own materials, decided when he wanted to work and what work he did, and took the self-employed tax advantages. Mr Smith suffered a heart attack and informed Pimlico he wished to work fewer hours.  Pimlico asked him to return his van and mobile phone and ceased providing him with work.  The plumber brought a number of claims, alleging he was an employee, whilst Pimlico argued he was self-employed and therefore not entitled to bring claims. The Court of Appeal found he was a ‘worker’, therefore protected from unlawful discrimination and entitled to holiday pay, which meant the plumber was entitled to pursue those claims.  The Court took particular note of the realities of the situation, rather than relying upon the contract.

Whilst each case depends on the facts, recent cases suggest that if the person doing the work is an integral part of the business they are likely to have employment law rights, either as an employee or worker.


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