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The latest news in the ‘self-employed’ vs ‘worker’ series of employment tribunals has seen a plumber win his battle against his employer – Pimlico Plumbers – to be entitled to basic worker rights.

The plumber, Gary Smith, who was registered as self-employed had worked solely for Pimlico plumbers for 6 years, he drove around in a branded Pimlico van, and he was subject to Pimlico’s quite high management controls such as being subject to their gross misconduct policy, minimum number of weekly hours and restrictions on his right to substitute another plumber to do the work.

This ruling follows the recent Uber and City Sprint cases who both lost their Employment Tribunals for similar claims. The significance of this case, however, is that the Court of Appeal is now the highest court so far to pass judgement on this issue of flexible working rights and all ‘gig-economy’ businesses will be waiting to see if this sets a precedent for the future.

What exactly is a worker?

In all three cases the self-employed workers argued that their duties and obligations to the company and the way the company treated them meant that they should be classed as ‘workers’ rather than self-employed.

Being given the status of a ‘worker’ means that they would be entitled to more rights than would be the case if they were self-employed, but fewer rights than an employee.

Specifically, this distinction means that they would then be entitled to National Minimum Wage, rest breaks and paid holiday.

What does the future-hold for gig-economy employers?

It’s clear that modern business practices and technology are changing the way that we all work. The emphasis is on the employer, therefore, to keep on their toes and constantly review their contracts for services, employment contracts and policies to ensure they are legally compliant. Whilst this is still a somewhat grey area the recent rulings are starting to paint a picture of increasing numbers of those working in the modern gig economy getting workers’ rights, and  there is currently a high profile review of employment law in this area.

One of the Court of Appeal judges cautioned:

“Although employment lawyers will inevitably be interested in this case – the question of when a relationship is genuinely casual being a very live one at present – they should be careful about trying to draw any very general conclusions from it,” said Lord Justice Underhill.

So the jury is still out.  Indeed Pimlico Plumbers have already indicated that there is a good chance they will appeal this decision to the highest British court, the Supreme Court.

Our advice? Be very careful if you think your relationship with your self-employed contractors may have some of the same sort of characteristics and seek professional legal help if you need to construct these sorts of self-employment contracts. We will keep you updated on any major news about this issue here.

 

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