Workers Re-visited


We recently reported on the long running Pimlico Plumbers case in which the Supreme Court upheld the findings of the lower Courts that the claimant plumber was a “worker”. It should be noted that Mr Smith, the claimant in this case, was not held to be an employee of Pimlico Plumbers Limited but only to have worker status. Most employers will be aware that there is a third category of worker, the definition of which falls somewhere between an employee and the genuinely self-employed. Workers benefit from protection under the Working Time Regulations, which means they must receive holiday pay and have rest breaks, and are also covered by discrimination legislation. They do not however have some of the other protections enjoyed by employees, including protection against unfair dismissal.

In this case, the Supreme Court held that the two main ingredients which gave Mr Smith worker status were that he was, in the main, required to a provide personal service, and that Pimlico Plumbers could not be said to be a client or customer of Mr Smith; the customers were the individuals to which Mr Smith was assigned by Pimlico in the normal course of their business. Despite a lengthy and carefully a drafted contract signed by Mr Smith which described him as an independent contractor, Mr Smith was therefore held to be a worker.

In recent years, the direction of travel in cases of this kind has been towards identifying individuals as employees or workers even where individuals have signed their agreement to “self-employed” contracts. Employers should be on their guard and, if in any doubt, carefully review their terms of engagement.