Gary Smith, a freelance plumber from Kent, first started work for London-based firm Pimlico Plumbers in 2005 and worked for them for 6 years. Despite his self-employed VAT registration, tax payments, and providing his own tools, the Court of Appeal has ruled that he was deserving of full ‘worker’ status and as such should have been afforded basic statutory rights.
After suffering a heart attack in 2010, Mr Smith wanted to cut his five-day week down to three – the company refused and reclaimed his branded van, and he claims he was dismissed.
Rather than defining Mr Smith’s status as a self-employed contractor, the court ruled that he should have been treated as a ‘worker’ for the company, citing the expectation that he would do the work personally and his lack of right to send a substitute as defining factors in deciding his status.
Mr Smith’s solicitor, Jacqueline McGuigan, said her client was “tightly controlled” by Pimlico Plumbers during his time there, and unable to work for anyone else. Worker status entitles Mr Smith to paid holiday rights, and the right to bring a claim for disability discrimination.
Will the ruling impact future cases?
The verdict is the latest in a series of legal decisions which have sided with employees in a flexible workforce. With the ‘gig economy’ fast becoming the business model of choice – think Deliveroo riders, Uber drivers and other companies which hire workers on a self-employed basis and afford them very few rights – the decision could be an important one.
Stuart Neilson, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, described the “clear trend emerging that businesses that set themselves up to provide services or goods and make use of casual workers are likely to have an uphill battle to persuade tribunals that such individuals are not workers”.
As such, it is likely to give hope to employees hired as freelancers who feel that they deserve more rights than they have been afforded.
However the Court added a note of caution, warning employment lawyers against trying to generalise the ruling.
“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.
The Government has commissioned four experts to look into the issue of worker’s rights in the ‘gig economy’, addressing job security, pension, holiday and parental leave rights amongst other concerns.
Do you hire freelancers or contracted employees? If one of your workers was to take you to court, you could be forced to pay legal costs out of your own pocket – unless you have the right insurance in place. Protect your business interests with dedicated commercial insurance – talk to InsureEasy for more information. 01737377250