UK: Gig-Economy Update - Supreme Court Confirms Pimlico Plumber Was A ‘Worker'

In the latest in a growing line of cases, the UK's highest court has ruled that despite being VAT-registered and paying self-employed tax, a plumber working for Pimlico Plumbers was entitled to basic workers' rights. This means that he can continue with his claims against Pimlico Plumbers for holiday pay, unlawful deductions from wages and discrimination. If the court had ruled that he was self-employed, as his contract said he was, he would not have been entitled to bring these claims.

This case, and those that have gone before it, including cases involving Uber, CitySprint and Deliveroo, has been widely reported in the press and together they have had a substantial impact on businesses and their workforces in the gig economy, where a lack of clarity in the law has led to confusion and uncertainty.

What happened in this case?

Gary Smith had worked solely for Pimlico Plumbers for six years under a contract which described him as an 'independent contractor' in business on his own account. His contract was ended after he suffered a heart attack. He brought a number of claims against Pimlico Plumbers in the Employment Tribunal, including unfair dismissal, unlawful deductions from wages, holiday pay and disability discrimination. Before his claims could be heard, the court had to decide what claims he was allowed to bring, which depended on whether he was an employee, a worker or self-employed.

The Employment Tribunal decided that Mr Smith was not an employee of Pimlico Plumbers. This meant he could not carry on with his claim for unfair dismissal - as only employees can claim unfair dismissal. Mr Smith did not appeal against this decision. Whether Mr Smith could bring his other claims depended on whether he was a 'worker', rather than truly self-employed as his contract said he was. As we have seen before, the courts look beyond the label that the written contract puts on their status, and consider the reality of how their relationship works in practice. So even if the contract states that someone is self-employed, a court may decide that they are in fact a worker or employee, with the greater employment protections that follow.

In Mr Smith's case, the Employment Tribunal decided that he was a worker. This finding was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court by Pimlico Plumbers, after the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal agreed with this conclusion.

The Supreme Court decided that the Employment Tribunal had been entitled to reach the decision it did. As a worker, Mr Smith was entitled to certain employment rights, such as holiday pay, and his other claims will now be heard on that basis.

Key factors in the court's decision that Mr Smith was a worker were their conclusions that:

  • The dominant feature of Mr Smith's contract was that he was required to perform the work himself. Although he could provide a substitute to do the work for him – the substitute had to be another Pimlico Plumber on similar terms.
  • Whilst Mr Smith was able to reject work and took on some financial risk, this did not outweigh the factors pointing against Pimlico Plumbers being a client of a business run by Mr Smith. The company determined the minimum number of hours to be worked and placed numerous restrictions and controls on how Mr Smith carried out his work, for example requiring him to wear a uniform and be clean and smart at all times. The company also dictated when and how much (if any) pay he received for his work. The subordinate position of Mr Smith in the relationship between himself and Pimlico Plumbers was a key indicator that Pimlico Plumbers was not a client of a business run by Mr Smith, but that he was really their worker.

What this case means for businesses

The ruling is in line with what was expected and with other recent high-profile employment tribunal gig economy cases, such as the Uber decision.

It is a reminder that in every case like this, courts will have to grapple with the facts of the particular case; considering whether personal service is required and if there is a genuine right to provide a substitute and looking at questions of control, risk and subordination. This analysis will go beyond the terms of the written documentation.

What has emerged from the recent line of cases is that where a business seeks to exercise a significant amount of control over how and by whom the work is done, integrates the individual into its own business and dictates terms which put them in a subordinate position, they are likely to be found to be a worker (if not an employee).

Whilst a ruling from the UK's highest court will help to provide some much needed clarity in this area, a cloud of uncertainty remains over the rights of people working in the gig-economy. A government consultation seeking views on ways to make it clearer what workplace rights people have closed at the start of June. It remains to be seen whether the government will take action to help provide more clarity to businesses and their workforces.

Whilst the government may try to legislate in this area in an attempt to make it clearer how to decide whether an individual is an employee, worker or self-employed, it seems likely that there will always be an element of interpretation and the outcome will turn on the specific facts of the working relationship. This means that this area is likely to continue to cause confusion and uncertainty for some time to come.

Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith

Self-employed status? Not so water-tight

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Mishcon de Reya
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Mishcon de Reya
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions