Firthglow Limited t/a Protecta Coat v Descombes and Lamont, EAT, 18 March 2004

Worker, employee or neither?: Firthglow – a business engaged in applying textured coating to building exteriors – advertised for ‘workers’ in the press, but refused to engage sub-contractors directly. Instead, it insisted that the labour formed a partnership (the terms and practicalities of which Firthglow facilitated), and that they then entered into a contracting agreement with Firthglow.

Descombes and Lamont were two labourers who entered into the designated partnership agreement and traded exclusively with Firthglow. The agreement stated there were no specific hours, the agreement was not exclusive, pay would be upon receipt of invoice, and the majority of tools would be provided by the partnership.

They sought to claim employment status, as they were required to attend the Firthglow site between specific hours; had little real choice as to whether they undertook the work; were provided with a company van with its logo and bore little genuine financial risk.

The tribunal concluded that they were employees of Firthglow or, at the very least, workers. But on appeal by Firthglow, the EAT held that as the partnership was legitimate, the tribunal had erred in finding any mutuality of obligation between the parties.

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