Jones v Friends Provident Life Office
Status of contract workers
The extent of the rights available to contract workers, in particular in respect of discrimination cases, was addressed in this Northern Ireland Court of Appeal case.
Jones was employed through her husband’s business to sell Friends Provident insurance products. Friends Provident subsequently removed her status as an authorised agent and Jones claimed that this was due to her sex. The question for the NI Court of Appeal was whether Jones had the right to bring such a claim against Friends Provident - was she a contract worker?
The NI Court of Appeal concluded that Jones was engaged in contract work ‘for’ Friends Provident, the principal. She was supplied by her employer under a contract with the principal, and was therefore entitled to bring a claim of sex discrimination against Friends Provident. The court also took the opportunity to confirm that there are two conditions that must be satisfied to bring a case within the contract worker provisions:
- The principal must be in a position to influence or control the conditions under which the employee works
- It is contemplated by the employer and the principal that the employer will provide the services of employees in the course of performance of the contract.
The court stressed that the contract worker provisions in discrimination legislation were “designed to prevent an employer from escaping his responsibilities by bringing in workers on sub-contracts”. They therefore adopted a wide interpretation of the legislation.
This case highlights the need to think carefully about the rights that workers may be entitled to – even those who are not direct employees. In particular, where sub-contractors are used over a period of time, those workers will have certain rights. This will include the right not to be discriminated against, and also rights under the Working Time Regulations and Minimum Wage Act, which apply to all workers.
What you should do
- Before taking action in respect of any sub-contracted workers, consider what rights they may have – think beyond simple unfair dismissal claims and consider potential discrimination claims, working time and contractual claims
- Review relationships with sub-contracted workers and assess the level of control you exert over them