A "zero-hours worker" is not a concept recognised by law. An individual is one of three things: an employee, a worker or self-employed. Employees benefit from the most employment protection and the self-employed benefit the least. Gareth Pritchard, solicitor at Hill Dickinson, examines the differences.
Workers, a statutory born concept, blur the boundaries and fall into the middle of the spectrum. The zero-hours contract is a concept that has predominantly developed out of employers' efforts to have access to part of a workforce that does not have "employee" status.
Last week, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggested that one million people across the UK could be employed on zero-hours contracts, a figure significantly greater than the 250,000 individuals estimated by the Office for National Statistics. Zero-hours contracts are used by fast-food chains and local authorities, and last week's news that Sports Direct is facing a zero-hours-related employment tribunal claim has presented a platform for debate on the morality of the concept.
Unison has highlighted that zero-hours contracts may provide more flexibility for some, but alleges that the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain. The major benefit of zero-hours contracts, upon which pro-employer groups focus, is the flexibility they provide to a business. In particular, it is the ability to adjust to peaks and troughs in demand without permanently inflating a wage bill or conducting a costly redundancy exercise. If the individual is a worker, rather than an employee, he or she will not have a right to claim, amongst others, unfair dismissal. A "bank" of zero-hours staff also enables the employer to call upon an individual that it knows can do the job.
The use of a zero-hours contract is not unlawful. The key question in the current debate, as I see it, is whether the use of a zero-hours contract automatically means that an individual working for you is not an employee (and so favouring the