Pimlico Plumbers: Independent contractor or worker?

In the June 2018 Pimlico Plumbers V Smith case, the Supreme Court ruled that a plumber was a ‘worker’ despite him signing a contract stating that he was a self-employed contractor for the company, Pimlico Plumbers. This decision adds to the continued interest around employment status and confirms the definition of a ‘worker’ that has been established by previous cases.

The case confirms that ‘worker’ status can be indicated by many individual facts, including:

  • The individual must personally perform work for the company
  • The company is not a client or customer of the individual
  • The individual is contractually obliged to work specific hours. For example, the Plumber was expected to work a five-day week of at least 40 hours for Pimlico Plumbers.
  • There is a limited right to provide a substitute if the individual is unable to work
  • Individuals must either wear a company branded uniform, drive a company branded vehicle or carry a company identity card
  • The individual had to request time off from the company
  • The company has firm obligations about when and how much to pay the individual
  • The individual is subject to restrictive covenants following termination, such as prevention from working in the same industry and area for a certain period of time.

Pimlico Plumbers sought to rely on a number of facts to support their case that the plumber was an independent contractor. This was on the basis that the plumber could reject any offer of work and was free to take up any other work. The company also did not reserve the right to supervise the plumber’s work and he bore some financial risk. Whilst these facts do not suggest worker status, the court found that the evidence showed Pimlico Plumbers exercised tight control over the plumber.
Workers are entitled to certain employment rights such as:

  • National minimum wage
  • Protection against unlawful deductions from wages
  • Statutory holiday/rest breaks
  • Protection from discrimination.

Workers are not entitled protection against unfair dismissal and statutory redundancy pay. As such, the case highlights the exploitative impact of employers labelling workers or employees as self-employed contractors, meaning individuals are not entitled to the employment rights that employment or worker status would allow. Having worker status has now allowed the plumber to bring claims relating to disability discrimination, holiday pay and unauthorised wage deduction.

We assist our clients with many employment status issues, find out more about how we help our clients.




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