Pimlico Plumbers: Worker or Self-employed? Supreme Court decision expected imminently

Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith is the latest case seeking to clarify the employment status of those working in the so-called “gig” economy. Why does the distinction matter?

It follows the legal challenges brought against Uber and Deliveroo last year.

In November 2017, the Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed that Uber drivers were workers but the Central Arbitration Committee decided Deliveroo riders were self-employed.

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its judgment in Pimlico imminently. Its decision is likely to have far reaching consequences, particularly for Uber who have appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Companies in the construction sector will also be interested in the decision as they often argue individuals working for them are self-employed contractors rather than employees or workers.

The Facts

Gary Smith worked as a plumber for Pimlico Plumbers between August 2005 and April 2011.

Mr Smith suffered a heart attack in January 2011 and asked the company if he could work three days instead of five days a week.

He claimed the company refused his request, took away his branded van and in May 2011 dismissed him.

In August 2011, Mr Smith issued proceedings in the Employment Tribunal, claiming he had been unfairly or wrongly dismissed.

He also claimed direct disability discrimination and the failure to make reasonable adjustments.

The Employment Tribunal confirmed Mr Smith was a “worker” within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996. He was therefore entitled to bring a claim for unfair dismissal.

Although Pimlico Plumbers appealed, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal upheld the decision.

Last month, the Supreme Court heard the case. Judgment is currently awaited.

Why does the distinction matter?

The distinction is important because “workers” are entitled to certain employment rights and protections which the self-employed do not have.

These rights include receiving the national minimum wage, rest breaks and paid annual leave. In addition, “workers” also benefit from protection against the unlawful deduction of wages and the right not to be treated less favorably if they work part-time.

As the case law has shown, the distinction is not always an easy one to make. The law requires clarification which it is hoped the Supreme Court will help provide in the next few weeks.

If you have any concerns about your rights or the rights of your staff please do not hesitate to contact us for further advice and assistance.