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Court rules on the rights of a self employed worker

The Supreme Court have ruled in the case Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another (Appellants) v Smith (Respondent) [2018] UKSC 29. A case which deals with the rights of workers and self employed staff.

Mr Gary Smith worked as a plumbing and heating engineer between August 2005 and April 2011 for Pimlico Plumbers. Mr Smith worked for the company under two contracts which were drafted in quite confusing terms. Mr Smith requested a variation in his working days due to ill health, which was refused. He states he was then dismissed.

In August 2011 Mr Smith issued proceedings alleging that he had been unfairly dismissed, that an unlawful deduction had been made from his wages, that he had not been paid for a period of statutory annual leave and that he had been discriminated against by virtue of his disability. The employment tribunal decided that Mr Smith had not been an employee under a contract of employment, and therefore that he was not entitled to complain of unfair dismissal, but that Mr Smith was a ‘worker’. These findings meant that Mr Smith could legitimately proceed with three of his complaints and the full case was ordered to be heard at a later date. Pimlico Plumbers Ltd appealed this decision to an appeal tribunal and then to the Court of Appeal, but were unsuccessful. They consequently appealed to the Supreme Court and have again been unsuccessful.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal. The tribunal was entitled to conclude that Mr Smith qualified as a ‘worker’ and his substantive claims can proceed to be heard.

Ryan Bickham, a partner and the head of the Employment Team states that: 'this case highlights the importance of clarifying the working relationship between staff and a business, even if the contract stipulates one arrangement but in fact it is another then a worker's rights can not be contracted out of.'

'It is important to seek expert advice at the outset to ensure that businesses and workers are adequately protected and the true working relationship is clear. Failure to do so can result in businesses being liable to staff for additional payments and self-employed staff not having the freedom that they may choose to have.'

If you have any enquires about this article or employment rights then contact Ryan Bickham at our Shrewsbury office on 01743 248148 or by email at:


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