Advice Column – Zero Hours Contracts
I have been offered a job on a zero hours contract. What does this mean?
‘Zero hours contracts’ are generally contracts of employment which do not specify the number of hours that you are required to work. The employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, and the worker is not obliged to accept work offered.
Zero hours contracts are common in many professions. Examples of workers on zero hour contracts are: some shop and restaurant/café workers, ‘bank’ nurses and other healthcare workers, and supply teachers.
‘Key Time contracts’ are a variation on zero hours contracts. They guarantee some work but not regular hours each week.
What are the pros and cons of zero hours contracts?
For employers, zero hours contracts can offer a flexible workforce to provide cover for temporary staff shortages or unexpected peaks in workload. This reduces the costs of employing people on fixed hours when they might not be needed. But employers may find it difficult to obtain cover if no-one wants to work at certain times.
For workers, a zero hours contract which offers flexible working hours may suit them, allowing them to combine work with other commitments while earning wages and gaining experience and skills.
However, for other people who want more regular work and pay, frequent changes in hours can be frustrating and stressful, particularly if they happen at short notice. And some employers may put pressure on workers to attend work when they would prefer not to.
Good employers will minimise disruption to workers as far as possible. Equally, workers need to accept that someone has to do the unpopular times or shifts. If you persistently turn down work, your employer may eventually decide to terminate the arrangement. Good working relationships enable zero hours arrangements to operate better for both parties
What should I be paid for working on a zero hours contract?
With certain exceptions all workers, including those on zero hours contracts, must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW), currently £6.95 per hour for those aged 21-24, with lower rates for younger workers. Workers aged 25 and over are entitled to the National Living Wage (NLW), currently £7.20 per hour and due to increase to £7.50 per hour in April 2017.
Exceptions to the NMW/NLW legislation include people who are self-employed, voluntary workers and family members.
However, there can be some confusion about what zero hours workers are entitled to be paid for. In addition to the hours you actually work, you should be paid for time spent travelling in order to do the job – for example, a care worker travelling between clients. But this does not include commuting from home to work.
You should also normally be paid for time when you are ‘on-call’, waiting for work, on the employer’s premises. But, depending on the wording of your contract, time spent waiting at home will not usually be paid.
If I am on a zero hours contract, can I also work for other employers?
In the past, your employer could include an ‘exclusivity clause’ in your zero hours contract to prevent you from working for other employers. This type of clause is no longer allowed in such contracts, so your employer cannot ban you from doing other work.
It is also unlawful for your employer to treat you unfairly because you work for another employer. If you feel you are being badly treated in such circumstances you should seek professional advice.
What legal protection do I have under a zero hours contract?
Your level of legal protection will depend on whether you are an ‘employee’ or a ‘worker’. This can get a little complicated, because the difference in status is not always clear. Most people on zero hours contracts will be ‘workers’ with fewer legal rights than ‘employees’.
Workers are entitled to:
• A minimum amount of paid holiday
• A minimum length of rest breaks
• A safe and healthy working environment
• Protection against unlawful discrimination
• Protection for reporting wrongdoing in the workplace (‘whistleblowing’)
• The National Minimum Wage/National Living Wage
• Protection against unlawful deductions from wages
• Not to work more than 48 hours per week on average (unless they choose to opt out of this right)
But workers, unlike employees, are not usually entitled to:
• Protection against unfair dismissal
• Minimum notice periods if their employment is terminated
• The right to request flexible working
• Time off for emergencies
• Statutory redundancy pay
• Maternity and paternity leave and pay
Zero hours workers may also have breaks in their contracts, which affect legal rights that depend on the length of their employment.
In certain situations, it may be worth seeking advice on your employment status – for example, if you are made redundant but you are told that you are not entitled to redundancy pay because you are not classified as an employee. Perhaps you were originally recruited as a zero hours worker, but over time you have settled into a pattern of regular hours each day or week. Or the relationship with your employer may have changed over time, so that you are subject to disciplinary proceedings if you turn down work. In these circumstances an employment tribunal might decide that you may no longer fall into the ‘zero hours worker’ category and you could gain additional employment rights.
This can be a difficult issue. You should check any contract of employment or other documentation from you employer and consult a specialist employment adviser, such as your local Citizens Advice office.