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Case update (1): Employment status

self employed plumber

2. “Self-employed” plumber

Summary: Can a plumber, who is self employed for tax purposes, be categorised as a ‘worker’?

Yes, says the Court of Appeal in Pimlico Plumbers & Charlie Mullins v Gary Smith available here.

Facts:  The worker, Mr Smith, worked as a plumber for Pimlico Plumbers Limited (Pimlico) for around six years. He was labelled as a “self-employed operative” and described in documentation as an independent contractor, in business on his own account. However, under the arrangements between Pimlico and Mr Smith, he:

Also, customer contracts and estimates were issued in the name of Pimlico.

However, Mr Smith:

Mr Smith brought a Tribunal claim against Pimlico on the basis that he was an employee and had been unfairly dismissed by Pimlico and discriminated against on grounds of disability by failure to make reasonable adjustments.  He also made allegations in respect of unpaid holiday pay and unauthorised deductions from wages.

The Tribunal considered the question of Mr Smith’s employment status as a preliminary issue.  The Tribunal held that Mr Smith was not an employee and so did not qualify for protection against unfair dismissal. However he was found to be a ‘worker’ and entitled to holiday pay and protection against discrimination.

Pimlico appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which rejected the appeal and upheld the Tribunal’s decision.  Pimlico appealed to the Court of Appeal which also rejected the appeal and upheld the decision that Mr Smith was a worker.

Key factors which led to the Court of Appeal’s decision were:

Implications:  Whether a self-employed contractor can be classified as a worker depends on the facts of each particular case and the Court of Appeal does not establish new law in its decision.  However, the Court does provide a timely and helpful reminder that even self-employed contractors can have workplace rights and there are some useful pointers to be taken from the outcome of this case:

Similar to the CitySprint case above, this is an important reminder that Courts and Tribunals will look behind what is in the written terms and examine the reality of the situation when deciding employment status.

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