Employment status: a quick guide for employers and workers

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The rise in popularity of the gig economy and outsourcing business services has blurred the employment status boundaries. In this article, we highlight the importance of understanding the legal distinctions between employees, workers and self-employed/independent contractors.

The problem is that the differences are not as straightforward as employers might wish, with the criteria for each category largely shaped by case law. As an HR consultant, I often find that business owners have got into a tangle trying to align taxation rules set by HMRC and the requirements of employment law.

Employment status and the law

Accurate determination of an individual’s employment status holds immense significance due to the array of legal protections afforded to employees and workers. Protections such as the right to not be unfairly dismissed, statutory redundancy payments, paid holidays and the national minimum wage are pivotal elements tied to specific employment statuses, not applicable to self-employed contractors.

The intricate nature of various working models, coupled with overlapping terminologies, often makes ascertaining employment status a challenging task. Misclassification risks can lead to serious consequences, as highlighted by the landmark case of Uber BV and others v Aslam and others.

Uber’s watershed legal case

In this case, Uber’s classification of its drivers as self-employed contractors was challenged, ultimately leading to a Supreme Court ruling that classified Uber drivers as ‘workers’. This meant entitlements to holiday pay and the minimum wage. Uber’s argument, positioning itself as a mere technology provider and booking agent for drivers, was debunked by the court.

The Supreme Court emphasised the importance of inferring the nature of relationships from the parties’ conduct in the absence of a written agreement. Notably, the court underscored the protective essence of employment legislation, preventing workers from being underpaid or overworked.

Key factors for employers

To avoid the pitfalls of misclassification, employers need to be aware of three key factors considered by tribunals when determining employment status:

  • Control: Absence of control by the employer over the worker suggests no employment relationship.
  • Mutuality of obligations: Regularly offered and accepted work over time may indicate a continuous contract of employment.
  • Personal service: If an individual can freely hire someone else to perform tasks, they are less likely to be considered an employee.

Learning from Uber

The Uber case serves as a cautionary tale, emphasising the need for employers to revisit and accurately document their arrangements with individuals. The implications of misclassification can be costly, both financially and in terms of reputational damage.

In conclusion, the importance of employment status cannot be overstated. If you are uncertain about your arrangements, it would be prudent to reassess and diligently document the reality of your relationships with individuals. Navigating the intricate web of employment status ensures compliance with the law and fosters a fair and legally sound working environment.

Need employment advice?

I always advise my clients to stay informed and stay compliant, but the HR world is never straightforward. Should you require professional advice, JT HRConsultancy is an established HR services company based in Bedfordshire with clients across the UK. If you need help or advice on an employment issue, visit my contact page or call me on 07715 026128 or email jo@jt-hrconsultancy.com

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