Zero hours contract rights

In our zero hours contracts series, we look at what rights your workers and employees have, such as the minimum wage and paid annual leave

Zero hours workers may work fewer hours than their fully employed counterparts, but they have a lot of the same rights as them.

Even though the rights are set in law, the definition of a zero hours contract isn’t. Zero hours can mean different things to different companies as there’s no concrete legal definition.

As an employer, the main thing you should know is that they’re not to be used for central business processes – only to fill in smaller labour gaps like seasonal work. For more central roles, you should consider alternatives such as fixed contracts first.

Everyone on a zero hour contract has statutory employment rights, without exception. They’ll either have the status of a worker or an employee. Most will be classed as workers.

Those who are classed as workers will be entitled to at least:

  • The national minimum wage
  • Paid annual leave
  • Rest breaks (rest at work, rest between shifts or working days and weekly rest periods)
  • Protection from discrimination

On top of that, employees have the right to (among others):

  • Statutory sick pay (SSP)
  • Time off for emergencies involving dependents
  • Redundancy pay
  • Parental leave

Employees will also have protection from being dismissed and any ‘detriment’ if they raise reasonable concerns about health and safety that you don’t take steps to handle, or they worry that their health and safety might be in danger.

Remember that health and safety is your responsibility and you must pay wages through PAYE including tax and National Insurance deductions.

Make sure not to confuse zero hours workers with employees or the self-employed. Differences are largely around the control you have over the person’s work and the mutual obligation you have. If you want the person to do regular work for you then you should opt for employee. If they don’t provide you with a personal service, then self-employed would be more fitting. In short, how will the relationship work in practice?

Under the exclusivity clause (introduced in 2015), you also cannot stop a worker working for another firm or treat them unfairly if they choose to.

What other zero hours contract rights should I be aware of?

As an employer, you should be regularly reviewing employment practices so that you don’t get caught out.

The Good Work Review by Matthew Taylor, published in 2018, revealed that new legislation will be produced so that all flexible workers can ask for more secure contracts. This will happen once they’ve reached 26 weeks of continuous service with you. There has been no word as to when this law would be introduced. 

There were also plans to introduce a new right to reasonable notice of work schedules and compensation for shift cancellation.

As you can see, it’s important to set out a clear contract from the beginning, setting out the provisions and expectations so that you both stay on the same terms. Have a look over this Zero hours contract template to get a better idea of what to include.

Read more

Zero hours contracts advantages and disadvantages

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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