What are the rights of employees on zero hour contracts?

Is it better to be a worker or an employee?

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Jul 04, 2024

'Zero hours contract' is not a legal term. But it's a blanket phrase to describe many casual agreements between individuals and their employer.

With that in mind, a zero hours contract usually involves an employer not being able to guarantee the individual any hours of work, nor a set working pattern.

Zero hour contract rights

Anyone working a zero hours contract has statutory employment rights. There are no exceptions to this.

But apart from those rights, the rights of employees on zero hour contracts are more beneficial than the rights of a worker.

At this point, you're probably asking something like, "How do the rights of employees and workers differ?"

Let's look at the rights of both employment statuses.

Zero hours contract employee rights

The following rights apply to employees but not to workers:

  • Statutory sick pay
  • Time off for emergencies involving dependants
  • Statutory maternity or paternity leave and pay
  • A minimum notice period if their employment is ending
  • Statutory redundancy pay
  • Protection against unfair dismissal
  • The right to request flexible working

Not all of these rights come into play on day one of the employment. Some, such as flexible working, can require a minimum length of service.

Zero hours contract worker rights

And the following rights apply to both employees and workers:

  • National minimum wage
  • Protection from unlawful deductions from their wages
  • Protection from unfavourable treatment if they work part-time
  • Statutory minimum amount of paid holiday
  • The right to work no more than 48 hours on average per week
  • The right to opt out of only working 48 hours on average per week
  • Statutory minimum length of rest breaks
  • Protection for any whistleblowing
  • Protection from unlawful discrimination

It's common for a zero hours contract to give worker status, rather than employee status. Whichever status your staff have in your agreement with them, the relevant rights from above apply.

So, they'll either get the rights in both lists, or just the second list. And this is true when the contract is zero hours, a set number of hours, or a set working pattern.

When would you hire workers rather than employees?

It's common for a business to employ both employees and workers.

Hiring a worker can be great for both parties when you don't have a constant demand for staff.

Here are times where you might hire workers:

  • Season work, such as Christmas
  • You're setting up a new business and want to gauge how many staff you'll need
  • After-event work, such as the clean-up that comes after a festival or a large party
  • Special events like weddings, functions, and business expos

In jobs where health & safety is a concern, such as a lifeguard or security officer, having workers to call up in the case of staff absence is essential.

Make sure everyone working for you knows their employment status

It's vital that you remember the employment status of everyone you hire.

You should always be open and honest with any of your staff about their employment status. This way, they can find out what rights they have at work.

Make it clear in their contract (if you've given them one) whether they're an employee or a worker.

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

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