Pimlico Plumbers and other employment status news

Late last month the Supreme Court delivered its long-awaited if not altogether surprising decision in Pimlico Plumbers v Smith. It upheld the decisions of the lower courts that Mr Smith should properly be classified as a worker, with attendant rights (including discrimination rights and holiday pay), rather than being self-employed.

Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers for six years (from 2005-2011). Although he was VAT registered and paid self-employed tax, from an employment law perspective, he was nonetheless entitled to workers’ rights.

The judgment was unanimous and the lead judgment was provided by Lord Wilson. Having considered the history of the law concerning the status of workers (dating back to 1875), he considered the written agreements between Pimlico and Mr Smith (the original dated 2005 and a replacement issued in 2009), both of which he thought were confusing. However, he noted the extent of control exercised over Mr Smith including the right to dismiss him for gross misconduct, how he should provide his services, an obligation to provide advance notification of absences and the supply of tools. The second agreement included an obligation to wear Pimlico’s uniform, a minimum 40 hours’ working week, advance notice of annual leave and provision for warnings and dismissal.

He also noted that there was no provision for Mr Smith to appoint a substitute to do his work (other than by another Pimlico operative). Having considered relevant authorities, he concluded that “the dominant feature of Mr Smith’s contracts with Pimlico was an obligation of personal performance”.

There was an “umbrella contract” between Mr Smith and Pimlico whereby, if work was available to be done by him, he would be expected to do it. Nonetheless, Mr Smith correctly presented himself as self-employed for tax purposes.

DPD relaxes onerous terms imposed on its delivery drivers

A year ago I wrote about the onerous terms imposed on DPD couriers, which had come to the attention of the Work and Pensions Select Committee:

“Meanwhile, it has emerged that DPD, which deliver parcels for Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and River Island, fines their couriers £150 per day if they cannot find cover when they are ill. This has resulted in drivers being forced to work when they are sick. The fine, which is described as “liquidated damages”, means that couriers who earn on average £200 a day, lose £350 if they cannot work through illness and are unable to find a substitute.”

Chair of the Committee (and my MP) Frank Field, commented at the time:

“The gig economy is producing wave after wave of evidence on the grim reality of life at the bottom of Britain’s labour market…A group of companies now controls the working lives of an unknown number of people, and yet evades its own responsibilities as employers and taxpayers by labelling those people as self-employed… This move [by DPD] makes the rest of the gig economy look as though it operates in the Garden of Eden.”

In February 2018 The Guardian reported the sad story of Don Lane, a DPD courier, who was fined £150 for attending a medical appointment to treat his diabetes and who, at age 53, subsequently collapsed and died for reasons connected with the disease. His widow, Ruth, disclosed that he had missed medical appointments because he felt under pressure to cover his round. He had collapsed twice, including once into a diabetic coma, while at the wheel of his DPD van. His fine was imposed when he went to see a specialist about eye damage caused by his diabetes. He collapsed in late December, having worked through illness during the Christmas rush and died in the Royal Bournemouth Hospital on 4 January.

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