Zero hours legislation may offer employees zero benefits. Is it just political gesture?

Pen on signature paperZero hours contracts continue to capture the general public’s interest and with it the government’s attention. Zero hours contracts came about as result of the desire by employers to recruit individuals, often for causal work, when they needed extra staff to meet changing market conditions. Under this type of contract the employer is not obliged to offer and the individual is not obliged to accept, any work in any particular week. With standard zero hours contracts an individual is also allowed to undertake work for more than one employer.

Some employers sought to restrict an individual’s ability to work for someone else by including a contractual obligation in their contract preventing them from doing this or requiring them to obtain consent to work elsewhere. This practice started to become more commonplace amongst employers, which ultimately led to media attention and adverse publicity over how employers were using zero hours contracts. This was followed by an announcement in the Queen’s Speech in 2014 that the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill would include measures to tackle this abuse of zero hours contracts by employers. Legislation was subsequently introduced in May of this year to ban the use of exclusivity clauses in these types of contracts.

Last month the government took things a step further by publishing draft legislation to protect workers from suffering a detriment (i.e. a disadvantage) at work and to protect employees from dismissal, where the reason for the detriment or dismissal was as a result of having done work or performed services under another contract or arrangement. This will give workers the right to make a complaint, if they consider that they have suffered a detriment and employees the right to claim automatic unfair dismissal (no two-year qualifying period of employment required) at the employment tribunal. If the worker’s claim is successful then the employment tribunal can make a declaration as to the worker’s rights and order the employer to pay such compensation as it considers just and equitable in the circumstances, which may include any expenses reasonably incurred and any loss of benefit by the worker. If the employee’s claim is successful then the employment tribunal can award unfair dismissal compensation, which includes a basic award and a compensatory award (currently capped at the lower of £78,335 and a year’s salary).

Whilst this is a welcome development for workers and employees under zero hours contracts there is clearly going to be some difficulty in proving a detriment or automatic unfair dismissal claim. What is to stop an employer simply informing the worker or employee that they no longer have any more hours to offer them? The evidential burden then rests on the employee or worker to prove that the employer’s decision is connected with their work under another contract. When you combine this with the continuing fees regime in the employment tribunal, which would require a person to pay £250.00 for submitting either of these complaints and further fees for a hearing, it is likely that, for many, no legal action will be taken against such employers.

The only clear winner would seem to be the government as it is likely that with this new legislation, there will be less media interest in zero hours contracts and the government will therefore have successfully brushed this sensitive political issue firmly under the carpet.

For further information on zero hours contracts or to obtain specific legal advice on any area of employment law call Henry Doswell of Doswell Law on 01233 722942 or email him at [email protected]


Whilst every reasonable effort is made to make the information and commentary contained in this article accurate and up to date, Henry Doswell takes no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it. The information and commentary in this article does not constitute legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. You are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal advice from a lawyer about your case or matter.

Henry DoswellAbout the author:

Henry Doswell is the owner and Principal of Doswell Law. Henry has over 13 years’ experience as an employment lawyer. Having spent his career working for specialist employment law firms in the City, West End and Canary Wharf, he has the necessary combination of legal expertise and commercial awareness to protect and promote his clients’ interests. Henry is also an accredited ADR Group workplace mediator and a member of the Employment Lawyers Association.

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