California dreamin’?

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

I’m currently in the fourth week of Semester 2 and I’m teaching Employment Law to a group of second year students. I usually begin this course by discussing the importance of an individual’s employment status.

In today’s world of work, the great divide very much rests upon whether a person has a contract of service OR a contract for services.

An employee is said to have a contract of service as defined by Section 230(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Having this status potentially allows someone to acquire employment protection such as the right not to be unfairly dismissed; the right to a redundancy payment; the right to be the beneficiary of family friendly and flexible working practices.

After the first few lectures have been completed on employment status, I usually ask the students if they think this is an important issue?

Hopefully, if I have been doing my job properly and they have been listening to me, the penny will have dropped: it is more often better to be an employee than someone who works under a contract for services (e.g. zero hours workers, casual and atypical workers, freelancers and the genuinely self-employed).

There are notable exceptions (aren’t there always?): high earning British television celebrities (e.g. Lorraine Kelly) or a number of BBC news journalists have preferred to be treated as freelancers or self-employed persons. Why? They can then minimise their exposure to income tax liability in a way (often via the medium of personal service companies) that would not be possible because if they were employees they would almost certainly be taxed at source on a PAYE (pay as you earn) basis.

We have seen an explosion in the type of work that is often characterised or labelled as the ‘gig economy’. This work is often characterised by a distinct lack of employment rights; irregular working patterns; chronic insecurity; lack of long term career progression; and low pay. It is often impossible for such individuals to complete the necessary periods continuous service to acquire employment rights.

Companies such as Deliveroo, Lyft and Uber have become synonymous with the ‘gig economy’, as have whole sectors of the employment market e.g. catering, cleaning and hospitality services.

Admittedly, the UK Government of Prime Minister Theresa May (2016-19) did commission Matthew Taylor to review employment status. The main conclusion reached by the Taylor Review was that a minimum level of employment protection should be extended to workers – after all these individuals pay their National Insurance contributions too.

Links to the Taylor Report and the UK Government’s response can be found below:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/627671/good-work-taylor-review-modern-working-practices-rg.pdf

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/679767/180206_BEIS_Good_Work_Report__Accessible_A4_.pdf

In Scotland, the devolved Government has also established a Fair Work Convention with the aim of promoting better and progressive employment practices by 2025 (see the link below):

https://www.fairworkconvention.scot

Admittedly, an employee does not gain these rights from day 1 of employment. They become entitled to claim certain rights as they build up their continuous service with the employer. So, for example, an employee (generally speaking) has the right not to be unfairly dismissed in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996 if they have completed 2 years of continuous service with the employer.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world …

… or California dreamin’

It’s not just in the UK that debates about employment status are currently playing out. At the tail end of 2019, it was with particular interest that I read about a story from the United States which highlighted many of the issues which I have just been discussing in this Blog.

A study, carried out in 2015/16 by economists (Professors Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger at Harvard and Princeton Universities respectively) calculated that “12.5 million people were considered independent contractors, or 8.4% of the U.S. workforce.”

https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/lkatz/files/katz_krueger_cws_v3.pdf

Interestingly, in 2019, Professors Katz and Krueger appeared to disown or play down certain of their findings – especially in relation to the number of American gig economy jobs:

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/07/economy/gig-economy-katz-krueger/index.html

Assembly Bill 5

The US State of California has just enacted a law, Assembly Bill 5 2019 or AB5 (known more popularly as the gig economy law) giving those individuals working in the gig economy more employment rights. The law came into force on 1 January 2020.

A link to AB5 as enacted by the California State legislature can be found below:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB5

In theory, AB5 makes it much more difficult for employers to classify individuals as independent contractors for services meaning that many more people will be treated as employees with the right to claim the minimum wage and the right to receive sick pay.

The Supreme Court of California laid down very strict criteria for determining whether an individual was an employee or an independent contractor in what is being referred to as the ‘landmark’ decision of Dynamex Operations West, Inc v the Superior Court of Los Angeles County 30 April 2018 Opinion S222732.

The case establishes the ‘ABC Test’ which operates on the presumption that individuals hired by an organisation or business are employees unless the hirer can show otherwise. In this case, the Supreme Court moved away from the ‘seminal’ Borello Test which had been the standard way of determining a person’s employment status since the 1980s. Critically, AB5 reflects the Dynamex criteria.

Essentially, the hirer must satisfy all three parts of the ABC Test in order to prove that an individual is a genuine independent contractor.

The criteria in ABC Test (as contained in AB5) can be set out as follows:

(A) The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.

(B) The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.

(C) The person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

The Dynamex decision is regarded as a landmark judgement because it overturns the Borello Test which had been the leading precedent for determining employment status in California since the late 1980s (see S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v Department of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341).

In Dynamex, the Californian Supreme Court made the following statement:

Although in some circumstances classification as an independent contractor may be advantageous to workers as well as to businesses, the risk that workers who should be treated as employees may be improperly misclassified as independent contractors is significant in light of the potentially substantial economic incentives that a business may have in mischaracterizing some workers as independent contractors. Such incentives include the unfair competitive
advantage the business may obtain over competitors that properly classify similar workers as employees and that thereby assume the fiscal and other responsibilities and burdens that an employer owes to its employees.

The Court noted, moreover, that:

In recent years, the relevant regulatory agencies of both the federal and state governments have declared that the misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees
is a very serious problem, depriving federal and state governments of billions of dollars in tax revenue and millions of workers of the labor law protections to which they are entitled
.”

A link to the Dynamex judgement can be found below:

https://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/dynamex-operations-west-inc-v-superior-court-34584

Legislators in other US States (New Jersey and New York particularly) have expressed a desire to follow the Californian example and Democratic US presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are strongly in favour of this type of law.

As you would expect in such a litigious society as the United States, AB5 has already been the subject of a legal challenge (which was unsuccessful). Predictably, Uber and another company, Postmates, were at the forefront of this action.

This legal challenge was hardly surprising, given that The Los Angeles Times reported in August 2019 that Uber and Lyft intended to establish a campaigning fund worth $60 million to fight AB5.

A link to the story can be found below:

https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/story/2019-08-29/ab5-uber-lyft-newsom-lorena-gonzalez-ballot-tony-west

Conclusion

So, even in the land of free enterprise, it would seem that not everyone wants to be their own boss and many people would, in fact, be more than happy to welcome the recognition of their status as employees.

That said, AB5 has, surprisingly, not met with the approval of every worker or potential employee. The California performing arts community has experienced problems with the new law, mainly because of its use of the term ‘fine artist’ which was not defined. Fine artists are exempt from the provisions of AB5, but who exactly is a fine artist? No one seems to be sure and The Los Angeles Times reported that one opera company had cancelled performances because they were unsure whether performers were to be classified as employees (with the additional costs that this would entail) or whether they were genuinely independent contractors.

Lorena Gonzalez, the Californian Assemblywoman who drafted AB5 said that a definition of the term was deliberately omitted from the law and that it the responsibility of the State’s Employment Development Department to clarify this issue.

Readers will find links below to media articles about AB5:

https://apple.news/A_pjrttPvTDSMSpV-VMet8w

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49659775

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2020-01-29/ab5-independent-contractor-california-2020-arts

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/19/the-gig-economy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/07/22/good-work/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/22/hello-im-lorraine-and-im-definitely-self-employed/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/21/employee-or-not/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/01/17/employment-status/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/08/call-me-an-uber/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/25/strippers-are-workers-too-discuss/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/14/horses-for-courses-the-equine-flu-affair/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/30/paternity-leave/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/25/the-work-life-balance-or-utopia-reimagined/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 13 February 2020

A hard day’s night …

Photo by Xi Wang on Unsplash

What has European Union law done for workers in the UK?

This was a question that I found myself asking when reading about very poor working conditions and lengthy hours experienced by many Chinese teenagers working in factories in order to manufacture a product purchased and used by many Western consumers.

The answer to my question is quite a lot actually when you consider the impact of the EU Working Time Directive which was transposed into UK employment law as a result of the Working Time Regulations 1998.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 guarantees most workers (there are exceptions – aren’t there always?) the right not to be forced to work more than 48 hours per week.

It’s important to note that the category of worker has a broader meaning and is not merely confined to those people who are employees (i.e. have a contract of service as per Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996). Many individuals who work under a contract for services will benefit from the protection of the Directive and the Regulations.

The Regulations also compel the employer to give workers regular breaks and they also regulate the amount of hours that the worker can be forced to work in any one day.

There is special protection for younger workers regarding breaks and the maximum daily hours that they are permitted to work.

The basic rights and protections that the Regulations provide are:

  • a limit of an average of 48 hours a week which a worker can be required to work (though workers can choose to work more if they wish by signing an opt-out) (Regulation 4)
  • a limit of an average of 8 hours work in each 24 hour period which night workers can be required to work (Regulation 6)
  • a right for night workers to receive free health assessments (Regulation 7)
  • a right to 11 hours rest a day (Regulation 10)
  • a right to a day off each week (Regulation 11)
  • a right to an in-work rest break if the working day is longer than 6 hours (Regulation 12)
  • a right to 5.6 weeks (or 28 days) paid leave per year

Admittedly, many UK and EU employers will have better working conditions than the list above, but in theory the Working Time Directive provides a basic safety net or floor of rights for workers.

It is normal practice, for many employers to have a collective or work-place agreement which governs the length of in-work rest breaks if the working day is longer than six hours.

If there is no such agreement, adult workers are entitled to a 20 minute uninterrupted break which should be spent away from the work-station and such a break should not be scheduled at the end of a shift.

Younger workers are entitled to a longer, uninterrupted break of 30 minutes if their working day is longer than four and a half hours and, similarly, this break should be spent away from a person’s workstation.

What a contrast then from conditions in Chinese factories. Although China may be on course to become the World’s largest economy, the human cost of achieving this goal is very high.

No one, of course, is saying that the situation in the UK and the EU is approaching utopia for workers. The Regulations (and ultimately the Directive) can and will be ignored by rogue employers. Furthermore, in work-places where trade unions are weak or non-existent, workers may not be aware of their rights or willing to enforce them.

Despite all this, at least UK and EU workers have some sort of legal means for challenging poor working conditions and the culture of lengthy hours.

One of the big fears about the consequences of Brexit has, of course, been the possible erosion of employment protection standards by a future UK Government and Parliament that might be committed to a more free market economic philosophy of labour relations.

A link to the story about working conditions in China can be found below:

Amazon Echo devices made by Chinese teens ‘working through night’ – reports

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 October 2019

Get me an Uber!

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

An interesting story today about industrial action being taken by taxi drivers working for Uber. The action is taking place in the USA and in cities across the UK (including Glasgow). It is designed to draw attention to working practices within the company before it lists its shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

Quite a few of my previous blogs have looked at employment status and the steady increase in the number of individuals who provide services to organisations but, critically, not under the traditional employment contract model.

Section 230(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 contains the definition of who precisely is an employee i.e. someone who has a contract of service. If you don’t have this type of contractual arrangement (you’re not an employee), you may well be working under a contract for services. This is one of the most important distinctions in employment law in the United Kingdom.

Those individuals working under a contract for services – precisely because of their lack of employment status – are often denied access to the sorts of legal rights which employees routinely take for granted e.g. unfair dismissal protection, redundancy protection, family friendly rights, rights to information and consultation etc.

Admittedly, employees will not acquire these rights from day 1 of their employment, but the critical difference in relation to people working under a contract for services is that they have the potential to obtain employment rights (by completing the requisite period of continuous service e.g. 2 years’ continuous service for entitlement to protection against unfair dismissal and for entitlement to a redundancy payment.

There’s now a growing awareness on both the part of the UK Government (The Taylor Review) and the European Union (the forthcoming EU Directive on Transparent and predictable working conditions) that people on contracts for services deserve greater levels of work-place protection.

The industrial action being taken by Uber drivers today is principally an attempt by these types of workers to secure better contractual terms and conditions. The law does now appear to be recognising that individuals working for organisations such as Uber (and Lyft) are not genuinely self-employed persons. Rather they should be categorised as workers with an entitlement to a basic level of legal protection (see the English Court of Appeal’s decision in Uber BV & Ors v Aslam & Ors [2018] EWCA Civ 2748 on appeal from UKEAT/0056/17/DA).

A link to the Aslam judgement can be found below:

https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/uber-bv-ors-v-aslam-ors-judgment-19.12.18.pdf

A link to an article on the BBC website about the industrial action can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48190176

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 May 2019

More hell on the high street (or redundancy again)

Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

The difficult trading conditions on the UK high street don’t seem to be easing with news that Debenhams, one of the country’s biggest retailers, will close 50 of its stores. This will affect about 1,200 employees of Debenhams, many of whom will be facing up to the threat of redundancy.

Debenhams have just announced the names of the first 22 stores which will close in 2020.

Debenhams names 22 stores to close

The struggling department store chain plans to close the shops next year, affecting 1,200 staff.

Redundancy

Redundancy can be potentially fair reason for dismissal… if handled correctly by employers.

Only employees can be made redundant. 

Remember: S230(5) Employment Rights 1996 defines who is an “employee”.

The definition of redundancy can be found in Section 139(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996:

(1) For the purposes of this Act an employee who is dismissed shall be taken to be dismissed by reason of redundancy if the dismissal is wholly or mainly attributable to-

(a) the fact that his employer has ceased or intends to cease-

(i) to carry on the business for the purposes of which the employee was employed by him, or

(ii) to carry on that business in the place where the employee was so employed, or

(b) the fact that the requirements of that business-

(i) for employees to carry out work of a particular kind, or

(ii) for employees to carry out work of a particular kind in the place where the employee was employed by the employer,

The relevant legal provisions governing redundancy are quite extensive and can be found in:

● Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 

● Employment Rights Act 1996

● Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 

● Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006

● Collective Redundancies and Transfer of  Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

The really critical provisions of UK employment law which govern redundancy handling are to be found in the following:

● Sections 188-198 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 

(Section 188 is further supplemented by the Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 1999).

Handling redundancies

Employees should be selected for redundancy in a fair way.

The employees who are at risk for potential redundancy will be part of a group of individuals known as the redundancy pool.

Employers can manage situation in a number of ways. 

How?

● LIFO

● Volunteers 

● Disciplinary records

● Staff appraisal – skills, experience etc (redundancy matrices or re-applying for your job).

What is LIFO? 

Last in, first out – was the most commonly used method, but it could fall foul be regarded as indirect discrimination e.g. too many young people are made redundant. So there are limitations to this approach.

Redundancy selection criteria must be objective. 

Many employers will have contractual redundancy policies. Must stick with this: see John Anderson v Pringle of Scotland [1998] IRLR 64.

Appeals should be permitted.

Individuals will still be an employee until effective date of redundancy.

Avoiding redundancies

Redundancy could be avoided by:

● Short-time working

● Lay-offs

The employer needs to consult with employees or their representatives.

Both sides may not reach agreement, but consultation has occurred. 

 It has to be a meaningful exercise – not a paper one.  

Additional rights

Employees have additional rights in redundancy situations:

● Consultation with employer

● Notice period

● Suitable, alternative employment 

● Time off to find new employment

Selection for redundancy

Selection for redundancy is automatically unfair in relation to:

● Protected characteristics e.g. age, disability, gender, maternity and pregnancy etc

● Trade Union participation or acting as employee representatives

● Jury service

● Whistle-blowing & health and safety cases

● Asserting statutory rights

● Occupational pension trustees

Statutory redundancy pay

Statutory redundancy pay is most common payment. Only those employees who have 2 years or more continuous service are entitled to claim statutory redundancy pay.

It is worked out according to the following formula:

● half a week’s pay for each full year employees were under 22

● 1 week’s pay for each full year employees were 22 or older, but under 41

● 1 and half week’s pay for each full year employees were 41 or older

Length of service which can be used to calculate the amount of redundancy pay is capped at 20 years and the amount of weekly pay is capped at £525 (the maximum statutory amount claimable is £15,750) from 6 April 2019.

Employers can be more generous with redundancy pay or they can include employees with less than 2 years’ continuous service.

No tax is payable on redundancy pay less than £30,000.

Employees can calculate their entitlement to statutory redundancy pay by clicking on the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/calculate-employee-redundancy-pay

Notice of redundancy

Proper notice of redundancy must be given. Section 86 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 contains the relevant notice periods for termination of the employment contract.

The maximum period of notice for those employees with 12 years or more continuous service is 12 weeks.

Sometimes contractual periods of notice can be longer, but not shorter than the those laid down by the Employment Rights Act 1996.

That said, notice can be shorter if the employment contract permits employer to make a payment in lieu of notice. 

Employees will receive full entitlement to redundancy pay, notice pay, holiday pay & other entitlements.

Collective redundancies?

This situation arise where more than 20 employees are going to be  made redundant in a 90 day period. Fixed term contract employees do not need to be included in collective consultation, except if contract ending early because of redundancy.

The Debenhams’ situation is likely to be classified as a case of collective redundancy.

There must be consultation with with Trade Union or employee representatives.

Consultations must cover:

● ways to avoid redundancies

● the reasons for redundancies

● how to keep the number of dismissals to a minimum

● how to limit the effects for employees involved, e.g. by offering retraining

Length of consultation period?

No time limit for how long this period should be, but the minimum is:

● 20 to 99 redundancies – the consultation must start at least 30 days before any dismissals take effect

● 100 + redundancies – the consultation must start at least 45 days before any dismissals take effect

These minimum periods apply if employers are contemplating making collective redundancies within a 90 day period. 

The UK Coalition Government (2010-15) substantially reduced redundancy consultation periods.

Failure to consult employees?

Dismissals will almost certainly be unfair. 

In a collective redundancy situation, employers should notify the Redundancy Payments Service (RPS) by filling out form HR1. It is a (strict liability) criminal offence not to complete the HR1.

A link to a template HR1 form can be found below:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/782487/NEW_HR1.pdf

Failure to pay redundancy payments or payment of the wrong amount?

Affected employees have 6 months (minus 1 day) to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim.

Insolvent employers?

The State will ultimately pay out from the National Insurance Fund (employee’s should complete and submit an RP1 Form).

Employees can find out if their employer is insolvent by going to the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company

A short film from ACAS about the core employments rights in relation to redundancy can be found below:

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 28 April 2019

Strippers are workers too. Discuss.

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

We had Lorraine Kelly and employment law in one of Friday’s blogs (Hello, I’m Lorraine and I’m definitely self-employed). Today, rather than TV personalities, we have strippers (which demonstrates the sheer breadth of this area of the law).

Anyway, a report on Sky News (Sunday 24 March 2019) highlighted the campaign by women working as strippers who wish to be classified as workers rather than self-employed individuals. A worker has, of course, a broader meaning than employee in both UK and EU employment law.

Workers enjoy, for example, protection under legislation such as the Working Time Regulations giving them access to holiday pay and minimum holiday entitlement, as well as regulating their working time (i.e. the 48 hour limit). The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 is also an important source of legal protection for workers.

In terms of Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employee is someone who has a contract of service. As I have stated in previous blogs, an employee has potential access to multiple employment rights – a situation which a worker or self-employed individual can really only dream about.

In the Sky News piece, the spokesperson for individuals providing services in the “adult entertainment” business makes an eloquent claim for greater legal rights. We hear tried and tested arguments about the level of control (arguably) which nightclubs have in relation to these individuals. This is an attempt to deploy the control test to the advantage of people working in this industry. Whether it will be a clinching argument which secures the status of worker for many people remains to be seen.

A link to the Sky News article and video can be seen below:

Strippers seek workers’ rights recognition

http://news.sky.com/video/share-11674273

This is not, however, the first time that an individual working in the “adult entertainment” industry has sought employment rights.

In Chapter 6 of Introductory Scots Law, I discuss the case of Quashie v Stringfellows Restaurants Ltd [2012] EWCA Civ 1735 where an individual argued that they had employment status and, therefore, the right to legal protection – principally in relation to unfair dismissal in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Quashie provided services as a lap dancer to two clubs, Stringfellows and Angels, both owned by Stringfellows Restaurants Ltd over a period of about 18 months. Stringfellows decided to dispense with Quashie’s services on 9 December 2008 because the management was suspicious that she was involved with drugs while working on the premises.

Quashie submitted a claim for unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal. The customers paid Quashie to dance – not Stringfellows Restaurants – and she had to pay the clubs a fee for the right to dance there. There was no barrier, in theory, to Quashie accepting engagements to dance at other clubs not owned by Stringfellows Restaurants – as long as she had not made a prior booking to dance at Stringfellows or Angels.

Holidays could be taken by Quashie when she wished, but so long as she completed a form giving advance warning of her intention to do this. Quashie received a club agreement from Stringfellows Restaurants which stated that she was an independent contractor. Admittedly, Stringfellows Restaurants did put Quashie on a rota to dance on a regular basis and a failure by her (or other dancers) to turn up for these shifts meant that she would be suspended from the clubs the following week and she would not be permitted to work.

The Employment Tribunal held that there was no mutuality of obligation between the parties and that Quashie was not an employee and that the right to claim unfair dismissal (Section 94: Employment Rights Act 1996) was not available to her. Quashie appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. On appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the original decision of the Employment Tribunal and found Quashie to be an employee. Stringfellows Restaurants appealed to the English Court of Appeal.

Held: by the English Court of Appeal that the Employment Appeal Tribunal had erred and that the original Employment Tribunal decision should be reinstated: Quashie was not an employee as there was insufficient mutuality of obligation between the parties.

Conclusion

As reported in the Sky News piece, the argument being advanced that  strippers should be given worker status is clearly a more modest attempt to secure some employment rights for individuals working in this industry. It may be easier to win this argument than the contention that such individuals should be treated as employees (as occurred in Quashie). That said, it will be for judges to determine on a case by case basis who has employment status and who does not.

Postscript

In an attempt to secure better employment rights for women working in the “adult entertainment” industry, BBC Scotland reported in July 2019 that many lap dancers working in Glasgow had joined a trade union.

Please see a link to this story below:

The lap dancers who joined a union

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 March and 22 July 2019

Horses for courses: the equine flu affair

mikael-kristenson-27943-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Regular readers of this (relatively newish) wordpress site will be aware that blog entries dealing with employment relations tend to feature quite frequently.

In Chapter 6 of Introductory Scots Law, employment status is discussed i.e. whether someone has a contract of service (in terms of Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996) or whether they are deemed to have some other legal status e.g. a freelancer or a casual worker which would mean that access to many of employment rights is simply not an option.

When teaching employment law courses to students, I often have to emphasise the distinction between contracts of service and contracts for services. The modern labour or employment market is undoubtedly complex (even fragmented). Many individuals may be working alongside one another but some will enjoy far better conditions of service because of their status as employees. For some individuals the most that they can aspire to is to be classified as a worker. It’s certainly not ideal, but it’s better than being someone who is engaged on a casual as required basis – with no employment protection.

You might wonder where on earth this leading? If you’re not a punter (seasoned or occasional), you might struggle to see how the recent outbreak of equine flu in the United Kingdom has got to do with employment status?  Quite a lot actually and it just goes to prove that every day is a school day – not just for students of employment law.

When casually tuning into BBC Breakfast’s sports bulletin today (14 February 2019), I learned something to do with horse racing and employment status: jockeys are self-employed individuals who usually take up a trainer’s offer of an appointment to ride a horse in return for an agreed fee. The jockey who appeared in the short news clip said that he was very glad that racing  had resumed after a 6 day health ban and that he could get back to work. In short: if he wasn’t working, he didn’t get paid.

Now, if jockeys were working under a contract of service (an employment contract), their employers would have common law duties to provide work (arguably) and/or to pay wages. If no work was available because of a  temporary problem (e.g. a public health scare), an employee would still expect to receive wages.

As I am now aware, the vast majority of jockeys (as genuinely self-employed persons) do not benefit in this way. It just goes to show you what you can learn from the morning sports bulletin. Maybe I’ll pay more attention in the future. It was certainly one of those gems that I could share with the students this morning … but then if I was a punter, perhaps I would already have been aware of a jockey’s employment status.

Copyright – Seán J Crossan, 14 February 2019

Employment Status

I thought that I would begin by drawing readers to an employment law story. Those of you who are familiar with Introductory Scots Law will already know that Chapter 6 covers Employment Law. In this chapter, the topic of a person’s employment status is discussed. It’s often a difficult area for both lawyers and lay people to get their heads around. The key question can often be reduced to this: does the individual have a contract of service or a contract for services?

If you have a contract of service (or employment), you are often in much a stronger position legally speaking because you either have employment rights or the potential to access employment rights as you build up your continuity of service. Significantly, employees have the right (potentially) to claim unfair dismissal; claim a redundancy payment; be consulted about changes which their employer is going to make; access maternity and paternity rights. People working under more casual arrangements, for example, zero hours contracts or the genuinely self-employed will not be entitled to such employment rights.

The story which I wish to focus on concerns Jess Varnish, the ex-Team GB cyclist. Ms Varnish wished to pursue an Employment Tribunal claim for wrongful dismissal and sex discrimination against British Cycling and UK Sport. The legal action by Varnish has been dismissed by the Employment Tribunal on the basis that she was not an employee or even a worker of British Cycling or UK Sport. This decision, in common with many other cases over the years, demonstrates the ability of a person to claim certain legal rights depends very much on her employment status. Quite simply, Jess Varnish was never an employee and that is why her claim failed.

Please see below the link to the story on the BBC website:

Jess Varnish: Cyclist loses employment case at tribunal

Ex-GB cyclist Jess Varnish fails in her attempt to prove she was an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport at an employment tribunal.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, January 2019