‘Self-Employed’ Plumber Was a Worker

09 March 2017

Mr Smith brought a number of claims against Pimlico Plumbers. Some of those could only proceed if he was found to have been an employee. Read more...

Pimlico Plumbers Ltd v Smith

Mr Smith brought a number of claims against Pimlico Plumbers. Some of those could only proceed if he was found to have been an employee. Others hinged on him having worker status, for which there needed to be a requirement to personally do the work for Pimlico, and for Pimlico to not be a client or customer of a business run by Mr Smith.

The working arrangement was an interesting one. Mr Smith wore Pimlico’s uniform, he drove around in its branded van, and was normally obliged to work a 40-hour week for the company. He was not allowed to provide customers with his personal contact details, instead he had to give them Pimlico’s office number, and his contract contained restrictive covenants. But, other factors hinted at self-employed status. For example:

  • Mr Smith’s contract with Pimlico stated that he was an independent contractor. 
  • Pimlico didn’t have to offer him work, and he didn’t have to accept work offered.
  • He decided his own working hours.
  • He used his own tools. 
  • He was able to swap jobs with other plumbers. 
  • He took care of his own insurance and tax.

Was Mr Smith a worker or was he self-employed?

A worker, held the Court of Appeal. There were two big deciding factors. The first was that he had to provide personal service for a minimum number of hours per week or on days agreed with Pimlico. There was no express right to substitute or delegate (which would have pointed towards self-employed status). His ability to swap jobs with other engineers didn’t wipe out the personal service requirement. As the Court put it:

“Even if [Mr Smith] could choose to give a job to another operative on a day he preferred not to work that is still not an unfettered right to substitute at will, but more akin to swapping a shift between workers.”

The second factor was that, given the degree of control exercised over him (including the 40-hour working week requirement), Pimlico couldn’t be said to have been a client or customer of a business run by Mr Smith on his own account. Mr Smith was actually an integral part of, and was subordinate to, Pimlico.

Ultimately, this was about the reality of the relationship between the parties. Remember that a label employers might use – like ‘independent contractor’ or ‘self-employed operative’ – isn’t binding on a tribunal.

 


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