Supreme court’s judgment could influence legal battles over employment status.

plumber shaking hands with a lawyer

The UK’s highest court has unanimously decided that a heating engineer has won his employment claim against Pimlico Plumbers. It was established that he was a worker and not self-employed. This will set a clear precedent for those employed in the gig economy and influence the outcome of long legal battles such as those involving Uber.

The heating engineer, Gary Smith, appealed to the court after he was dismissed. He had worked for the plumbing firm for 6 years before suffering a heart attack in 2011. He had then requested a 3-day-week, but this was rejected by Pimlico Plumbers and the van which he rented from them was taken away. The firm disputed that Mr Smith was sacked because he wanted to work fewer days. Pimlico Plumbers argued that as he was sent out by them to repair leaking pipes and broken dishwashers, he should be classed as self-employed and not a ‘worker’. Even though ‘workers’ are not given the full range of employment protection rights which full-time staff enjoy, they are entitled to many elements, e.g. holiday pay.

Pimlico Plumbers lost at every stage of the dispute.

The judge stated that even though his contract provided him with some operational and financial independence, his services to the company’s customers were marketed through the company. Also, the company’s terms enabled them to have tight administrational control over him when he was working for them. They imposed conditions on when they paid him and how much, and his ability to compete with it for plumbing work following a termination in their relationship. His contract made reference to ‘wages’, ‘gross misconduct’ and ‘dismissal’. Furthermore, he wore a branded uniform, had a tracker in his branded van and carried a company identity card.

The judge concluded that in this situation, Mr Smith was entitled to claim status as a worker.

Are you struggling with employment issues, whether as an employee or employer? We are experts in this area of the law and members of the Employment Lawyers Association (ELA). Call our Highcliffe office on 01425 275555 for more information.


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