The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal against the decision that Mr Smith, a plumber working for Pimlico Plumbers, is a ‘worker’ and not a self-employed contractor.
Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and Mullins v Smith  UKSC 29
Mr Smith had worked for Pimlico Plumbers (PP) for around five and a half years before PP ended the arrangement, approximately four months after Mr Smith suffered a heart attack. He was engaged as an independent contractor of PP, but he brought claims for unfair and wrongful dismissal, pay for medical suspension, holiday pay, unlawful deductions from wages and disability discrimination.
An employment tribunal decided that Mr Smith was not an employee, meaning that he could not pursue his claims for unfair and wrongful dismissal or pay for medical suspension, but held that he was a ‘worker’ for the purposes of the other claims. Both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal rejected PP’s appeals against the tribunal’s decision.
Supreme Court decision
The Supreme Court has now decided that the employment tribunal was entitled to conclude that the plumber was a worker, dismissing PP’s appeal. Mr Smith only had a limited right of substitution to another PP operative, which was not inconsistent with the obligation to provide personal service. There were a number of factors that were suggestive of ‘worker’ status, rather than Mr Smith working on his own account. These included the requirement to wear a branded uniform, drive a branded van, carry an identification card and closely follow the instructions issued by the control room. There were also references in the contractual documentation to ‘wages’, ‘gross misconduct’ and ‘dismissal’, as well as onerous restrictive covenants applying after termination. In addition, he was required to work a minimum of 40 hours per week.
This decision comes as no great surprise; few (if any) were expecting Pimlico’s appeal to succeed. As with all ‘status’ cases, the decision is highly fact specific. The court’s judgment does not provide us with any further clarity on the question of employment status and the applicable legal tests. It serves to emphasise once again the scrutiny the tribunals will apply to the terms of any contractual documentation, set against the reality of the relationship between the parties.
In the meantime, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has won the right to seek judicial review of last year’s decision by the Central Arbitration Committee that Deliveroo riders are not ‘workers’ for the purpose of seeking trade union recognition in the workplace. Deliveroo is also now reportedly being investigated by the Work and Pensions Committee as part of its inquiry into the gig economy.
This article is from the June 2018 issue of Employment Law Update, our monthly newsletter on employment legislation and regulation. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at June 2018.
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The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at June 2018.