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smile! you’re a worker

11 January 2017

Do you expect your contractors to:

  • smile
  • wear a uniform
  • work when they say that they will work
  • follow directions?

If yes, following the judgment in Dewhurst v CitySprint UK Ltd, there is a real risk that they are in fact workers within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and entitled to the protections that the legislation affords.

The Employment Tribunal considered whether the claimant, a bicycle courier, was a ‘worker’ of CitySprint as opposed to being self-employed or a ‘contractor’ (which was how she was described in the contract).

The Employment Tribunal found worker status even though:

  • in theory, CitySprint was not obliged to provide work and the claimant was under no obligation to accept it
  • the claimant could, on paper, send a substitute
  • the claimant did not get paid if she did not work.

The decision demonstrates the ability of the tribunal to look behind the paperwork, or ‘window dressing’, and determine a case on the reality of the relationship between the parties. It is also one of a number indicating a trend that is moving away from the ‘gig economy’.

Will Citysprint UK Ltd, like Uber, appeal? We will keep you updated. 

The moral of the story is that if an individual is considered to be self-employed, the reality of their relationship with the business must mirror the contractual documents drafted to give the relationship that effect. The greater the control of the business, the greater the prospect of worker or employee status. 


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