A zero-hour contract. The very mention of such a contract may strike fear into your heart! It seems that the news media is fixated on the downsides of zero-hour contracts and the dangers of agreeing to the terms set out in a zero-hour contract. However, as long as you (whether an employee or employer) know your rights and entitlements, these contracts can be used for good. This article will explain employer and employee rights surrounding zero-hour contract.
Zero-hour contracts explained
Zero-hour contracts are notoriously difficult to understand – at least, that’s the rumour! I am here to debunk these rumours. Firstly, let’s just explain exactly what a zero-hour contract actually is. Put simply, a zero-hour contract is a casual contract. Casual contracts essentially mean you are not expected to work a set number of hours. You can see a government summary of a zero-hours contract here.
An employer can view such staff members as being “on call” – when you need a worker, you can call them in – an employer does not have to give work to an employee as they do not work a set number of hours. An employee reserves the right to reject any offers of work an employer offers without risk of dismissal from the workplace.
Zero-hours workers are entitled to statutory annual leave and the national minimum wage. This means it is illegal to offer a zero-hours contract where hourly rate is lower than an employee would get on a regular contract. An employer has no right to stop a zero-hours worker from seeking additional or alternative employment. An employee can ignore any such clause in a zero-hours contract as it is not legally binding.
Importantly, an employer must realise they are responsible for the health and safety of staff on zero-hours contracts. They also are entitled to rest breaks from work and protection from workplace discrimination. Zero-hours contract staff are workers and should be treated as such. This is an employee’s right.
A word about the self-employed
If someone who is self employed undertakes work on a zero-hours basis with a number of clients (for example: a plumber, electrician or tutor may work for a number of individual clients) this is not a zero-hour contract. The individual is still self-employed.
Appropriate and inappropriate use of a zero-hour contract
As the UK government website explains: unexpected sickness, seasonal work and special events sites such as wedding venues may choose to give zero-hour hour contracts to staff for flexibility and where some types of work may be affected by external factors outside an employer’s control.
However, if an employer plans to offer set hours over a set period – a zero-hour contract would not be appropriate and either a part-time, full-time or fixed-term contract would be more appropriate. Employees – watch out for zero-hour contracts like this as if an employer backs out or, for some reason, no longer needs your services, you may be left without work as it is not a legal obligation for an employer to offer work under a zero-hour contract.
Good working practise
Advice for employees and employers coming up – what exactly is good practise when it comes to zero hours contracts?
- An employer must understand what employment entitlements their staff are entitled to and, vitally, pass this information on so an employee knows exactly what they are committing to
- An employer should have an idea of how they will offer work and not take advantage of the contract’s lack of obligation to offer work – the employee should also understand they can reject work if they wish
- How the contract will be terminated should be decided in advance – i.e. should it be terminated after every work task or should notice be given
- Cancelling work at late notice is unacceptable unless unavoidable. An employer should consider offering compensation for any costs incurred by an employee travelling to work only to find their work cancelled
So – I hope this article has cleared up some of the mysteries regarding zero-hours contracts. Although the media is rather negative when it comes to such contracts, remember there are definite positives to zero-hour contracts – given employer and employee understands what they are doing.
Employers – don’t take advantage of the contract and treat your zero-hours staff differently to your part-time, full-time or fixed-term staff.
Employees – realise what a zero-hours contract is, be comfortable your potential employer understands your needs and their vision for your time working with them and be aware of the risks.