Whilst there is a clear legal obligation on all UK employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and other third parties whilst on their premises, the area surrounding contractors was previously a very grey area in terms of establishing liability.
Whilst legislation currently states that self-employed claimants are unable to make a claim for industrial disease or illness, recent case law has certainly clarified the point when it comes to contractors and more specifically, their potential to become an ‘employee’ for the purpose of making a claim.
What’s the latest case law on the matter?
The Supreme Court recently ruled in a somewhat significant case known as Pimlico Plumbers v. Smith. This case now sets the precedent for those self-employed as contractors and certainly has potential ramifications for the gig economy, with further cases of this nature now being listed for hearing throughout the rest of the year.
This particular case explored a self-employed plumber’s legal battle for working rights following a heart attack and a subsequent request for him to reduce his working days from five down to three.
By way of background, Gary Smith had been working as a self-employed Plumbing and Heating Engineer for Pimlico Plumbers for six years when the issue first arose and this was seemingly evidenced by the fact he was VAT registered and paying tax on a self-employed basis.
Speaking prior to the ruling in the Supreme Court, Mr Mullins (the founder of London-based Pimlico Plumbers) argued that plumbers were hired on the basis that they were self-employed, provided their own materials and were paid significantly more than their employed plumbers based on the fact they had no workers’ benefits. He further argued that the case had absolutely nothing to do with the gig economy and that the claimant could not have his profession compared to an Uber driver, more specifically stating: “There is no comparison between a skilled tradesperson, like a plumber earning £150,000 a year, and a bike courier or minicab driver, struggling to make minimum wage.”
Following Mr Smith’s heart attack, the company subsequently reclaimed his branded van (which was hired) and fully claimed he had no workers’ rights.
However, when delivering the Judgment on 13th June 2018, Lord Wilson asserted that whilst Mr Smith was considered to be self-employed and was VAT registered in his own right, there was a distinct lack of control over the work given to him. Furthermore, as he was not contractually obliged to work a minimum number of hours per week and had no right to transfer his work to a subordinate, there was a certain obligation of personal performance and the Court found in Mr Smith’s favour.
How will this affect self-employed workers or contractors going forward?
The case will quite clearly have wide implications for the gig economy and certainly, the rights of independent contractors. Indeed, speaking after the ruling, the CEO of Pimlico Plumbers warned that other companies using self-employed contractors could certainly face what he described as a “… tsunami of claims” and stated that rather being a victory for poorly paid workers it was more “exploitation” by what he described as “… a highly-paid, highly-skilled man who used a loophole in current employment law to set himself up for a double pay-day.”
Furthermore, speaking on behalf of The Equality and Human Rights Commission, (who fully funded the case), their CEO agreed that: “If you wear the uniform, if you drive the branded vehicle, if you only work for one business, you are employed. That means you are entitled to the appropriate protections and adjustments which go with the job, to enable you to work safely and productively. Thousands of workers like Gary Smith could now find themselves with the added security of benefits like sick pay and holiday pay.”
It certainly seems then, that the ramifications will be felt by many who are both employed and who employ those within the gig economy as ‘workers’ will now be entitled to claim sick pay, holiday pay and other associated employee benefits, such as pensions and assistance with childcare arrangements etc. There are currently around 4.8 million subcontractors and individuals employed within the gig economy; all of whom are clearly affected by this Supreme Court ruling. The ultimate impact of this remains to be seen but in terms of being able to claim compensation, there is clearly much greater scope.
How do I find out whether I’m entitled to claim?
If you’ve suffered any type of industrial disease or injury as a result of being either self-employed or a contractor, then it’s important that you speak to one of the legal team here at Smith Jones.
Smith Jones Solicitors are renowned for being one of the UK’s personal injury specialists, not least of all due to our winning mentality and genuine dedication to providing customer excellence. But don’t just take our word for it. Why not give us a call and put us to the test? We’re pretty sure you’ll be glad you did!