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Ask the Experts: Zero Hours Contracts

Question: What is a Zero hours contract?

A zero hours contract is generally understood to be a contract between an employer and a worker where:

  • The employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, and
  • The worker is not obliged to accept any work offered.

What has changed?

On 26 May 2015, new regulations about zero hours contracts were brought in. The law prevents employers from enforcing 'exclusivity clauses' in a zero hours contract.  An exclusivity clause would be where an employer restricts workers from working for other employers. 

Whilst there is currently no way of taking action against employers the Government has indicated that intends to introduce ways to enforce protection for zero hours contract workers

How do I know if I should be using a zero hours contract?

Zero hours' contracts can be used to provide a flexible workforce to meet a temporary or changeable need for staff. Examples may include a need for workers to cover:

  • Unexpected or last-minute events (e.g. a restaurant needs extra staff to cater for a wedding party that just had their original venue cancel on them)
  • Temporary staff shortages (e.g. an office loses an essential specialist worker for a few weeks due to bereavement)
  • On-call/bank work (e.g. one of the clients of a care-worker company requires extra care for a short period of time).

It is important for employers to actively monitor their need for zero hours contracts. In many cases, it may be more effective or appropriate to make use of agency workers, or recruit staff on fixed-term contracts - or it may turn out that the need is permanent and therefore a permanent member of staff can be recruited.

Does that mean that if I employ someone on a zero hours contract they are not an employee?

Yes.  However a “worker” is still entitlement to statutory employment rights and protection.

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