Plumber Wins Workers' Rights Battle

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The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by plumbing company Pimlico Plumbers in a decision that, whilst having wide implications for workers’ rights, is in line with other recent cases focusing on employment status (e.g. the cases involving Uber, and Addison Lee delivery staff).

Giving the lead judgment this morning in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith, Lord Wilson upheld judgments from the employment tribunal and the Court of Appeal. The decision clarified that plumber Gary Smith’s work for the company met the definition of ’employment’ under section 83(2)(a) of the Equality Act.  This means that Mr Smith is entitled to go forward with his claim that his dismissal was unfair and therefore discriminatory.

Lord Wilson also said that Mr Smith should be considered as a ‘limb (b) worker’ and therefore entitled to certain rights. So called ‘workers’ do not enjoy the full range of employment protection rights that full-time staff do but are entitled to elements including holiday pay.

During his time at Pimlico Plumbers, Mr Smith paid tax on a self-employed basis though he worked solely for Pimlico; was required to wear the company uniform; rented a branded van and was required to work a minimum number of weekly hours. However, he could choose when he worked and which jobs he took. He was required to provide his own tools and equipment and could provide a substitute - although the substitute also had to be a Pimlico Plumber.

After a heart attack in 2010 Smith wanted to work three days a week rather than five. Pimlico refused his request and took away the van.

An employment tribunal ruled that Smith was a worker, but not an employee. Pimlico appealed that decision but both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal backed the tribunal’s finding and now has gone further in terms of his rights under the Equality Act.

This case, and the other worker cases, has been closely watched by those companies who operate in the so-called ‘gig-economy’ and whose business case is dependent on having a self-employed workforce.   The doubts regarding employment status that this decision fosters will not doubt cause further concern for these companies.

For legal advice on your organisation's policies or any issues relating to workers' rights, please contact the Starford team on 01342 347063 or email