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Legal corner: "Zero Hours" contracts; what do they mean?

Published 16 September 2013

We recently posted an article concerning "Zero Hours" contracts; a topic which has been a major topic of discussion as of late. We were concerned that much of the media coverage presented such contracts as being a means for businesses  to completely bypass people's employment rights. In this article we hope to shed more light on what it means to have/use "Zero Hours" contracts.

Key points:

  • Zero hours contracts normally mean there is no obligation for employers to offer work, or for workers to accept it.
  • Most zero hours contracts will give staff 'worker' employment status.
  • Zero hours workers have the same employment rights as regular workers, although they may have breaks in their contracts, which affect rights that accrue over time.
  • Zero hours workers are entitled to annual leave, the national minimum and pay for work-related travel in the same way as regular workers.

What are they?

The term 'zero hours' is not defined in legislation, but is generally understood to be a employment contract between an employer and a worker, which means the employer is not obliged to provide the worker with any minimum working hours, and the worker is not obliged to accept any of the hours offered.

When are zero hours contracts used ?

  •      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

Zero-hours contracts may suit some people who want occasional earnings and are able to be entirely flexible about when they work. However, the unpredictable nature of working times means that they won't be for everyone.


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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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