UK Supreme Court Upholds Plumber’s Claim in Key Gig Economy Case

UK Supreme Court Upholds Plumber’s Claim in Key Gig Economy Case

UK plumber Gary Smith has won his case against his former employer Pimlico Plumbers in the Supreme Court, which rejected the company’s contention that Smith had been self-employed and upheld his claim to basic workers’ rights like paid leave, Jo Faragher reports at Personnel Today:

Smith’s case against Pimlico Plumbers, which has been running since 2011, is the latest in a long line of legal challenges on employment status, and “is in line with a number of recent decisions relating to gig economy workers”, according to Jeremy Coy, an associate in the employment team at law firm Russell-Cooke.

He said: “The judgment of the UK’s highest court underlines the point that simply labelling workers ‘self-employed’ does not guarantee the corresponding legal status. The nature of the relationship and the degree of bargaining power and obligation between the parties is crucial in determining workers’ rights.”

Smith had prevailed in the Court of Appeal last year, but Pimlico challenged that ruling in the high court, which took up the case in February. The company considered Smith a self-employed independent contractor, and he was described as such in his agreement with Pimlico and in his tax filings. Smith did not claim to be an “employee” of the company, but rather a “worker”—a designation specific to UK law that falls between “employee” and “contractor” and entitles an individual to certain rights like a minimum wage and paid annual leave. The Court of Appeal had ruled in Smith’s favor largely on the basis that his contract with Pimlico required him to provide his services personally, such that he could not re-subcontract the work out to someone else.

In ruling for Smith, however, the Supreme Court stressed that its decision rested on the unique facts of the case and did not establish any new legal guidelines for employers to follow in determining whether they could safely classify workers as self-employed, much to the dismay of UK employers and their attorneys:

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UK Supreme Court Hears Plumber’s Gig Economy Case

UK Supreme Court Hears Plumber’s Gig Economy Case

A year ago, UK plumber Gary Smith won a case in the Court of Appeal against Pimlico Plumbers, where he had worked for six years and from which he contended he was unfairly dismissed after seeking to reduce his hours. Pimlico considered Smith a self-employed independent contractor and contended it had no obligations to him as an employee. The Court of Appeal accepted that he was not an employee, but ruled that he was properly classified as a worker, entitling him to some (but not all) the rights enjoyed by regular employees, such as holiday and sick pay.

The company chose to appeal that ruling further, and on Tuesday, the UK Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the case, the BBC reports:

The case hinges on the distinction between Mr Smith’s status as either a self-employed contractor, or a worker for the company. He was VAT-registered and paying tax on a self-employed basis, but worked solely for Pimlico Plumbers. After he suffered a heart attack in 2010, Mr Smith, from Kent, wanted to work three days a week rather than five. Pimlico refused his request and took away his branded van, which he had hired. He claims he was dismissed. …

[Charlie] Mullins, the founder of London-based Pimlico Plumbers, says that plumbers were hired on the basis that they were self-employed, provided their own materials and did not have workers’ benefits, but were paid significantly more as a result. He argues that the case has nothing to do with the gig economy and that Mr Smith is not in the same as an Uber driver.

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