The Supreme Court has today granted Pimlico Plumbers permission to appeal against a judgment given by the Court of Appeal in February 2017. In that judgment, the Court of Appeal found that Gary Smith, a plumber previously engaged by Pimlico, was a worker for the purposes of UK law. Pimlico has argued throughout the duration of the case – which has been running for more than six years – that Mr Smith was a self-employed contractor. The Supreme Court will now make a final determination on the issue of Mr Smith's status.
The Supreme Court's remit is to "hear appeals on arguable points of law of the greatest public importance", and Pimlico's case falls squarely into this category. Issues surrounding employment status are a current political hot topic, particularly following the publication of the Taylor Review last month. To-date, the debate has largely focused on low-paid, unskilled workers (e.g. couriers, minicab drivers) who, by virtue of their weak bargaining position, are at a real risk of being exploited by unscrupulous employers. Mr Smith however, was a highly-paid, highly-skilled tradesman, working in an industry in which self-employment is the norm. He provided his own materials for his work, chose his own working hours, paid tax on a self-employed basis, and earned large sums of money.
In arriving at a judgment in this case, the Supreme Court will therefore have to wrestle with important but difficult public policy questions about the type of worker that UK employment law is supposed to protect, and the impact such protections have on UK businesses.
The law on employment status has been somewhat confused for some time now. Working arrangements are increasingly breaking free of the traditional employer-employee relationship, largely as a result of advances in technology. When faced with such atypical working arrangements, the courts and tribunals have increasingly resorted to finding 'worker' status. This has meant that the task facing businesses and their advisers in trying to determine employment status has become daunting, and was not made any easier by the Court of Appeal's judgment in this case. It is hoped that the Supreme Court will offer clear guidance and go some way to clarifying the law in this area.
Law Society Gazette