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Gig economy/worker status

Worker Status and the Gig Economy

The way we all (both businesses and individuals) think about work is changing. A combination of new technology, business pressures and changing social norms is re-configuring the traditional employer-employee relationship. Cue the ‘gig-economy’, a labour market characterised by short-term contracts, discreet jobs and/or freelance work, often found via online platforms or other intermediaries. However, with flexibility and informality comes lack of clarity and exposure.

In a short space of time we have gathered unparalleled experience acting for both businesses and individuals, resolving confusion around worker status, the distinction between employees, workers and the self-employed, and the subsequent complexities regarding day-to-day operations and entitlement to protections.

We have, in fact, acted in the two leading disputes involving worker status. In the Supreme Court’s ground-breaking decision on the subject (in an LLP and whistleblowing context) we represented the successful claimant Clyde & Co LLP and another v Bates van Winkelhof. Meanwhile, we continue to act for the respondent in the ongoing Supreme Court case of Pimlico Plumbers and Mullins v Smith, again to clarify the distinction between worker and self-employed status in terms of day-to-day operations and entitlement to protections (the contentious issue of holiday rights and pay is now due to be heard by the Employment Appeal Tribunal).

By teaming our employment lawyers with our tax lawyers, we are putting in place strategies to balance the operational needs of a business with the flexibility, protections and entitlements expected by a modern workforce. We are also quick to involve our reputation protection team to proactively manage clients' reputations, and deal with any fallout quickly and effectively.

Key Experience

  • Pimlico Plumbers v Smith: we act for Pimlico Plumbers in claims brought against it by one of its engineers.  Pimlico Plumbers considered the engineer to be self-employed whilst the engineer claimed to be an employee. We successfully defeated the claim for employment but the issue of whether or not Mr Smith is a worker was determined by the UK Supreme Court in February 2018. This is currently the highest authority on the issue of employment status in the "gig economy". We successfully defended Pimlico Plumbers in relation to all substantive claims brought. The Claimant has appealed those decisions. Those appeals, including on the thorny issue of holiday pay, are due to be heard by the Employment Appeal Tribunal this year.
  • We acted in Clyde & Co LLP and another v Krista Bates van Winkelhof [2011] IRLR 467 (HC), a case which has established that an LLP cannot use an arbitration clause to prevent a member from pursuing claims in the Employment Tribunal. The Supreme Court found Krista Bates van Winkelhof was a worker for the purposes of whistleblowing legislation and as such could bring her claim in the Employment Tribunal.
  • We provide strategic advice to a range of businesses, from start-ups to multinationals, on navigating the employment and tax issues presented by the gig economy and putting measures in place to help safeguard business whilst protecting those who work within it.
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