Pimlico Plumbers – A Cautionary Tale

There have been a number of high profile cases in recent years relating to the rights of ‘workers’ in the ever growing gig economy – think Uber, Deliveroo, CitySprint.  However, the recent decision by the Supreme Court in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and Mullins v Smith [2018] UKSC 29 is perhaps the most significant, confirming that employers should take great care when engaging the bulk of their workforce as self-employed contractors.

English law recognises three categories of employment status.  At one end of the spectrum are employees, who are entitled to the full extent of employment law protections and rights and at the other end of the spectrum are the truly self-employed.  These individuals, who by definition, take on a substantial amount of risk in the way they choose to operate, are broadly not protected by any employment laws.

However, somewhere in the middle of employees and the truly self-employed, lies the ‘worker’.  Not quite an employee, but not genuinely self-employed either, a worker is entitled to some, but not all, of the protections of UK employment law.  Amongst other things, workers are entitled to paid annual leave, protection against unlawful deductions from wages and protection from discrimination.

In the Pimlico Plumbers case, the claimant, Mr Smith, had been a plumber with PP for over 5 years when his contract was abruptly terminated just 4 months after he suffered a heart attack.  Mr Smith issued proceedings in the Employment Tribunal claiming unfair and wrongful dismissal, entitlement to pay during medical suspension, holiday pay, unlawful deductions from wages and disability discrimination.  The case has made its way up to the highest court in England who have confirmed that notwithstanding the express contractual terms in place between the parties (which stated categorically that Mr Smith was a self-employed contractor), the nature of the relation between the parties meant that Mr Smith was in fact a ‘worker’ for employment law purposes and was therefore entitled to certain (albeit limited) employment rights in connection with the termination of his contract.

Niki Avraam, Employment Law Partner at Howat Avraam Solicitors comments:  Determining employment status is a difficult but important task for employers as this will in turn, define the level of employment law protection available to the individual.  Howat Avraam Solicitors can provide helpful guidance for business owners as to how to structure their contractual arrangements with self-employed contractors to prevent these issues arising.


Howat Avraam Solicitors provide Employment, Corporate, Commercial, Real Estate and Dispute Resolution services to companies, business owners and individuals.  As business owners ourselves, we have a pragmatic in-house approach to resolving issues before they arise, by working alongside our clients as part of their team.  We are commercial, practical and entrepreneurial in our approach to legal services.

To discuss any employment related matter with us on a no obligations basis, please contact Niki Avraam on 020 3735 6700 or email Niki at Niki.Avraam@hasolicitors.co.uk .  Alternatively, visit our website at www.howatavraamsolicitors.co.uk for more information.

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