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Employment Case Law Update: Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and Mullins v Smith

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In Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and Mullins v Smith the Court of Appeal has upheld the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision that a plumber was a worker for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996).

Mr Smith was engaged by Pimlico Plumbers as a plumber for around five and a half years. The company then terminated its relationship with him around four months after he suffered a heart attack. In response to this, Mr Smith commenced proceedings in the employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal, holiday pay, disability discrimination and unlawful deduction from wages.

The Employment Tribunal had to decide whether Mr Smith was an employee for the purposes of the ERA 1996 or a worker. It looked at certain documentation which stated Mr Smith was an independent contractor of the company and under no obligation to accept work. The tribunal considered that within the contractual documentation Mr Smith was subject to restrictive covenants including one which prevented him from being a plumber in the Greater London area for three months following termination.

The tribunal considered it important that Mr Smith was required to wear a uniform and drive a company branded van. On these facts the tribunal decided that he did not have employment status but did have worker status.

Pimlico Plumbers appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal but this was rejected. They then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal dismissed this appeal. The court noted that whether an individual is required to provide personal service turns entirely on the terms of the contract. In this case the court stated that the written terms were clear and that they required only personal service. The court agreed with the employment tribunal that there was a degree of control exercised by the company which was inconsistent with being a client or customer of a business run by Mr Smith.

This case is interesting as it comes in a long line of cases which are determining worker status. Recent decisions such as Uber and CitySprint have come to a similar conclusion as this case. Employers must be aware, though, that this case is fact sensitive and therefore may not be an authority to rely upon. This case is however persuasive in determining that a limited degree of control could be determinative of worker status. Employers should be mindful of this when engaging self-employed contractors.



This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.