The Supreme Court has delivered its ruling on the landmark Pimlico Plumbers case, upholding previous decisions that an ostensibly ‘self employed’ plumber was in fact properly classified as a ‘worker’ with valuable employment rights under UK law (including discrimination protection and holiday pay). The case has been closely monitored because of its impact on organisations engaging large numbers of individuals on a self-employed basis, including those operating in the ‘gig economy’.

The case centred on the employment status of Gary Smith, a plumber who worked on a self employed basis with Pimlico for approximately six years over 2005-2011. Both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal supported Mr Smith’s position that he was a ‘worker’ with limited (but often valuable) employment rights, including holiday pay. Pimlico Plumbers appealed the case to the Supreme Court. Pimlico Plumbers has lost that appeal, with the Supreme Court supporting previous rulings that key aspects of Smith’s working conditions meant he cannot be classed as an independent self-employed contractor for employment law purposes.

In the Supreme Court’s view, the fact that Pimlico exercised tight administrative control over Smith, imposed conditions around how much it paid him and on his clothing and appearance for work, and restricted his ability to carry out similar work for competitors if he moved on from the company, all supported the conclusion that he was a ‘worker’ and not genuinely self employed. It also noted that the dominant feature of his relationship with the company was that he would do the work personally, rather than pass it on to a substitute contractor, even though he did have the option to pass work to another Pimlico operative.

Decisions on employment status are always fact sensitive and therefore the precedent impact of this case for employers in the long run is not clear cut. However, the publicity surrounding the decision is likely to lead to future challenges by ostensibly self employed individuals looking to unpick those arrangements in the event of a dispute.