The Court of Appeal has upheld the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s (EAT) decision that the plumbers employed by Pimlico Plumbers are workers, not self-employed contractors.

Background

The agreement between Pimlico and its plumbers described the plumbers as ‘self-employed operatives’. The plumbers could choose which hours they worked, were responsible for providing their own tools and equipment, and handled their own tax and insurance. However, the company required them to wear a Pimlico Plumbers uniform, and provided them with vans which had a GPS tracker and the company logo on the side. It also stipulated a minimum number of weekly hours. There was no express term allowing the plumbers to send a substitute to carry out work on their behalf, although there was evidence that they could swap jobs with each other.

The EAT agreed with the tribunal that the plumbers were workers, but not employees. As workers, they were eligible to claim discrimination against Pimlico.

Decision

The Court of Appeal dismissed Pimlico’s appeal, accepting that the original tribunal had been entitled to look at the arrangement as a whole in determining the status of the plumbers. It found that the plumbers were ‘an integral part’ of the company’s operations, and that the company was more than simply a client or customer of the plumbers’ own individual businesses.

Comment

This case follows on from various other recent cases on employment status, including the widely publicised Aslam -v- Uber and Dewhurst -v- CitySprint. However, these judgments were tribunal decisions and not therefore binding on other courts and tribunals, whereas Pimlico is.

The Court of Appeal’s decision will make it more difficult for companies operating in the ‘gig economy’ to persuade lower level courts that the individuals they engage are genuinely self-employed. The tribunals and courts have sent a very clear message that they will look beyond any written contractual arrangement and will evaluate the reality of the situation as a whole in order to determine an individual’s status.