In Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith, the Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by Pimlico Plumbers against the Court of Appeal’s decision that a plumber was not a self-employed person in business on his own account, but was a worker for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Working Time Regulations 1998, and in ‘employment’ under the Equality Act 2010. Makbool Javaid, Partner and Head of Employment Law, looks at the facts of the case and how the Supreme Court arrived at its conclusions that the dominant feature of Smith’s contract with the company was an obligation to perform work personally for Pimlico and the features of the contract which strongly counted against the argument that Smith ran his own business and actually regarded Pimlico as his customer.
Like all other challenges to employment status, this case is fact sensitive and there is no one formula or characteristic than can be said to be determinative. The case, however, puts a spotlight on a business model under which operatives are intended to appear to customers as working for the business, but the business itself seeks to maintain that the operatives are self-employed contractors in business on their own account. It provides an example of a company trying to enjoy all the benefits, including profits, from using a skilled operative, but without having any liability for an employee’s or worker’s employment rights and how the company’s strategy has been thwarted at every stage of the appellant court process.