Home > Employment Law > Zero Hours Contracts Explained

Zero Hours Contracts Explained

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 9 Jun 2018 | comments*Discuss
 
Zero Hours Contract Employer Employees

What are zero hour contracts? Essentially these are employment contracts with no guaranteed hours. This means that employees are not guaranteed any work by their employers (and therefore no pay).

Around 2.3% of the UK workforce has a zero hour contract and this number is rising. Zero hour contracts are also closely linked to low guaranteed hour contracts, for example those which offer less than 20 hours per week. If these were included in the statistics, the figure would be considerably higher. The number of zero hour contracts also greatly fluctuates depending upon the time of year, with peaks in mid-Summer and around Christmas.

Why are there so many zero hour contracts?

Zero hour contracts are used by many employers in order to secure flexible employees. These types of contracts are particularly popular in the catering and retail industries where the required staffing levels vary at different times of year, and on occasion at short notice. Employers only need pay employees on zero hour contracts when they are needed to work, and don't have to spend money on wages for staff that they do not need.

Zero hour contracts can also provide a benefit to those seeking flexible, occasional or part-time employment. Typically those on zero hour contracts are students, or the semi-retired. There is also a higher percentage of women, who often use zero hour contracts as a way of securing flexible working hours whilst raising young children.

Zero hour contracts are used by many large brands such as:

  • JD Wetherspoon
  • Sports Direct
  • Cineworld

(Interestingly many workers at Buckingham Palace also have zero hour contracts!)

What is the problem with zero-hour contracts?

"I work at a bar on a zero hour contract. When I started, my manager said that they could give me around 25 to 30 hours a week. That started ok, but now I don't usually get more than 20. Sometimes it's only 10 hours! What can I do?"

According to the Office for National Statistics, around a third of those on zero hour contracts want more hours. Unfortunately this can be the problem with zero hour contracts; no matter what you were told would be the approximate number of hours that you could be offered each week, your contract does not guarantee you any hours.

TIP: When signing an employment contract, make sure that you are happy to only receive the minimum number of hours on the contract. For example if your contract says that you are only guaranteed 8 hours per week, are you happy to only receive that number (and only be paid for this)?

"I am on a zero hour contract and I have been suspended with no investigation and no reason and my next week's rota has had my hours taken off me. Is this against the law?"

Zero hour contracts offer workers little stability; employers are not obliged to provide workers with any hours and so can simply choose not to give any hours, without providing a reason for this. However just because your employer has not provided a reason does not mean that you cannot ask for one - your employer may be honest with you and be able to tell you how likely it is that they will require you to work in the future on current business level predictions. If they will not likely require you to work the number of hours that you need, or do not provide a good reason for cutting your hours, it may unfortunately be time to seek new employment.

"I am on a zero hour contract and the manager decides who gets what shifts. Everyone sucks up to him all the time. I'm worried that the guard on one of our machines is loose. Should I say something? I am worried that if I cause trouble, I won't get any work."

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has raised concerns that employers can take advantage of their power to allocate working hours under zero hour contracts and use this as a management tool. This could lead to favouritism and could decrease safety in the workplace, as employees are scared of appearing to cause trouble and potentially then not receiving as many working hours/shifts as a result.

Do I really have a zero hour contract?

'My written contract does not guarantee me any work hours, but for the last 6 months, I've worked regular shifts - 9 to 5 Monday to Thursday, 8 to 4 Friday. Is this a zero hour contract?'

The Employment Appeals Tribunal in Pulse Healthcare Ltd v Carewatch Care Services Ltd & Ors (2012) determined that employment contracts must reflect the true nature of the employment. Zero hour contracts are meant to be a casual arrangement to enable employers to cater for changing levels of demand. However if a worker on a zero hour contract regularly works the same hours, then their employment contract reflects this, regardless of what their written contract states.

Having worked the same regular shifts for 6 months, it is likely that your true employment contract is not a zero hour contract. A regular hour employment contract gives you greater statutory employment rights than a zero hour contract.

"I have been working for a company on a zero hour contract for the last 3 years, working at least 35 hours a week. I have been offered a better job elsewhere but could take up to three months to start, because of the relationship I have with my managers I thought I would let them know I would be leaving to give them plenty of notice but not formally hand in my notice. I have now been told this morning that they want me gone at the end of May even though my start date for my new job isn't until the 1st July, which will mean I will be out of a job for 1 month without any pay. Is there anything I can do?"

If you are on a zero hour contract, then the company is entitled to reduce your hours to zero throughout June, as they are not obliged to provide you with any working hours. (The exception would be if they were discriminating against you for a "protected" reason, such as your gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation. It does not seem that that is the case here; it seems that they are more upset that you are leaving.)The main question here seems to be whether you are in reality still on a zero hours contract, despite what the written document states. If you have had a regular working pattern, working the same days and hours for the last three years, then you would have a reasonable argument to say that you in fact have a regular hours contract and so are entitled to a minimum number of hours until your notice period expires. If you wish to pursue this route, it may be worth consulting an employment lawyer or your local Citizens Advice Bureau for assistance.

Rights for those with a zero hour contract

Workers on a zero hour contract have the following employment rights:

"I'm on zero hours contract and some weeks get very few hours. Other weeks my employers send me a rota with say 40 hours on it then ring me during the week to add more hours, they say I can't refuse to do them. I thought zero hours contracts worth both ways; they don't have to give me any hours and I don't have to work all the hours offered."

(1) Workers cannot be forced to only work for one employer during this period and may refuse work offered. You are not therefore obliged to accept all the additional hours offered.

(2) Workers are entitled to be paid for the hours that they have worked, travelling time (if this is part of the job as opposed to getting to the job - eg a carer travelling from one appointment to another) and for any time spent on call.

"I'm on zero hours contract, I tile kitchens for a housing association, if I'm in the middle of one job does my employer have the right to terminate that job to send me to another which they have agreed a time with the tenant without consulting me about that time before agreeing it, this is despite the fact that I won't get paid for the job I'm on until it is finished, I don't get paid by the hour, I get paid a price for each job."

You are entitled to be paid for all the work that you have carried out within a reasonable amount of time. As your agreement is that payment is due upon completion of a job, this will be within a reasonable amount of time from the date of completion. Your employer is entitled to move you from job to job, or even no longer require you to complete a job, but must pay you for work done. As on your payment agreement, this disrupts your cash flow, you may be best to speak to your employer to agree what happens in that situation. For example if they require you to prioritise another job before completing your current one, are they willing to pay you part of the cost of the completed works to reflect the work carried out up to that point? They may have genuine reasons why other jobs need to be prioritised and just simply not thought about the impact of this in light of your current payment arrangements.

(3) Zero hour workers are entitled to statutory annual leave and national minimum wage in the same way as regular workers.

(4) Zero hour workers are still entitled to work in a safe environment, in the same way as any other worker.

Most zero hour contracts will give staff "worker" employment status. These workers have generally the same employment rights as regular hour workers, although breaks in the hours worked (for example if you are not required to work at all for a period 3 weeks) may affect rights that accrue over time. A full calendar week without work from Sunday to Saturday is required to create a break in employment.

(5) Zero hour workers are entitled to holiday pay. Where there is no break in employment, the worker should arrange with their employer when annual leave is taken. If there are periodic breaks in employment, the worker should receive payment for any accrued annual leave which has not been taken.If you consider that your employment rights have been breached, you should:

  1. Speak to your employer. (It may be that they have not realised there has been a breach and will immediately take steps to remedy the situation going forwards.)
  2. If your employer is not receptive to your concerns, instigate the company's grievance procedure.
  3. If you remain unhappy, notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) of your concerns.

Acas
Telephone: 0300 123 1100
Textphone: 18001 030 0123 1100
Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm
Saturday, 9am to 1pm

If you are unable to resolve the issue via the Acas conciliation process, you may be able to refer the matter to The Employment Tribunal. It is however always best to seek legal advice from an employment law specialist or your local Citizens Advice Bureau before progressing down this route.

For any queries about your employment contract or rights, you can seek free and independent legal advice from Citizens Advice Bureau: for Wales call 03444 77 20 20for England call 03444 111 444

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[Add a Comment]
Irideforlife- Your Question:
I work for a social care company. That is three thing to refuse to pay staff if a timesheet is not given in by day 2 of the next working week. Is this lawful and what can I quote to the employer?

Our Response:
If you don't submit a timesheet, your employer cannot work out what you're due to be paid in time for the pay run. Your employer may have to pay what you're owed on the next pay day. See what your contract of employment says about timesheet submission.
SafeWorkers - 13-Jun-18 @ 2:44 PM
I work for a social care company. That is three thing to refuse to pay staff if a timesheet is not given in by day 2 of the next working week. Is this lawful and what can I quote to the employer?
Irideforlife - 9-Jun-18 @ 11:15 PM
TL - Your Question:
I’m on a 0 hour contract and have been for over 4 years, we have set jobs for the same customers each week and tend to work the same hours each week. So unless on holiday I have hours without fail. My query is, I work 5/6 days a week and it’s cutting into my family life, if I want to cut my days down, how can I go about it and have I the rights to do so?

Our Response:
You need to establish whether you're still on a true zero hours contract.Zero hour contracts are meant to be a casual arrangement to enable employers to cater for changing levels of demand. However if a worker on a zero hour contract regularly works the same hours, then their employment contract reflects this, regardless of what their written contract states. Talk to your employer about this. If you can negotiate a contract with a few hours, so much the better. If not and it's a true zero hours contract, you can choose whether to accept or refuse work offered. So just inform your employer that you will only accept work offered on certain days.
SafeWorkers - 1-Jun-18 @ 12:09 PM
I’m on a 0 hour contract and have been for over 4 years, we have set jobs for the same customers each week and tend to work the same hours each week. So unless on holiday I have hours without fail. My query is, I work 5/6 days a week and it’s cutting into my family life, if I want to cut my days down, how can I go about it and have I the rights to do so?
TL - 31-May-18 @ 8:48 AM
Do I have any rights as a zero hour co tract worker when I am being bullied at work. Someone has taken a dislike to me and threatened to make sure I don’t keep my job for long- what rights do I have ?
Robin - 29-May-18 @ 7:29 PM
I am employed as casual labour in telephone market research. We now have to provide days available for work a month in advance, we are now told if we cancel more than 3 times in a month we must make the lost hours up or our days left to work in the month will be cancelled. We have just had an email to say if we do not achieve a successful interview before 11.30 am we will be sent home. None of these rules are in the new contract I signed today and I have worked for this Company for 2 years. Are these rules legal?
Rainyroo - 24-May-18 @ 9:28 PM
If i leave work early on 0 hour contract when no time is set on my contract, can I be given a disciplinary?
Dapperdan - 24-May-18 @ 2:04 PM
If I was to leave work early on a 0 hour contract can I be disciplined? No start or finish time is stated on my contract. I often stay on when needed and assumed it would work both ways. If I receive a disciplinary over it, is there anything I can do?
Dapperdan - 24-May-18 @ 12:15 PM
Charlie2402 - Your Question:
I was employed by a business who told me I’d be full time, I was never told I would be on a zero hour contract until weeks after I started working there. I was emailed my contract but I have not signed it. Can the business get in trouble for not informing me I was on a zero hour contract and what are my rights?

Our Response:
Do you have an offer letter? Did you ask about the status of the job when you were interviewed? How was the job advertised? If you supply more information me may be able to give better advice.
SafeWorkers - 23-May-18 @ 12:42 PM
I was employed by a business who told me I’d be full time, I was never told I would be on a zero hour contract until weeks after I started working there. I was emailed my contract but I have not signed it. Can the business get in trouble for not informing me I was on a zero hour contract and what are my rights?
Charlie2402 - 21-May-18 @ 4:07 PM
Chrissy - Your Question:
My average hours are normally 44 to 66 hours alternative weeks 0 hour contract I Had fixed ROTA until I went on holiday Received no fixed ROTA since Return was on permanent run since 17 January 2017Had crash in company car as a passenger not drivers fault hit for the rear.1.5.18 They said I have a tear of my supraspinatus ROTA cuff muscle and have a raised trapezius. So was unable to work bank holiday asked to be able to return 10.5.18No run sent then given one shift on Saturday 12/5/18And 3 runs for the following week No ROTA I completed then but received no further ROTA called Office to ask where my ROTA Was to be called back to be told by head of operations that after talking to people he could only offer me Ad hoc runs and had nothing for me for the week ahead I have worked tirelessly since I started With them weather it is because I took holiday or had car accident I’m not aware I realise I work under a 0 hour contact but I have stuck to a fixed ROTA for over a year Not like others who give there availability and then given work accordingly what can I do?

Our Response:
As you say, you are on a zero hours contract so your employer can offer you work when they choose. If you have worked the same hours for over year, you can question your contract and whether it is in fact a standard employment contract. Please read the above guide for more information.
SafeWorkers - 21-May-18 @ 11:30 AM
My average hours are normally 44 to 66 hours alternative weeks 0 hour contract I Had fixed ROTA until I went on holiday Received no fixed ROTA since Return was on permanent run since 17 January 2017 Had crash in company car as a passenger not drivers fault hit for the rear.1.5.18 They said I have a tear of my supraspinatusROTA cuff muscle and have a raised trapezius. So was unable to work bank holiday asked to be able to return 10.5.18 No run sent then given one shift on Saturday 12/5/18 And 3 runs for the following week No ROTA I completed then but received no further ROTA called Office to ask where my ROTA Was to be called back to be told by head of operations that after talking to people he could only offer me Ad hoc runs and had nothing for me for the week ahead I have worked tirelessly since I started With them weather it is because I took holiday or had car accident I’m not aware I realise I work under a 0 hour contact but I have stuck to a fixed ROTA for over a year Not like others who give there availability and then given work accordinglywhat can I do?
Chrissy - 19-May-18 @ 6:49 AM
workingGurl - Your Question:
I'm 16 and working a part time job which is a 0 hours contract. I recently got sent an email telling me I'm obligated to work during the may half term even though I will be mid gcse's and need the time to revise. Can I turn down any extra hours the try and give me other than the ones that I've said are okay? I am also definitely working over the legal hours on some days as I am often scheduled work a day of 9:30-6:00 but will end up having to work later, should I do anything?

Our Response:
If you're on a true zero hours contract, you only have to work hours that you want to. Similarly however, your employer can choose whether or not to offer you any hours. Your employer must still make sure they adhere to the rules about young workers etc.
SafeWorkers - 14-May-18 @ 11:34 AM
I'm 16 and working a part time job which is a 0 hours contract. I recently got sent an email telling me i'm obligated to work during the may half term even though I will be mid gcse's and need the time to revise. Can I turn down any extra hours the try and give me other than the ones that I've said are okay? I am also definitely working over the legal hours on some days as i am often scheduled work a day of 9:30-6:00 but will end up having to work later, should i do anything?
workingGurl - 13-May-18 @ 1:40 PM
Sara Jane - Your Question:
Hi, I am a seasonal worker, aged 60, and have no paper contract. I was told hours would vary and increase as the season got busier. I'm averaging about 11 hours a week (3 shifts) and I'm ok with that. The problem we all have is sometimes the owner will come in when the store is quiet and demand that the Manager cancels our shifts and sends us home or calls us 30 minutes before our shift and cancels it. It drives the Manager mad because of course it often gets busy again.This means we have set time aside, washed uniforms etc and travelled in for the princely sum of 1 hour at NMW. For some, they have arranged childcare too.We have never been told it is a zero hours arrangement but not been told there is a minimum number of hours either. I work the least hours out of the team.Please could you clarify the legal position on this if possible.

Our Response:
Ask for a copy of your contract or for details of whether it's a zero hours contract. Even if it's a zero hours contract, once you've been asked to undertake shift and agreed to work it, you should be allowed to do so.
SafeWorkers - 8-May-18 @ 10:12 AM
Hi, I am a seasonal worker, aged 60, and have no paper contract.I was told hours would vary and increase as the season got busier.I'm averaging about 11 hours a week (3 shifts) and I'm ok with that. The problem we all have is sometimes the owner will come in when the store is quiet and demand that the Manager cancels our shifts and sends us home or calls us 30 minutes before our shift and cancels it. It drives the Manager mad because of course it often gets busy again. This means we have set time aside, washed uniforms etc and travelled in for the princely sum of 1 hour at NMW.For some, they have arranged childcare too. We have never been told it is a zero hours arrangement but not been told there is a minimum number of hours either.I work the least hours out of the team. Please could you clarify the legal position on this if possible.
Sara Jane - 5-May-18 @ 1:03 AM
rellie- Your Question:
I can but there is not enough time to fit any in, by the time I get to their house I would only have half an hour to do a treatment, pack up and get back to work. I’ve been told to read the policies in between treatments for which they will give me a half hour payment when all are read and signed for. There is at least seven hours reading there.

Our Response:
If your employer chooses to work this way they are not doing anything wrong, especially if they are finding the appointments for you and you're using their salon etc. If you want consecutive appointments ask them about it and see if they will negotiate different terms.
SafeWorkers - 30-Apr-18 @ 3:00 PM
I can but there is not enough time to fit any in, by the time I get to their house I would only have half an hour to do a treatment, pack up and get back to work. I’ve been told to read the policies in between treatments for which they will give me a half hour payment when all are read and signed for. There is at least seven hours reading there.
rellie - 28-Apr-18 @ 7:00 PM
Rellie - Your Question:
I work in a zero hours giving beauty treatments. I get hourly appointments each week but sometimes there are gaps in between. One day I had three appointments with one at 9.30 and one at 12.00, one at 2.30 and this is an extreme of the gaps I have. I don’t get paid for the gaps and only earn three hours pay for 6 hours work in this way. Is this legal?

Our Response:
You're not working in between the treatments. Are you allowed to go elsewhere during that time to work with other clients?
SafeWorkers - 27-Apr-18 @ 10:55 AM
CharleyHarley16 - Your Question:
I have worked for a college since March 2015. Each year I have been given a casual contract (no hours attached) which runs from September- end June. I anticipate I will be invited to return in September 2018, however in March 2019 I believe I will be eligible for a permanent contract. Firstly, is this correct and secondly will I be eligible for permanent hours or will they be zero? (Over the past 3 years I have averaged over 20 hours per week.)

Our Response:
This depends whether there is any agreement in place, here's the government advice:
"Any employee on fixed-term contracts for 4 or more years will automatically become a permanent employee, unless the employer can show there is a good business reason not to do so.
However, an employer and unions (or a staff association) may make a collective agreement that removes the automatic right to become a permanent employee in these circumstances."
SafeWorkers - 27-Apr-18 @ 10:14 AM
I work in a zero hours giving beauty treatments. I get hourly appointments each week but sometimes there are gaps in between. One day I had three appointments with one at 9.30 and one at 12.00, one at 2.30 and this is an extreme of the gaps I have. I don’t get paid for the gaps and only earn three hours pay for 6 hours work in this way. Is this legal?
Rellie - 24-Apr-18 @ 1:15 PM
I have worked for a college since March 2015.Each year I have been given a casual contract (no hours attached) which runs from September- end June.I anticipate I will be invited to return in September 2018, however in March 2019 I believe I will be eligible for a permanent contract.Firstly, is this correct and secondly will I be eligible for permanent hours or will they be zero?(Over the past 3 years I have averaged over 20 hours per week.)
CharleyHarley16 - 24-Apr-18 @ 11:07 AM
Kaza - Your Question:
Im semi retired and have just been offered a zero hour contract, the weeks that I don't have any work , can I claim any sort of financial help

Our Response:
It's unlikely that you'll be able to claim job seekers allowance if you choose this means of working. If you want to do zero hours working, it might be better that you look at several different employers offering zero hours work, so that you can "fill in" the gaps more easily. You may be able to claim housing benefits....take a look at the Turn2Us benefits calculator
SafeWorkers - 24-Apr-18 @ 10:17 AM
Im semi retired and have just been offereda zero hour contract,the weeks that i don't have anywork ,can i claim any sort of financial help
Kaza - 23-Apr-18 @ 1:30 AM
I am on a 12 hour contract but every week am in at least 20 plus even 30 hours ! Do I have do do this ?
Danni - 14-Apr-18 @ 3:04 AM
I have worked a year with regular hours 6mths days 0700 to 1400 3days one week 4 the next and the last 6mths of which spent on nights following a pattern 36 hours every week.... now been told no work for the part time staff as want fulltime... now this is 0hour I have been forced into working a "pattern" sale 000to0800 every shift and 3 shifts is this not employment status?
Kim - 7-Apr-18 @ 5:52 PM
i work a zero hour contract, im sure i am not required to work a month in hand before getting paid? can you confirm this please?
Gary - 29-Mar-18 @ 7:21 PM
Jaina365- Your Question:
I work zero hour contract, I need to know howmuch I earn per annum, my company said, since I am on zero hour contract, o cant be issued one. My estate agent want to know, if it is enough, because I want to move to a new home.

Our Response:
If you are on a zero hour contract, the employer can choose when to offer you work and you can choose when to accept it. It would therefore be impossible for an employer to provide a statement of your annual income. You may be able to provide copies of your wage slips etc
SafeWorkers - 26-Mar-18 @ 3:45 PM
Jaz - Your Question:
Hi, I currently work in the healthcare industry. On a zero hour contract and have no paper contract. I was not notified until asked what holidays I had left. I work every week on a part time basis. I have accrued holiday and have asked for holiday as it’s close to the end of the holiday year. My request was 4 days, I gave notice of 11 days before. It was declined and my employer states I need to give 6 weeks notice and that will be after the holiday year end. So I have been told I will lose my holiday and not be paid. Is this correct? Many thanks Jaz

Our Response:
You need to contact ACAS about this for advice. It sounds as though you may have employee status rather than zero hours status, in which case your employer is duty bound to provide you with a contract (at the very minimum a written statement of particulars within two months of your starting work).
SafeWorkers - 26-Mar-18 @ 12:02 PM
I work zero hour contract, i need to know howmuchi earn per annum, my company said, since i am on zero hour contract, o cant be issued one.My estate agent want to know, if it is enough, because i want to move to a new home.
Jaina365 - 23-Mar-18 @ 11:34 PM
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