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Zero Hours Contracts Explained

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 9 Dec 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]
I have been on a zero hour contract for the last three years. The business was taken over in June and I lost an hour a day. I have always worked 8.15 - 5.15 mon-frid. Then in Nov I lost two days so now only do 3 days shorter hours. Someone else has been brought in to do my job the two days I lost. Have I any say as its zero hours. Our holiday pay is also added on to our hourly rate.
Faff - 9-Dec-18 @ 2:17 PM
Hi, I have a zero hour contract with a sports clothing brand in the UK. My hours are given to me by the manager and then confirmed on an online timetable. My hours for this week were around 35 and I was very happy with this. However today I went to my online timetable and my hours has all disappeared and I wasn't in at all. This was only changed on the day I was working. I phoned up and asked to clarify what days I was working as I was initially working at 3pm today but the supervisor said "everyone complained so the hours were changed and now you aren't in at all. I said that I wanted to speak to the manager about it all but have to wait til she is in later to discuss. Is it legal to change someone's shift in such short notice just cause you have a zero hour contract?
Aaron - 26-Nov-18 @ 2:41 PM
Is a zero hours conract worker entitled to overtime if they work more than 8 hrs per shift and/or weekends and into early hours of morning - catering industry? Thanks.
Jools - 24-Nov-18 @ 12:32 PM
hey, my manager keeps changing the hours on the rota at work. an i've missed a few shifts because I've not looked at the rota after i've recorded my hours. there is a sign that says rota is subject to change. but i would assume that they would have to discuss a change in hours with you before doing so. i work 30hours in customer services and do shifts that do change weekly
Ben - 11-Nov-18 @ 7:43 PM
Hi I am working on a full time 8hr contract for the last 3yrs but over that time i have got full time hours from time to time which was fine, But now my circumstances have changed and can only be available for 4 days but my employer has told my I have to be availible for 5days or I am out.. Can he force me out of the job?
ALLY22 - 11-Nov-18 @ 1:21 AM
I work for one of the UK's largest retailers on a zero hour contract. I love my job but occasionally I have had to call in sick for myself but also for the care of my 3 children who also get sick from time to time. I contacted my manager about not being able to work a shift due to my own illness and have been threatened with "discussion" about fulfilling company requirements. Is it right for him to do that? I love my job and the people I work with however I'm afraid to take any time off for fear of losing the job
Phil - 19-Oct-18 @ 12:04 PM
am a carer and on a o hour contract but have been told i cant have any time off between 15th of december and 5th of januaryhave always had time off but new manager will not allow are they able to do this
froggie - 15-Oct-18 @ 5:37 PM
Been working in care home 15 yrs, chose 3 yrs ago to step down as head chef, and work as Bank. Have been doing 20-25 hrs a week since 2015, change of management last summer, told head chef no bank, laid me off. Checked with our Head office HR/OPS director, no knowledge of this, and confirmed I'm still on payroll. And would be offered sickness and annual leave cover. Apparently the Manager had directed the head chef to five me no hours.. Had no work since March this year. Is this a redundancy or unfair treatment /dismissal situation? I'd appreciate advice on how I should proceed
ACA - 4-Oct-18 @ 12:26 PM
Hi I work in a small village ‘club/pub’ where I am on a zero hour contract (I think). Up until now I have been paid on a weekly basis. However, on Friday just gone (28 Sept) we received a letter with our wage slips stating that “please be advised that today will be the last day of weekly pay”. They are giving us an “interim payment” on the 12th Oct, then the next ‘monthly’ payment will be the 26th Oct and so on. Are they not required by law to give us notice?This was the first we had heard about it, as such no notice was given. I have been working a minimum of 10 - 16 hours for about the last 3 1/2 years. My most recent contract says “will be paid weekly, usually on a Monday”. Nothing in the contract re the above issue. There have been no discussions re: the above matter and we have not been presented with new contracts. Can anyone please help, or point me in the right direction on where to look? Thanks in advance ??
Sambo - 30-Sep-18 @ 10:39 PM
Hi My partner called in sick at work yesterday and today but now been told they’re not sure if he’s still got a job and they put the phone down on him. He’s on a zero hour contract and has been for 4 years? He works in construction as a labourer/semi skilled tiler. Are they able to sack him without written warning or verbal warnings? Thanks
DD - 26-Sep-18 @ 11:06 AM
I have worked for my current employer as a home care for the last 7 months on a zero hour contract. Recently I was asked to go into office for a meeting. I asked to phone the union and was told the meeting was informal. Their were allegations made that I had offered a babysitting service to a service user and encouraged a member of staff to falsify times in a client log book. Both un true. I suffer from anxiety and depression which I declared on my application for although not a concern as I am aware of triggers and it is well managed. This meeting was done 2 days before I left the country on annual leave. Whilst away my anxiety because of the situation and the unknown ruined my holiday and subsequently saw me in the doctors surgery on my return. I was/am signed off. This morning inrecieved a letter dismissing me with gross misconduct for an unauthorised absence. Encouraging a member of staff to falsify documents. And offering a babysitting service. Gross misconduct is marked on my pvg meaning I will never work in care again. All based on false allegations with no proof and no disaplinary procedure. Anxiety is now through the roof can they do that?
AlanaT70 - 22-Sep-18 @ 6:49 PM
I have worked for my current employer as a home care for the last 7 months on a zero hour contract. Recently I was asked to go into office for a meeting. I asked to phone the union and was told the meeting was informal. Their were allegations made that I had offered a babysitting service to a service user and encouraged a member of staff to falsify times in a client log book. Both un true. I suffer from anxiety and depression which I declared on my application for although not a concern as I am aware of triggers and it is well managed. This meeting was done 2 days before I left the country on annual leave. Whilst away my anxiety because of the situation and the unknown ruined my holiday and subsequently saw me in the doctors surgery on my return. I was/am signed off. This morning inrecieved a letter dismissing me with gross misconduct for an unauthorised absence. Encouraging a member of staff to falsify documents. And offering a babysitting service. Gross misconduct is marked on my pvg meaning I will never work in care again. All based on false allegations with no proof and no disaplinary procedure. Anxiety is now through the roof can they do that?
AlanaT70 - 22-Sep-18 @ 6:46 PM
I have worked for my current employer as a home care for the last 7 months on a zero hour contract. Recently I was asked to go into office for a meeting. I asked to phone the union and was told the meeting was informal. Their were allegations made that I had offered a babysitting service to a service user and encouraged a member of staff to falsify times in a client log book. Both un true. I suffer from anxiety and depression which I declared on my application for although not a concern as I am aware of triggers and it is well managed. This meeting was done 2 days before I left the country on annual leave. Whilst away my anxiety because of the situation and the unknown ruined my holiday and subsequently saw me in the doctors surgery on my return. I was/am signed off. This morning inrecieved a letter dismissing me with gross misconduct for an unauthorised absence. Encouraging a member of staff to falsify documents. And offering a babysitting service. Gross misconduct is marked on my pvg meaning I will never work in care again. All based on false allegations with no proof and no disaplinary procedure. Anxiety is now through the roof can they do that?
AlanaT70 - 22-Sep-18 @ 6:44 PM
I have worked for my current employer as a home care for the last 7 months on a zero hour contract. Recently I was asked to go into office for a meeting. I asked to phone the union and was told the meeting was informal. Their were allegations made that I had offered a babysitting service to a service user and encouraged a member of staff to falsify times in a client log book. Both un true. I suffer from anxiety and depression which I declared on my application for although not a concern as I am aware of triggers and it is well managed. This meeting was done 2 days before I left the country on annual leave. Whilst away my anxiety because of the situation and the unknown ruined my holiday and subsequently saw me in the doctors surgery on my return. I was/am signed off. This morning inrecieved a letter dismissing me with gross misconduct for an unauthorised absence. Encouraging a member of staff to falsify documents. And offering a babysitting service. Gross misconduct is marked on my pvg meaning I will never work in care again. All based on false allegations with no proof and no disaplinary procedure. Anxiety is now through the roof can they do that?
AlanaT70 - 22-Sep-18 @ 6:33 PM
I'm working with a zero hours contract with this company for the past 6 year for a minimum of 48 hours a week sometimes even 70 now they cut my hour for business reason to 20 hours a week is that legal?
Bullo - 21-Sep-18 @ 2:23 AM
Im on a zero hour contract i have kidney stones an am unable to work im gettin a doctor's note do i still have a job or can my employer get rid of me like they have made out to me they can
Mooney87 - 16-Sep-18 @ 10:53 AM
I am a carer on Zero hours ,I had a meeting yesterday and was told the company I work for was going to stop paying for our weekly pass,also I don't get paid for travelling in between jobs which could be up to an hour a day.I would be grateful if you could give me some advice on this. Many Thanks
Sissy - 8-Sep-18 @ 2:51 PM
I'm on a variable hours contract which gaurantees a low minimum number of hours per month. My availability for the coming month is agreed with my employer who then produces a monthly work roster. Is it OK for my employer to cancel a mutually agreed date/time of work at short notice (ie 2.5hrs before due to start) without compensating me? There is nothing in my contract that covers this.
DE - 4-Sep-18 @ 5:21 PM
Hi im currently on a zero hour contract but my work have advertised for a full time contracted position for the same job role I do can they do that without offering me the job full time and arw they allowed to advertise this as there is a few on a zero hour contract thanks Liam jennings
Liam jennings - 31-Aug-18 @ 9:51 PM
Benny - Your Question:
I have been working as a Locum Sheltered Housing Manager on a zero hours contract for the past 3 years. The job suits me very nicely as I am semi-retired. My issue is that the permanent staff receive annual pay rises, but the bank staff rate has remained the same. I questioned my Manager about this and she admitted that the bank staff hadn't been awarded a rise for at least 7 years. I contacted the Head of HR, who told me me that permanent staff pay rises were based on their annual appraisal and that bank staff were not appraised, so consequently are not given a pay rise?? I asked what method they used to calculate bank staff pay and was told that they asked an employment agency what the going rate was for Bank Staff. As the pay scale vary widely according to experience, I think they are paying this agency to tell them what they want to hear.Aren't companies obliged to treat all their staff the same? I feel that I have to prove my worth at work more than permanent staff, so as to keep being employed, but I honestly feel less valued. If everyone else gets a 1-2% pay rise, shouldn't I and all the other bank sraff?

Our Response:
If you've worked regular hours for the same employer for 3 years, this isn't a zero hours contract. If you can pick and choose when you work and have gaps in your employment because of this, an appraisal/pay rise may not be possible. Your best option would be to negotiate a standard employment contract with the employer. If you are on a permanent role via an agency, rather than a zero hours contract, after 12 weeks in the same job, you are entitled to the same basic pay and working conditions as permanent employees, unless you are working under a pay between assignments contract. Talk to the agency and ask them about this.
SafeWorkers - 28-Aug-18 @ 11:29 AM
I have been working as aLocum Sheltered Housing Manager on a zero hours contract for the past 3 years. The job suits me very nicely as I am semi-retired. My issue is that the permanent staff receiveannual pay rises, but the bank staff rate has remained the same. I questioned my Manager about this and she admitted that the bank staff hadn't been awarded a rise for at least 7 years. I contacted the Head of HR, who told me me that permanent staff pay rises were based on their annual appraisal and that bank staff were not appraised, so consequently are not given a pay rise?? I asked what method they used to calculate bank staff pay and was told that they asked an employment agency what the going rate was for Bank Staff. As the pay scalevary widely according to experience, i think they are paying this agency to tell them what they want to hear. Aren't companies obliged to treat all their staff the same? I feel that I have to prove my worth at work more than permanent staff, so as to keep being employed, but I honestly feel less valued. If everyone else gets a 1-2% pay rise, shouldn't I and all the other bank sraff?
Benny - 27-Aug-18 @ 12:11 PM
Hi, I am on a zero hour contract and my rota usually gets done about a week in advance but recently my manager has been doing it a month in advance without my knowledge. I found out I was working a shift I was unable to work so I gave my manager 2 weeks notice on a shift I cannot work and I have been told that it will go down as an unauthorised absence and that I will get a warning for this. Can they do this?
RachaelM - 24-Aug-18 @ 10:53 PM
Sheila - Your Question:
Hi im on a zero hour contract and want to reduce my hours. My employer wants me to fill out a request for flexible working but has already told me she wont accept this. What do I do next?

Our Response:
It sounds like you shouldn't be on a zero hours contract at all. A true zero hours contract would allow you to accept and refuse hours whenever you chose to. It might be worth asking the employer why your contract is a zero hours one. Please read the above article for more information.
SafeWorkers - 10-Aug-18 @ 12:03 PM
Hi im on a zero hour contract and want to reduce my hours. My employer wants me to fill out a request for flexible working but has already told me she wont accept this. What do i do next?
Sheila - 9-Aug-18 @ 12:03 AM
James - Your Question:
I am on a zero hour contract and was asked to work one day for 8 hours. I agreed and on the day I got a text 1 hour 30 mins before the shift started telling me not to come in. Is this legal?

Our Response:
The employer should compensate you for this as you may have turned down alternative work for a different employer in order to undertake this shift.
SafeWorkers - 6-Aug-18 @ 3:16 PM
I am on a zero hour contract and was asked to work one day for 8 hours. I agreed and on the day i got a text 1 hour 30 mins before the shift started telling me not to come in. Is this legal?
James - 4-Aug-18 @ 9:49 PM
I'm on a 0 hour contract. My employer on various occasions have stated that the law on employment is different to those with contracted hours. Is this true? How many days in a row is it legal to work? How long after one shift can I start the next. I left at 11pm and had another shift at 7:30 the next morning. Is this legal? I work 6 hour shifts am I entitled to a break?
Amber - 29-Jul-18 @ 2:32 PM
My partner is a carer on a zero hours contract working for the company for more than 7 years. The company recently emailed a significant change to the holiday arrangements, requiring 3 month's notice for holidays over 5 days or any holidays that include a weekend. They have also said that a maximum of 2 weekends can be taken as annual leave during any year. The previous arrangement was to give 4 weeks notice for annual leave. These fundamental changes have neither been discussed nor agreed...just sent by email. We want to go on holiday in 7 weeks time. Where does my partner stand with this?
JG - 26-Jul-18 @ 8:32 PM
Wallytomo - Your Question:
I have worked 30 hours a week in a pub for nearly 4 years and now have a new manager who too cover his own failings is trying to make out some of the problems are with me so he has reduced my shifts from 4 to 3 can he do this I was also made the deputy 3 years ago and get paid more than others but never received a new contract

Our Response:
What are your contracted hours? Shifts? Sorry it's difficult for us to comment without this kind of detail.
SafeWorkers - 24-Jul-18 @ 10:53 AM
I have worked 30 hours a week in a pub for nearly 4 years and now have a new manager who too cover his own failings is trying to make out some of the problems are with me so he has reduced my shifts from 4 to 3 can he do this I was also made the deputy 3 years ago and get paid more than others but never received a new contract
Wallytomo - 23-Jul-18 @ 12:42 PM
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