Home > Employment Law > Zero Hours Contracts Explained

Zero Hours Contracts Explained

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 14 Apr 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

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
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
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 daysbefore. 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
Jaz - 23-Mar-18 @ 8:15 PM
Disgusted - Your Question:
Hi I been working as a support worker on zero hours contract for a year. I have now been offered a better job proper contract better hours. my life hasn’t been my own since starting last year. I informed the manager thAt I had been offered a new job. She told me I have to work a months notice. When I pointed out to her I am on zero hours and only giving a week there was a veiled threat that if I don’t work the month they will not give me a proper reference in future should I need one. I am so angry but. NO I won’t stay a month sthey are getting a week. Surely they can’t withhold a reference I am a hard worker with no discipline issues and I am not a youngster either. Really disappointed and disgusted at the organisation

Our Response:
You need to seek some advice from an organisation like ACAS or Citizens' Advice on this as advised in the above article. Take your contract with you. In general a true zero hours contract means that you can accept or refuse work when you chose and the employer can give you work when they choose and a zero hours worker does not need to give notice when leaving. It's unfair practice to threaten your reference on this basis but the only thing you can do is to explain this to your prospective employer.
SafeWorkers - 23-Mar-18 @ 2:08 PM
Leaver - Your Question:
Hi I have been on zero hours contract just over a year. I have now found a new decent job. I informed the manager I had been offered new job but was just waiting for a start date which I now have. I was tied they expect me to give a months notice. I pointed out that the contract is zero hours and the mist I was willing to do is a week. The response was a viewed threat that if I don’t do a month then I wouldn’t get a reference in future if I needed one. Surely they can’t get away with this. And no I got no intention of staying another month really angry at this situation.

Our Response:
You need to seek some advice from an organisation like ACAS or Citizens' Advice on this as advised in the above article. Take your contract with you. In general a true zero hours contract means that you can accept or refuse work when you chose and the employer can give you work when they choose and a zero hours worker does not need to give notice when leaving. It's unfair practice to threaten your reference on this basis but the only thing you can do is to explain this to your prospective employer.
SafeWorkers - 23-Mar-18 @ 2:05 PM
Hello, Firstly, I was working for the NHS as a Bank worker. I wasn’t technically “employed” according to the employer, this was due to the fact that I had signed a “terms Of engagement” and therefore I was a “worker”. Is this correct? Second, over a 35 week period I worked an average of 43 hours per week. (Some weeks 60+ Hours others less than 10 hours). I was informed that I was NOT entitled to claim overtime (1.5x) for the hours over 37.5 due to the fact that over a given period of time I wouldn’t work more than 37.5 hours. I did work more than 37.5 hours over the 35 week period, this means I should have been able to claim the extra 5.5 hours each week as overtime (1.5x instead of the usual 1x) (192.5 hours of overtime over 35 week period) Am I correct in thinking that under employment law, I had the right to a full time contract? (Given the fact my normal working hours were often more than my colleagues (who had 31.5 hour contracts)). If I was entitled to a full time contract, I would also have been entitled to my overtime. What are your opinions on this? How should I go forward? Thank you, Henry
UKHenry - 22-Mar-18 @ 10:06 AM
Jess0327 - Your Question:
Hi, I have a part time job (just Saturdays) and the hours of work are 10am til 6pm however my contract actually just has the standard full time working hours for a full time person (it doesn't say I'm part time etc in my contract). A couple of times in the past 6 months, my employer has contacted me a couple of days before my usual shift to say that I won't need to work and that it'll be an unpaid day off. One example was when the business moved to new premises and the Saturday was their new office open day - meaning no one could work (although home working is a possibility and I have done this on several occasions). I just want to know if they should legally pay me for these missed shifts as it's always been out of my control that I can't work my usual hours?

Our Response:
Firstly, you should question your contract details. If you only work Saturdays your contract should say so - you should also be paid if for some reason your employer does not open the business as usual.
SafeWorkers - 21-Mar-18 @ 3:01 PM
hi I been working as a support worker on zero hours contract for a year. I have now been offered a better job proper contract better hours.my life hasn’t been my own since starting last year.I informed the manager thAt I had been offered a new job.She told me I have to work a months notice. When I pointed out to her I am on zero hours and only giving a week there was a veiled threat that if I don’t work the month they will not give me a proper reference in future should I need one.I am so angry but. NO I won’t stay a month sthey are getting a week.Surely they can’t withhold a reference I am a hard worker with no discipline issues and I am not a youngster either.Really disappointed and disgusted at the organisation
Disgusted - 20-Mar-18 @ 7:03 PM
Hi I have been on zero hours contract just over a year.I have now found a new decent job.I informed the manager I had been offered new job but was just waiting for a start date which I now have.I was tied they expect me to give a months notice.I pointed out that the contract is zero hours and the mist I was willing to do is a week.The response was a viewed threat that if I don’t do a month then I wouldn’t get a reference in future if I needed one.Surely they can’t get away with this.And no I got no intention of staying another month really angry at this situation.
Leaver - 20-Mar-18 @ 6:54 PM
Hi, I have a part time job (just Saturdays) and the hours of work are 10am til 6pm however my contract actually just has the standard full time working hours for a full time person (it doesn't say I'm part time etc in my contract). A couple of times in the past 6 months, my employer has contacted me a couple of days before my usual shift to say that I won't need to work and that it'll be an unpaid day off. One example was when the business moved to new premises and the Saturday was their new office open day - meaning no one could work (although home working is a possibility and I have done this on several occasions). I just want to know if they should legally pay me for these missed shifts as it's always been out of my control that I can't work my usual hours?
Jess0327 - 20-Mar-18 @ 10:35 AM
Kate - Your Question:
Hi I am on a zero hour contract and wanted to know if I have to attend supervision’s and return to work interviews should I be paid for my time?

Our Response:
It sounds like this is more than just a true zero hours contract. In general you should only be paid for hours you work if you're on a zero hours contract. It may be worth asking a professional to take a look at the contract if you're unsure.
SafeWorkers - 12-Mar-18 @ 11:14 AM
Hi I am on a zero hour contract and wanted to know if I have to attend supervision’s and return to work interviews should I be paid for my time?
Kate - 9-Mar-18 @ 7:48 AM
I recently started a zero hour contract and the company pay you if the client cancels within less than 24hoirs or the client doesn't turn up.. However where do I stand when they take hours off me less than 24hours before my shift was due to start?
Suz - 7-Mar-18 @ 5:18 PM
Dylan - Your Question:
Hi I'm on a zero hour co tract at McDonalds however for atleast a year or 2 I have had guaranteed 5 shifts a week minimum. I recently had to hand in a sick note for two weeks due to having a chest infection and flu and was told if I handed the note in then shifts would be taken away from me and as stated I'm now being punished and have been given less shifts due to me being off.

Our Response:
If you're on a zero hours contract, your employer can choose whether or not to give you work (and you can choose whether to accept it or not). The question should be about the your employment status after two years of 5 shifts a week, you may now actually be considered a full employee if you've had no real gaps. See the above article for more information on this.
SafeWorkers - 7-Mar-18 @ 12:20 PM
Joe - Your Question:
HiI have been employed on a zero based contract for the past 5 years and have pretty much worked the same shifts and times each week since I started. Due to the recent snow I could not get the car out of my street and was unable to make it in to work. I have been told that I will not be paid for this even through this is a shift I would normally have worked and I fully intended to work that day. Can they refuse to pay me as I feel they are playing the zero based card when they feel they can. Thanks

Our Response:
An employer is not obliged to pay you for a shift that you do not work (zero hours or not). You should check the status of your contract anyway. Zero hour contracts are meant to be a casual arrangement to enable employers to cater for changing levels of demand. If you regularly work the same hours, then your employment contract reflects this, regardless of what any written zero hours contract states. Having worked the same regular shifts for 5 years, 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.
SafeWorkers - 6-Mar-18 @ 3:15 PM
Hi i'm on a zero hour co tract at McDonalds however for atleast a year or 2 I have had guaranteed 5 shifts a week minimum. I recently had to hand in a sick note for two weeks due to having a chest infection and flu and was told if I handed the note in then shifts would be taken away from me and as stated i'm now being punished and have been given less shifts due to me being off.
Dylan - 6-Mar-18 @ 8:55 AM
Hi I have been employed on a zero based contract for the past 5 years and have pretty much worked the same shifts and times each week since I started. Due to the recent snow I could not get the car out of my street and was unable to make it in to work. I have been told that I will not be paid for this even through this is a shift I would normally have worked and I fully intended to work that day. Can they refuse to pay me as I feel they are playing the zero based card when they feel they can. Thanks
Joe - 4-Mar-18 @ 9:42 PM
Kate - Your Question:
Hi I’m on a zero hours contract and work in a pre school, they have chosen to shut due to snow but I was wondering if I should get paid for this as she chose to shut or if I don’t have a leg to stand on as I’m on zero hours contract??

Our Response:
Usually if your workplace is closed due to snow your employer still has to pay you (unless your contract states otherwise).On a zero hours contract your employer may be able to "choose not to offer you work" on that occasion (unless you have any other terms written down).
SafeWorkers - 2-Mar-18 @ 2:31 PM
Hi I’m on a zero hours contract and work in a pre school, they have chosen to shut due to snow but I was wondering if I should get paid for this as she chose to shut or if I don’t have a leg to stand on as I’m on zero hours contract??
Kate - 28-Feb-18 @ 2:41 PM
I am s single mom and have a 5 yr old who has started school full time.My job as a beautician started as a 16hr a week zero hrs, some weeks i worked 22hrs, i am claiming working tax credits and for the past 3 weeks i have only done 20hrs.I cant live on the wage and working tax credits will stop, so i have been told.I love the job i do and dont want to leave.I dont no what to do for the best. Please give me some advise.
Nettie - 7-Feb-18 @ 9:32 PM
Amos - Your Question:
I'm on a zero hour contract, I have been working 16 hours for the past 2 years. This month it's been cut to 11. There are meetings at work that we are told we need to attend. However we do not get paid for them. Do we have to attend?

Our Response:
No if you're on a zero hours contract you shouldn't be expected to attend meetings unpaid. Since you've been working 16 hours per week on a regular basis however, it may be that you are not in fact on a zero hours contract but a standard employment contract. Please see the above article for more information.
SafeWorkers - 6-Feb-18 @ 2:49 PM
I'm on a zero hour contract, I have been working 16 hours for the past 2 years. This month it's been cut to 11. There are meetings at work that we are told we need to attend. However we do not get paid for them. Do we have to attend?
Amos - 6-Feb-18 @ 12:04 AM
Sophella - Your Question:
I work for a Starbucks franchise after being taken over which was a little chef. I'm on a zero hour contract and have been since august, I work the same hours and days every week. My hours have been halved as have my colleagues but have I got a leg to stand on ref these reduced hours??

Our Response:
If you're on a zero hours contract your employer can offer you hours when they choose and equallyyou can refuse or choose whether to accept the hours offered.
SafeWorkers - 29-Jan-18 @ 3:38 PM
I am a single mother with an 8 year old. I have a zero hour contract. I was told that I had to work st least 1 full day each week (til 8.30pm) in order for the full time chef to have at least 1 day off per week, I am able to do this by putting my daughter into after school club & have someone pick her up at 6pm and look after her til I get home, it fills up pretty quickly and thetefore I have to book and pay for this in advance and cannot get a refund, I have booked and paid for this up to the end of Feb. I was sent a text message on Sunday with my shifts for the week (including the full day shift) however this was changed overnight meaning I no longer needed to use the after school club, as they have now employed a 2nd chef. I then received another text Tuesday pm to say I was no longer needed the following day. I told my employer that I needed notice of changes due to chokd care abd was told it wasn't a problem last minute changes only happen in emergencies or when staff are sick ect. I dont know my rights as a working parent could you let me know if I have any right to complain about this?
Kay - 25-Jan-18 @ 6:12 PM
T_h_m - Your Question:
I have been working in the catering sector for 14 months, working an average of about 12 hours a week. I have no contract or terms of agreement, there is no employee handbook or any other formal documentation. I have never received holiday pay and will be due to go on maternity leave this year. I fear my employer will try to avoid paying any leave or maintaining a position for me to return to.Should I make a request for a written contract of 12 hours backdated to my start date or should I seek advice from CAB before meeting with my employer next week to discuss the dates of my maternity leave?Thank you in advance

Our Response:
You should seek specialist advice on this to establish what kind of contract you have, you may be on a casual workerr contract - so first of all talk to your employer. To qualify for Statory Maternity Pay you must "earn on average at least £113 a week, give the correct notice, give proof you’re pregnant and have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the ‘qualifying week’ - the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth".If you don't fulfil the eligibility criteria for pay, you may still be entitled to maternity leave. You should call ACAS or Citizens' Advice and give full details of your employment etc.
SafeWorkers - 23-Jan-18 @ 12:39 PM
I have been working in the catering sector for 14 months, working an average of about 12 hours a week. I have no contract or terms of agreement, there is no employee handbook or any other formal documentation. I have never received holiday pay and will be due to go on maternity leave this year. I fear my employer will try to avoid paying any leave or maintaining a position for me to return to. Should I make a request for a written contract of 12 hours backdated to my start date or should I seek advice from CAB before meeting with my employer next week to discuss the dates of my maternity leave? Thank you in advance
T_h_m - 20-Jan-18 @ 11:00 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Latest Comments
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the SafeWorkers website. Please read our Disclaimer.