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Zero Hours Contracts Explained

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 10 Oct 2017 | 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

What the politicians think

David Cameron, Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader, stated that zero hour contracts are a good thing that gives workers greater flexibility. In his interview with Jeremy Paxman, he stated that he 'couldn't live on an exclusive zero hours contract'. This was seen as him controversially admitting that he could not manage to live on a zero hours contract, despite him championing them as a viable employment solution. However he was actually referring to exclusive zero hour contracts (ie contracts where there are no guaranteed hours, and where the worker is banned from working for another firm during the same period). Exclusive zero hour contracts are in fact already banned following the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, and so by saying that he did not support an illegal form of employment contract, he was not actually being controversial.

The Liberal Democrat view seems to be based around the control that zero hours contracts give employers. Whilst an employer cannot legally exclude an employee from working elsewhere or force them to accept all hours offered, workers may feel blackmailed into working solely for one employer or not turning down hours due to fears that otherwise they will "fall out of favour" and in future the number of hours offered to them may be reduced.

The Labour Party have stated that they would 'end the epidemic of zero hours contracts'. They would like zero hour workers who have worked regular hours for 12 weeks to have a legal right to an employment contract which reflects this shift pattern.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
I work with Pete school children on a zero hr contract. We are expected to attend staff meetings, Wright up reports for the children and attend training courses out of normal hours and we do not get paid for any of this. We only get paid for the hours we attend to look after the children only. Any advice whould be gratefully appreciated
Jan - 10-Oct-17 @ 7:11 PM
I'm on a zero hour contract, how much notice do I have to give if I can't work a shift I'm rotad to work?
Spark - 6-Oct-17 @ 7:58 AM
grrltsdy - Your Question:
I'm on a variable hour contract which doesn't guarantee any hours however it states I must work weekends, surely this goes against my rights as a zero hour contract worker?

Our Response:
You should get a legal professional to look at your contract terms to establish whether you are in fact on a zero hours contract. If you are, then yes, you can refuse to work at the weekends (but equally the employer is not obliged to offer you work at other times).
SafeWorkers - 27-Sep-17 @ 12:38 PM
I'm on a variable hour contract which doesn't guarantee any hours however it states I must work weekends, surely this goes against my rights as a zero hour contract worker?
grrltsdy - 25-Sep-17 @ 6:14 PM
Vonnie - Your Question:
I'm on a zero hour contract, I need to clarify how many weeks rota should be done in advance? Currently we are getting one weeks rota at a time and having to beg for it late Friday evening sometime's the Saturday for the week commencing the Sunday, so sometimes we're only getting 12 hours notice, it is causing severe anxiety for me being a single parent needing to sort out child care.

Our Response:
There are not specific rules about the amount of notice you should be given. please also see our guide here
SafeWorkers - 25-Sep-17 @ 2:29 PM
Cc - Your Question:
I am 17 weeks pregnant on 0 hours. Are job is mainly cleaning. We get given a rota every Friday so are never asked can you do this. I have requested that one of the jobs I am doing is 2 hard on my back and am unable to it, but they won't take me off it. I know this is not right but don't no who to report them to or what to do ect. I am in pain now from doing it today. We also don't get paid travel to first job or home so you can end up driving miles for a one hour job !

Our Response:
Even if you are on a zero hours contract you should get the same basic health and safety protection, and protection from discrimination as someone in a standard employment contract. Please read our guide to Being Pregnany at Work
SafeWorkers - 25-Sep-17 @ 2:01 PM
I'm on a zero hour contract, I need to clarify how many weeks rota should be done in advance?Currently we are getting one weeks rota at a time and having to beg for it late Friday evening sometime's the Saturday for the week commencing the Sunday, so sometimes we're only getting 12 hours notice,it is causing severe anxiety for me being a single parent needing to sort out child care.
Vonnie - 23-Sep-17 @ 12:13 AM
I am 17 weeks pregnant on 0 hours. Are job is mainly cleaning. We get given a rota every Friday so are never asked can you do this. I have requested that one of the jobs I am doing is 2 hard on my back and am unable to it, but they won't take me off it. I know this is not right but don't no who to report them to or what to do ect. I am in pain now from doing it today. We also don't get paid travel to first job or home so you can end up driving miles for a one hour job !
Cc - 22-Sep-17 @ 5:13 PM
I'm on zero hour contract I working in hospital doing security I get given my shifts advance so I have my rota he changed it with out asking me and put me on different shifts with out asking me if it ok is this aloud can he change my shifts when he wants and not have to ask
Bigbull - 21-Sep-17 @ 5:30 AM
Flyer- Your Question:
I've been with an airline now for 15 years. My contract is a 7 month full time and a 5 month zero hours. How long can my employer keep me on this before they have to make me a full time all year round employee?

Our Response:
This is not an arrangement we're familiar with. Is it actually an annualised hours contract?
SafeWorkers - 20-Sep-17 @ 2:28 PM
I've been with an airline now for 15 years. My contract is a 7 month full time and a 5 month zero hours. How long can my employer keep me on this before they have to make me a full time all year round employee?
Flyer - 20-Sep-17 @ 2:17 PM
deedee - Your Question:
I have a zero hours contract but my employer wants to pay me a 'retainer' so I don't work with anyone else. There is no work for me to do just now so retainer would be good. When there is work available and I do hours for them, will the retainer be deducted from my wages? What's in it for them and what do I need to watch for? Seems too good!!

Our Response:
We can't really give advice on this as it's a very specific offer from this business. Why don't they give you an employment contract if they don't want you to work for anyone else? Retainer fees are usually used for specific contracts, such as lawyers or IT contractors who may be needed to be called on to follow up on cases or provide occasional support for new systems etc.
SafeWorkers - 4-Sep-17 @ 11:37 AM
I have a zero hours contract but my employer wants to pay me a 'retainer' so i don't work with anyone else. There is no work for me to do just now so retainer would be good. When there is work available and i do hours for them,will the retainer be deducted from my wages? What's in it for them and what do I need to watch for? Seems too good!!
deedee - 28-Aug-17 @ 11:12 PM
Hello I'm on a 0 hour contract I was wondering if my holiday year started the same as contracted workers or would mine start the date I started and ends on the day before I worked their for a year..as i started Nov 17 2016 and i was wondering if it finished Nov 16th 2017..i didn't take any holidays as they had no staff to do the hours i was never told about their holiday period being from jan1st to dec 31st and i didnt sign any contract and they are saying I've lost that holiday cause I should of took it by 31st of dec.witch would of been 180pounds holiday pay.am I still able to take that holiday that owed from Nov to 31st of dec 2016 or have i lost it?
Lee - 24-Aug-17 @ 12:12 AM
henry.r - Your Question:
Hi, I have a 0-16 hours casual contract. My hours vary every week from 3-20. I assumed casual employment meant if I was unavailable for work I didn't have to accept work offered. I asked if I would get a week off because I didn't want to be rude saying "I am unavailable" But I was told I can't because there is already a number of employees off that week. I was giving 1 weeks notice. I hear every weekend what my hours are for that weekIs this legal for them not to let me refuse the work for that week? thankyou

Our Response:
Were you given a contract? Check the terms. If your contract is a true zero hours contract, you should be able to refuse work when offered it.
SafeWorkers - 15-Aug-17 @ 10:06 AM
Hi, I have a 0-16 hours casual contract. My hours vary every week from 3-20. I assumed casual employment meant if I was unavailable for work I didn't have to accept work offered. I asked if I would get a week off because i didn't want to be rude saying "I am unavailable" But i was told I can't because there is already a number of employees off that week. I was giving 1 weeks notice. I hear every weekend what my hours are for that week Is this legal for them not to let me refuse the work for that week? thankyou
henry.r - 12-Aug-17 @ 4:49 PM
Ive been working on a zero hour contract for four months were the employer treats and talks to staff like slaves ive been Racely discriminated by my boss and co workers for months and now left the job because of it is there anything i can doe about it
Queenie - 10-Aug-17 @ 9:49 PM
Pandabat - Your Question:
I'm on a zero hour contract but work regular hours and shifts. I have recently organised for a co-worker to cover a shift of mine and my employer put it as annual leave for me. Can they do this even when I asked for it to be unpaid?

Our Response:
It is difficult for us to comment on this. A true zero hours contract gives you the opportunity to simply say you're unavailable for work so you need to question the type of contract you have really.
SafeWorkers - 8-Aug-17 @ 12:50 PM
I'm on a zero hour contract but work regular hours and shifts. I have recently organised for a co-worker to cover a shift of mine and my employer put it as annual leave for me. Can they do this even when I asked for it to be unpaid?
Pandabat - 4-Aug-17 @ 10:05 PM
If I'm zero hour contract employee, my employer (agency) told me to work next day, I came in and got sent home by factory- am I eligible for 4 hour payment or travel to work time payment? They told us not to sign in. I usually work from 6:30 to 17:45 (10:45h).
Bourne - 22-Jul-17 @ 7:09 AM
I am on a 10 hour contract and have recently taken on another job too. I now can't fulfill my original 10 hour contract as I have much less flexibility. Can my employer move me to a zero hours contract without my permission?
Jacquie - 12-Jul-17 @ 3:46 PM
Katie - Your Question:
I am a care worker on a zero hours contract I have just been offered a permanent job elsewhere. I have put one weeks notice in but they are saying I have to put 4 weeks notice in. Do I have to accept the hours ?

Our Response:
Not if you're on a genuine zero hours contract no. On a zero hours contract you can accept and refuse work when you choose.
SafeWorkers - 3-Jul-17 @ 12:35 PM
Pp - Your Question:
I am on a zero hour contract and have put it a one week notice instead of four. The employer says that they will deduct £200 from my final wage as I have not given four weeks. Can they do this? This is money I have worked for and they have not forked out any money on my training as it most of it was done elsewhere.

Our Response:
There are no statutory rights regarding notice periods for zero hour contract worker but if you agreed to a contract with a four week notice period then that it what you should give. In theory as a zero hours worker, you should you be able to leave without ever giving notice simply by saying you are not availble for work and refusing any work offered by that employer. A genuine zero hours contract is one where you can accept or refuse offer of work made.
SafeWorkers - 3-Jul-17 @ 10:47 AM
I am a care worker on a zero hours contractI have just been offered a permanent job elsewhere. I have put one weeks notice in but they are saying I have to put 4 weeks notice in. Do I have to accept the hours ?
Katie - 1-Jul-17 @ 8:54 PM
I am on a zero hour contract and have put it a one week notice instead of four. The employer says that they will deduct£200 from my final wage as I have not given four weeks. Can they do this? This is money I have worked for and they have not forked out any money on my training as it most of it was done elsewhere.
Pp - 30-Jun-17 @ 7:25 PM
I have worked for the government on a zero hour contract since 2006 and although my work can be very sporadic i feel it should not be, My employment is one where its linked to public health and there is always a need for staff yet instead of employing staff they choose to sub contract to an agency at a higher cost than staff could be employed to fulfil regular jobs. There are grounds to say that staff should be employed but my employer will not set staff on and now the agency who they sub contract work to gets priority over the employed staff on zero hours contracts even tho the cost to the government department for using an agency is 3x higher than using its own zero hour contracted staff,furthermore the agency to which they sub contract work is often using staff who are not qualified to work to British standards and there are times when they fail to supply staff. I believe zero hour contracts are just a way of falsifying unemployment records for government statistics and if all these staff were given proper contracted hours it would be more beneficial for all, because these people would be working and paying taxes, employers would have reliable and adequately trained and capable staff if they had to be responsible for them and the British economy might start getting back on its feet if we had people who had jobs instead of a piece of paper that states zero hours. More people working is more people earning and being self sufficient and contributing back to society. This has been forgotten and now those that have worked and paid in all their lives are told your pension contributions are worthless you must now work 10 years longer . Make every employer use its own staff and have set contracted hours whether part time or full time,abolish zero hour contracts and then give those workers a proper contract of employment rather than a contract thats about as much use as a sponge in a fire
annoyed employee - 30-Jun-17 @ 6:25 PM
I am on 0hr contract been working 6hrs a week for a year and half (same rota each week). I had some time off for sickness which made me lose 15days work but my employer has this down as 26 as they are claiming that I should be available 7days so the days that I was rota'd in for DAY OFF the weeks i was unwell, they are saying is also sick days as I was not available to call for work and I am supposed to make myself available for them. This has affected my new job offer asthere sick days doesn't match mine. I agreed to a 0hr contract 4 on 4 off pattern not 7 day availability contract? I am confused.
Nik - 13-Jun-17 @ 8:46 PM
I did my college placement at a residential care home for disability and they took me on as a zero hours contract through BANK. I understand that my hours were not guaranteed and being a student at college I could only work weekends, unless I had the time off college, like half term or during the six weeks holidays. I worked every day in August and worked regularly since my start date in July 2016. They told me that they would contact me if they needed me for any shifts or to cover anybody. They stopped contacting me two months ago, but would still send me time sheets. They sent me a letter this week saying the following; "As part of a recent consultation, I am currently reviewing and updating our staff list, which is a requirement within our organisation, this involves updating information for our payroll department for all existing members of staff. To work safely and be compliant within health and social care, it is a requirement that all mandatory training needs are met and supervisions can take place as stipulated. Our payroll/HR department has highlighted you on their database as a member of staff on an occasional hour's contract who works infrequently and has not completed many shifts since your start date. Therefore, I have to inform you that I will be removing you from the occasional hours staff list and terminating your employment within 2 weeks of the date on this letter." Are they allowed to do this? I understand that zero hour contracts don't have many rights, but I feel they are blaming me for them not giving me any hours.
Amie - 2-Jun-17 @ 9:52 PM
Can a employee accept from an employer only three hrs notice for not to turn up for a shift my 16 yr old son who is admittedly on a zero he contract has had this happen and I feel this is out of order when he could have made plans
Tj - 1-Jun-17 @ 1:36 PM
Isabel - Your Question:
I am working as a care.One day l was working on my call and I fell down the stairs of a client's house with the result of crushing coccyx and a finger immobilised and still can not move. I was two weeks without work.Because it was an accident at work the company should pay me those days I was sick?

Our Response:
You should be paid statutor sick pay if you fulfil the criteria (earning above the Lower Earnings Limit of £112 per week) from one employer. Because it's an accident at work you would have to try and seek compensation via the courts.
SafeWorkers - 26-May-17 @ 2:16 PM
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