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Zero Hours Contracts Explained

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 20 Feb 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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[Add a Comment]
Hi I'm on a 0hour contract and have had regular shifts (3 nights a week) since August... I have recently been offered another Job but they would like me to start ASAP... my contract states I have to give 4 weeks notice but as I am on a0 hour contract can I give my notice and then decline any work offered until the end of my notice
Clo - 20-Feb-17 @ 7:53 PM
Been in employment on a 0 hour contract for 2 and a half years working the same morning shifts monday to Friday, 6 am- 8am for the duration of my time with the company, I also do additional work for the company else where but the morning shifts have been a continuous and permanent place of work for me. I have recently been removed from this area of work and have been replaced by a brand new employee, I have not received any explanation and have only been notified that the new member of staff is in training there. However, the new member of staff has been notified that I have left the job and that the position she has taken is now her permanent place of work. I still currently work for the company covering shifts so now my work is not guaranteed, I haven't received any explanations and feel I deserve one. To add to the confusion my colleague in this job who has been working permanently along side me for the duration of 6 months has been notified that the new member of staff must choose between which member of staff in which they wish to work with, is this even legal!? I feel myself and my colleague are both Entitled to an explanation as we both face the possibility of losing our guarunteed hours! I have no issue of being moved but to be unsure of where I stand and to be placed in to these circumstances I feel is inappropriate. I also feel it's unfair on not only myself and my previous permanent work colleague but on the new employee that has joined our team under false impressions, and to be left in a predicament choosing between two senior members of staff.
Alias1 - 9-Feb-17 @ 10:41 AM
I have been working for a car hire company for six years now working two days a week,my employer has now said I must work five days.I am a pensioner and only want two days,must I work five days as demanded.
Iceman60 - 30-Jan-17 @ 8:17 PM
I work in a bar and on a 0 hour contact l work for 45 mins and then got sent home does he still have to pay me the full 4 hours for my shift for the 45 mins or a hour
Reena1980 - 27-Jan-17 @ 9:03 PM
I wanted to decline to do the client, but I wasn't allowed to
Yogi bear - 27-Jan-17 @ 2:05 PM
I'm a carer on a zero hour contract, my employee expects us to sit in a car and wait for 3 hours (not paid) until the time for next client, I refused and he said I can't refuse so I did sit and wait for 3 hours, is this allowed
Yogi bear - 27-Jan-17 @ 1:59 PM
Hi I work as a carer and on zero hour contract and was told I would be paid double time for Christmas day but now they say its only time and half, can they do this.
Marie2508 - 11-Jan-17 @ 3:07 PM
Riss - Your Question:
Hi, I'm a carer, I haven't had my car for 6 weeks now as its being fixed, however I work the evenings due to having a three year old, anyways I've been using my partners car to get to work, tonight I cannot make it, as he needs he's car for an important meeting, I rand them this morning, they told me I need to attend a return to work interview, the reason was for an unortharised absence? Even though my first client isn't till 7pm tonight, are they allowed to do this even on a zero hours contract?

Our Response:
It is your responsibility to get yourself to your place of work. If you have informed them that you cannot attend, after you've agreed/accepted the work/shift, then your employer can follow their usual disciplinary procedure.
SafeWorkers - 10-Jan-17 @ 12:16 PM
Hi, I'm a carer, I haven't had my car for 6 weeks now as its being fixed, however I work the evenings due to having a three year old, anyways I've been using my partners car to get to work, tonight I cannot make it, as he needs he's car for an important meeting, I rand them this morning, they told me I need to attend a return to work interview, the reason was for an unortharised absence? Even though my first client isn't till 7pm tonight, are they allowed to do this even on a zero hours contract?
Riss - 9-Jan-17 @ 12:49 PM
I have a zero hour contract. My night shifts are regularly cancelled just a few hours before I am due to start work. Is this allowed?
Currie88 - 6-Jan-17 @ 3:23 PM
Do I have to provide a sick note on a 0 hour contract?
Donna - 31-Dec-16 @ 11:00 AM
I'm on a zero hour contract and I have. Even offord a job else where and they want me to start immediately. do I need to give my work 1 weeks notice even though I'm on a zero hour contract ?
K123 - 31-Dec-16 @ 10:33 AM
I work as a supplier implant in a major retailer.The position is perminent.My contract just states - my hours will be what my manager sees fit.I've regularly worked 7.30 to 3.30 pm for the past 3.5 years and regularly be on call at the weekend which is also not in the contract. Whilst in the role I've had 6 different managers.My new manager is now seeking to question my hours when its never been a problem before.Can somebody tell me if this contract is actually legal ?I'm not too sure now if this is actually a zero hours contract I signed
Nutty1976 - 22-Dec-16 @ 5:50 PM
jess - Your Question:
I work in the care industry on a zero hour contract the rota has been out for a few weeks and I'm in Christmas day 6am to 2pm but sadly people have left or are sick and we have been told if someone dosnt volunteer everyone's names are going into a hat and 2 people will be picked as we are short by 2 can they legally do this to us??

Our Response:
Yes they can. But on a genuine zero hours contract, you should have the ability to choose whether to accept work or not.
SafeWorkers - 21-Dec-16 @ 11:49 AM
I work in the care industry on a zero hour contract the rota has been out for a few weeks and I'm in Christmas day 6am to 2pm but sadly people have left or are sick and we have been told if someone dosnt volunteer everyone's names are going into a hat and 2 people will be picked as we are short by 2 can they legally do this to us??
jess - 20-Dec-16 @ 12:06 PM
i have been working for a car rental firm for 10 years now on a 0 hour contract. i agreed this as there was no work anywere else but i love the job and have always had the hours i want between 45 and 55 and always hoped they would give me a contract. we have all had these sort of hours all 4 drivers. now they are saying they are employing more people and cutting our hours to about 30. can they do this after being there all that time
gibbo - 19-Dec-16 @ 9:02 PM
I have been working for an agency since 2005. I was employed on a 0 hr contract but since the start up until now I have working 36 hours a week. The centre i work at is closing down in jan 2017 and all the the direct employed staff or being made redundant and us agency staff have been told we are on a 0 hr. I have asked for my contract but the agency keep fobbing me and telling me they can't find my contract where do I stand on this. We have been told we are entitled to laid off short time payment if the agency cannot find us a job in 4 weeks but when we have asked how to claim this we are not being given an answer or any info on when exactly we can claim this payment.
Manpower agency - 16-Dec-16 @ 10:58 PM
Imogen - Your Question:
Started last week zero hours did split shift of just two hours. Asked if I could take on 7 mornings one hour, agreed. Now told I agreed to the other double on the Saturday which would not suit me. Misunderstanding but told I have do them as I did not give two weeks notice. I cannot due to personal circumstances. Also I am going home for Christmas and told I had to give them two weeks notice for that?? Thought zero hours was just that? Told them I am not doing extra hours and going home for Christmas and can do more in New year when circumstances change.

Our Response:
Were you given a contract? A genuine zero hours contract would allow you to choose when/whether to accept work or not.
SafeWorkers - 14-Dec-16 @ 12:47 PM
Anon1 - Your Question:
I have been on zero hour contract since 2013, I have worked a regular shift pattern and hours for approx 18 months, I was offered a permanent contract in Sept 16 but I didn't want to accept one, I have now had some shifts cancelled and some hours reduced.Can they do this? I have been given the reason of not busy enough at the moment.

Our Response:
No if you've refused a permanent/standard employment contract, you will probably have to accept that on a zero hours contract, your employer can choose when to offer you work and you can choose when to accept it.
SafeWorkers - 14-Dec-16 @ 11:52 AM
Started last week zero hours did split shift of just two hours.Asked if I could take on7 mornings one hour, agreed. Now told I agreed to the other double on the Saturday which would not suit me. Misunderstanding but told I have do them as I did not give two weeks notice. I cannot due to personal circumstances. Also I am going home for Christmas and told I had to give them two weeks notice for that?? Thought zero hours was just that? Told them I am not doing extra hours and going home for Christmas and can do more in New year when circumstances change.
Imogen - 13-Dec-16 @ 5:40 PM
I have been on zero hour contract since 2013, I have worked a regular shift pattern and hours for approx 18 months, I was offered a permanent contractin Sept 16 but I didn't wantto accept one, I have now had some shifts cancelled and some hours reduced...Can they do this?I have been given the reason of not busy enough at the moment.
Anon1 - 13-Dec-16 @ 2:42 PM
Hi, my contract staes that im not guaranteed working hours. Therefore im on a zero hour contract. I am a security guard and have worked 4 days on and 4 days off for the past 12 months regular as clockwork. Chirstmas Day lands on a sunday this year (2016) and as the official bank holidays have moved to the monday and tuesday instead my employer has said only single time will be paid for working the 25th December. I am obviously unhappy with this and have informed my employer that i am now unavailable for that date. As ive made myself unavailable will that go down as abscence and will i then lose the double time on the official bank holidays? Thanks.
richierich - 4-Dec-16 @ 11:04 AM
I'm a carer on zero hours and no contract how much notice do i need to give my employer
doreenwoodward72 - 2-Dec-16 @ 2:48 PM
I'm a home career with no contract iv only worked for 6 weeks how much notice do i need to give
doreenwoodward72 - 2-Dec-16 @ 2:46 PM
Aud68 - Your Question:
I have been working on a Saturday night in a pub for over a year now. I don't recall any contract - not even a zero hours one being given to me. I basically just started working. I was asked for my bank details, and I sometimes get a pay slip or several at once then nothing. Just recently one of the other bar staff left to work at the company I work for full time and the landlord it appears has put 2 and 2 together and decided that she got the job because of something I may have said. (She had told me she was looking for a job, I told her there was jobs going at the company I work for and she did the rest). Anyway, as soon as she handed in her notice my hours for my Saturdays were stopped. I've not been told that I no longer work there, but every week when I phone to see if I'm back on the rota - whoever answers the phone goes and checks then comes back and tells me no. Do I have a right to be 'dismissed' with a reason, or can he just stop giving me hours altogether.

Our Response:
If you're on a zero hours contract the employer can choose when/how much work to offer you and you can choose to accept or refuse. Your problem is that you never asked for a contract, so do not know whether it a zero hours contract or not.
SafeWorkers - 1-Dec-16 @ 12:45 PM
I have been working on a Saturday night in a pub for over a year now. I don't recall any contract - not even a zero hours one being given to me. I basically just started working. I was asked for my bank details, and I sometimes get a pay slip or several at once then nothing. Just recently one of the other bar staff left to work at the company I work for full time and the landlord it appears has put 2 and 2 together and decided that she got the job because of something I may have said. (She had told me she was looking for a job, I told her there was jobs going at the company I work for and she did the rest). Anyway, as soon as she handed in her notice my hours for my Saturdays were stopped. I've not been told that I no longer work there, but every week when I phone to see if I'm back on the rota - whoever answers the phone goes and checks then comes back and tells me no. Do I have a right to be 'dismissed' with a reason, or can he just stop giving me hours altogether.
Aud68 - 30-Nov-16 @ 3:25 PM
Phil - Your Question:
I've been working for a company for 14 years now on a zero hour contract which automatically opts out of the working time regulations act. Due to having a baby I recently put in writing that I was opting back in to the working time regulations. For 14 years i've been working between 48 - 60 hours a week which i've not really had a problem with and i've told the manager when I was opting back in that I wouldnt mind working 48 hrs but I wanted to spend more time with my newborn. but since then my hours have dropped to around 36 - 40 hours a week. Am I still classed as on a zero hour contract having worked for the company for so long?

Our Response:
No you should negotiate an employment contract.
SafeWorkers - 23-Nov-16 @ 11:53 AM
I've been working for a company for 14 years now on a zero hour contract which automatically opts out of the working time regulations act. Due to having a baby i recently put in writing that i was opting back in to the working time regulations.For 14 years i've been working between 48 - 60 hours a week which i've not really had a problem with and i've told the manager when i was opting back in that i wouldnt mind working 48 hrs but i wanted to spend more time with my newborn. but since then my hours have dropped to around 36 - 40 hours a week.Am i still classed as on a zero hour contract having worked for the company for so long?
Phil - 22-Nov-16 @ 9:49 PM
I am a carer assistant on a zero hours contract working full time and was wondering how much notice I would have to give if I leave....i have worked for the company for 2.5 years..also I have 28 days holiday entitlement left..would I be entitled to any of this when I leave?
Karenablea - 18-Nov-16 @ 6:38 PM
gav - Your Question:
I have a zero hours contract teaching people employment skills etc. I have just been informed that all time I spend planning, preparation and assessment outside of the class room is within the zero hours-is that correct as I have spent at least 8 hours over three weeks doing this-i woork two days a week?

Our Response:
This depends on the terms of your contract. If it's necessary to spend time outside of the workplace preparing, you should expect it to be part of the contract.
SafeWorkers - 16-Nov-16 @ 2:17 PM
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