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Zero Hours Contracts Explained

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 7 Feb 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

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]
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
Kim - Your Question:
I currently working as a carer and it's a zero hour contract,I start at 7 am but with having a small child in school and being a single mum I would like to start at 8am but they said hey couldn't do this as they have employed me from 7am-6pm with t being a zero hours I thought it was flexible? What fits around me?

Our Response:
No you can't necessarily choose the times of your shifts on a zero hours contract, but you can choose whether to accept the work offered or not.
SafeWorkers - 19-Jan-18 @ 2:30 PM
I have a zero hours contract since September, but ive been working between 18 and 24 hrs every week since then. Am i entitled to any employment rights as ive been working these hours for the last four months regular days too.
Jayne - 18-Jan-18 @ 7:08 AM
Hi I'm zero hour contract but have been getting 40hours our more for 3months our more I was sent home from work two weeks ago my boss said that i lve said somethink in work infront members of staff when I've asked what was it I was supposed to off said her reply was I'm reluctant to tell you and to go home and wait for a letter because there investigating I've had no letter I've phone boss a number off times and left messages and I'm not getting a reply what can I do and what are my rights I'm not getting paid wither while that investigate
Johnny - 15-Jan-18 @ 11:35 PM
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??
Sophella - 15-Jan-18 @ 6:36 PM
I currently working as a carer and it's a zero hour contract,I start at 7 am but with having a small child in school and being a single mum i would like to start at 8am but they said hey couldn't do this as they have employed me from 7am-6pm with t being a zero hours I thought it was flexible? What fits around me?
Kim - 11-Jan-18 @ 11:48 AM
Stef - Your Question:
Work 11 years on a zero contract with acontract of employment usually 40 plus hours same calls week in week out. Company shutting down due to retiring am I entitled to reducurcy

Our Response:
It's not a zero hours contract if you've worked the same hours on a permanent basis for this length of time. We feel you should be entitled to some redundancy payment but you will need to consult a professional about this. Try ACAS
SafeWorkers - 10-Jan-18 @ 12:55 PM
Work 11 years ona zero contract with acontract of employment usually 40 plus hours same calls week in week out. Company shutting down due to retiring am i entitled to reducurcy
Stef - 9-Jan-18 @ 8:45 AM
Hi, I'm 16 years old and recently landed a 0 hour contract job at McDonald's. They provided the usual training which lasted 5 days and then started working at my chosen store. Day 1: As soon as I walked in my manager told me to go home as I had a slight stubble beard. I have never shaved and have always used a trimmer to keep it neat and tidy. I apologised to my manager and said i had assumed that I could wear a beard guard. He told me I couldn't and sent me home. I later found out that McDonald's policy on beard is preferably clean shaven however workers can opt to wear a beard guard. Day 2: I was 20 minutes late due to London transport(not an excuse). As soon as I got in I apologised however my manager sent me home again. Day 3: I managed to get in on time and was clean shaven so I was allowed to work. A few days later the manager called me in for a meeting (he was 20 minutes late and then made me wait 15 minutes) and explained to me I was late too often (although it was only one day) he also mentioned that I turned up to work with a beard (I again explained I assumed I could wear a beard guard) he then realised he was being silly and told me that he felt I was not enthusiastic enough and sacked me (based on one day). He didn't go into any further detail and wished me a well future. I feel I was unfairly dismissed without a valid reason. Am I able to do anything about it? Thank you
Jon - 4-Jan-18 @ 11:18 PM
My care company asked all staff to hand in there availability for Christmas. I offered to work Christmas morninginstead of my usual shift of evenings. Due to family. However my request was ignored and my employer has put me to work evening do I have any rights to refuse the shift having given my availability for that day? I am on a zero hr contract.
Jo - 18-Dec-17 @ 1:49 PM
Hi, My mum works for a security company which is a zero hours contract, she has to confirm shifts on an online portal and her shifts for the entire year are generally fixed, however, a few months ago, we confirmed the shifts for around Christmas time in advance, however, a day or so ago, they've changed that week even though we confirmed the week as per the original shift pattern. They do this every year, and my mum ends up having to work, because they use scare mongering tactics to force her to work, yet she has gone about everything in the correct way. Does she have to work if she already confirmed the shifts as per the original confirmation? Thanks.
BSP_88 - 18-Dec-17 @ 12:37 PM
Hollie - Your Question:
Hello, I am on a 8 hour contract and usually work 20 hours a week. I have a holiday over the Christmas Period and I have been put down for extra shifts as it's busy at work but as I am on holiday I am unable to work. I have spoken to my boss who has advised me this will go down as unauthorised leave and will result into a disciplinary and me losing my job. Is there nothing I can do about this?

Our Response:
Had you previously arranged this with your manager? Are you on a casual worker contract?
SafeWorkers - 13-Dec-17 @ 2:00 PM
Hello,I am on a 8 hour contract and usually work 20 hours a week.I have a holiday over the Christmas Period and I have been put down for extra shifts as it's busy at work but as I am on holiday I am unable to work.I have spoken to my boss who has advised me this will go down as unauthorised leave and will result into a disciplinary and me losing my job.Is there nothing I can do about this?
Hollie - 11-Dec-17 @ 12:27 PM
Jo - Your Question:
I've been in an accident at home which involved having an operation and I currently can't work which I work for an agency so I don't get a wage and now I'm trying to find out about benefits etc I could claim till I get the all clear from the hospital

Our Response:
The Turn 2 us website should be of help as you can enter your personal details and circumstances.
SafeWorkers - 5-Dec-17 @ 2:56 PM
I've been in an accident at home which involved having an operation and I currently can't work which I work for an agency so I don't get a wage and now I'm trying to find out about benefits etc I could claim till I get the all clear from the hospital
Jo - 4-Dec-17 @ 7:52 PM
Courtney - Your Question:
I have just been given the sack I'm on a zero contract am I entitled for this week's pay that the shifts I was planned for ev3n though I'm not allowed to work them

Our Response:
You are only entitled to pay for shifts that you've actually worked.
SafeWorkers - 29-Nov-17 @ 11:26 AM
I have just been given the sack I'm on a zero contract am I entitled for this week's pay that the shifts i was planned for ev3n though I'm not allowed to work them
Courtney - 28-Nov-17 @ 3:00 PM
Jp - Your Question:
Hi there, I’ve been on a 0 hour contract at my work for 2 years now. Usually I’ve always had 50-60 hours worth of work but recently they’ve hired more staff and I haven’t been getting any hours. A friend told me that I’m by law entitled to contracted hours after a year is this true? Because I haven’t paid my rent in two weeks, and am close to living out of my car.

Our Response:
Having worked the same regular shifts for this length of time 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. Perhaps this is why your employer has stopped giving you work? Ask them for some hours and see what the response is. Contact ACAS for further advice.
SafeWorkers - 28-Nov-17 @ 11:09 AM
Jo jo - Your Question:
I was told that because I didn't give 2 weeks notice and gave 1 weeks notice for a paid event to go too I have to work an evening shift and an early the next day this event has beenot paid for it work in domacillery on 0 hours could I have advice on my rights they are also sending emails to say that staff are ringing in sick and are desperate for cover Thankyou Joanne

Our Response:
If you're on a zero hours contract, you are able to accept and refuse any shifts you're offered and you've already given notice that you're unavailable for a shift on this occasion. Employers often behave like this when they're short of staff, but if they employ lots of zero hours workers, then they should expect it.
SafeWorkers - 27-Nov-17 @ 2:16 PM
Hi there, I’ve been on a 0 hour contract at my work for 2 years now. Usually I’ve always had 50-60 hours worth of work but recently they’ve hired more staff and I haven’t been getting any hours. A friend told me that I’m by law entitled to contracted hours after a year is this true? Because I haven’t paid my rent in two weeks, and am close to living out of my car.
Jp - 27-Nov-17 @ 12:28 AM
I was told that because I didn't give 2 weeks notice and gave 1 weeks notice for a paid event to go too I have to work an evening shift and an early the next day this event has beenot paid for it work in domacillery on 0 hours could I have advice on my rights they are also sending emails to say that staff are ringing in sick and are desperate for cover Thankyou Joanne
Jo jo - 23-Nov-17 @ 3:07 PM
I am on a zero hour contract I can’t work half terms because I have children, my work said they would compromise and I wouldnt have to work my ‘expected hours 930-230 mon-fri’ as stipulated on the contract if I could come in, in the evenings,can they do this? I’m struggling to secure child care in the evening that’s why I think it’s I the job school hours
Sparks - 24-Oct-17 @ 12:16 AM
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
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