Zero Hours Contracts UK – What Are They & What Rights Do Workers Have?

What are zero hour contracts? These are employment contracts with no guaranteed hours. In theory, this offers flexible labour conditions to both parties. Employers can offer work when it arises, and workers can decide if they’d like to accept the available shifts.

zero hour contracts explained

Zero Hours Contracts in Practise

According to the ONS, as at September 2017, 2.9% of the UK workforce had a zero hour contract. That was 900,000 UK workers. This number is still rising.

Many employees find the reality of a zero hours contract is heavily tilted in favour of their employer. They are sometimes expected to work full time hours without the protection of a contract, and in some cases, can be told they can’t turn down shifts. Many are unaware of their rights and the laws surrounding zero hour employment.

Types of Work That May Have Zero Hour Contracts

Zero hour contracts are used by many employers in order to secure flexible employees. These types of contracts are popular in industries where required staffing levels can fluctuate. These include:-

  • Hospitality work
  • Care work
  • Retail
  • Warehousing
  • Parcel delivery drivers
  • Gig economy such as takeaway delivery and car rides
  • Seasonal roles

Zero Hour Contracts – The Law and Your Rights in the UK

Zero hour contracts have a reputation for being heavily tilted in favour of the employer. However, workers on this type of casual contract still have many rights. It’s important to be aware of your rights when entering into a zero hour contract. Make sure you always read your contract thoroughly before starting your new job.

Turning Down Shifts

When you are on a zero hour contract, you have the right to turn down any shifts offered. The flexible nature of the contract should apply to both parties.

Working For More Than One Employer

When on zero hour work contract you cannot be forced to work for a single employer. Your employment contract should not ban you from working with another employer, or seeking other roles.

Payment For Shifts & Travel Time.

Workers are entitled to be paid for the hours that they have worked and travelling time if this is part of the job. For example, a carer travelling from one appointment to another, and for any time spent on call.

Minimum Wage & Holiday Pay

Zero hour workers are entitled to the national minimum wage, in addition 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.

Sick Pay

Workers on a zero hours contract have a right to statutory sick pay in line with other workers performing similar roles. So long as you are earning abover the lower earnings limit of £118 a week, you should have the right to sick pay for up to 28 weeks.

Refusing Hours on a Zero Hours Contract

Many workers wonder if they can refuse hours whilst on a zero hours contract. If you have a zero hours contract you can refuse any shift you are offered. Many employees are told by managers they have to work the shifts the employer requires. However this is not the case. The contract works in the same ways for both parties, and as a worker you have the right to refuse any hours offered to you.

Zero Hour Contract Notice Periods

If you decide to give notice on a zero hours contract role, you can use the flexibility of the contract to refuse any shifts offered during your notice period. Your employer cannot withhold any wages for hours already worked in this circumstance, even if they have added contract clauses to that effect.

UK Law Changes in 2021 on Zero Hour Contracts

At the moment you are protected under UK law and have the same rights as other workers to receive:-

  • National Minimum and Living Wage.
  • Pay For Work Related Travel During Shifts.
  • Holiday Pay & Sick Pay.
  • On Call Pay.

In 2021, the UK government has passed legislation following advice in the Good Work plan, which gives workers on zero hours contracts the right to written terms of employment from day one in a job.

Later in 2021 the Employment Bill is expected to be published. This will implement more recommendations from the Good Work Plan including:-

  • Compensation for shift cancellation without resonable notice.
  • Giving workers a right to reasonable notice of shift times.
  • Giving workers the right to switch away from a zero hours contract after 26 weeks continuous employment. The new contract would reflect regular hours worked during that 26 week period.

The aim of the planned changes is to even up the one sided nature of zero hour roles, giving workers additional rights and greater employment security.

Need Further Help?

If you need further help dealing with your zero hours contract or are having an issue with your employer, you can contact ACAS for help.

Telephone: 0300 123 1100
Textphone: 18001 030 0123 1100
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

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 in England or Wales. Also the CAS in Scotland.

Further Reading on Zero Hours Contracts & Rights

For further information, we recommend the following information sources:-

ACAS guide to workers rights on zero hour contracts.

UK Gov guide to contract types and employer responsibilies.

15 thoughts on “Zero Hours Contracts UK – What Are They & What Rights Do Workers Have?

  1. Filgin Veliyath george says:

    I have signed a zero hour contract with one employer who is doing home care.
    As the online induction training is completed I feel I am not competent for this job . Can I refuse the job? Is there any consequences doing so?

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Filgin,

      Response for information purposes, and is not professional advice.

      Theoretically workers on a zero hour contract should be able to leave without notice as they are under no obligation to accept work offered. That means they could serve the employer notice and decline any hours offered during the notice period.

      However, in practise you need to read what the contract you have signed says about notice periods and take things from there to ensure you’ve signed a true zero hours contract.

      If you feel uncertain, your local citizens advice should be able to help. Take your contract to them so that they can read the contents and advise you about how to approach things.

  2. Adam Betts says:

    I am on a zero hours contract and my manager has just cancelled my shift only 6 hours before I am due to start. I do not feel this is reasonable and cannot afford to miss out on the income. Is there anything I can do?

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Adam – this is for information only, and is not professional advice.

      Unfortunately a zero hours contract does not guarantee any working hours, so there’s not any legal recourse when a shift is cancelled. However, it would be a good idea for you to double check your work contract and see if it mentions anything about notice periods to cancel shifts.

  3. Amanda says:

    I’m a Community Carer on zero hours contract. I told my manager that I want to leave. Contract I signed says I have to give 4 weeks notice. I said I will hand the notice but that from next week I don’t want to accept any work and want to do zero hours. My manager said it doesn’t work like this and that I will have to do my usual hours I have done in past few months, which were every week different but usually between 45 and 55h. I don’t want to accept that as I’m about to change job. Where are my rights? Can I refuse doings these hours? Do I have to give 4 weeks notice as my contract says or can I just drop this job from day to day as I’m on zero hours contract?
    Thank you

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Amanda, *Not legal advice, for info only*

      If your contract only makes mention of 4 weeks notice it is likely that you will be able to do as you indicate above. A true zero hours contract will allow you to do this. The ACAS page on zero hours contracts offers clear info on this. If in any doubt at all, contact the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100. You can also take your contract to your local citizens advice for assistance.

  4. Emma says:

    I was on a 35hr contract for years now the company put me on a zero hour contract.I still work 35 hours.Is this right ?

  5. Toby says:

    I am on a zero hours contract and have been subject to continued harassment from another member of staff at my place of work over the last month or so.

    I have complained to the owner of the business several times, the final time with a statement of my intent to leave unless this was dealt with.
    This resulted in the perpertrator of said harassment receiving a verbal warning while I took my regular 2 days off work.

    After returning to work after my days off, the harassement continued unabated.

    As a result I informed my employer that his efforts to bring this situation under control had proved unsucessful, I was unable to work either effectively or happily while subject to this harassement, and as a result I would be leaving with immediate effect (after finishing my current shift).
    My employer has accepted my resignation however claims that my contract stipulates a 2 week notice period and he can deduct my pay for the last 2 weeks if I fail to honour it.

    I have responded by informing him that I am happy to provide 2 weeks notice starting from the day of my resignation, however during that period I am only prepared to make myself available for the minimum number of hours specified on my contract (zero)

    Who is in the right here?

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Toby – This is not legal advice. You have the right to proceed as you’ve indicated. There are very few situations where an employer has the right to dock your wages. The situation you describe is not one of them. Do contact ACAS or citizens advice if you need help to navigate this issue. Your employer should pay you these wages.

  6. Louis says:

    I have a zero hours contract and was confirmed a shift to work. As part of the contract I am given a lift to work at the place for that given day. Upon arrival no one showed up to take me to the shift. Am I entitled to be paid for the shift?

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Louis – this is not legal advice. I’d urge you to check your contract and see if it mentions your transportation arrangements. Zero hours contracts are often very much slanted in the favour of the employer, so unless there’s specific mention of compensation for such an event you may struggle. It might help to contact ACAS if you need advice about what your contract means and how you should approach this situation with your employer.

  7. Julian Martin says:

    I work in front of house hospitality. Two weeks ago I gave notice to quit (I have zero hours contract). One week in they are making my life hell. generally bullying behaviour which came to a head yesterday when the assistant manager accused me of being on drug s (in front of the whole kitchen team). I fell to bits, cried uncontrollably and went to see him later to say how hurt I was and he laughed at me. I’m not going back, have secured another job (which is why they are being horrible to me – constant bullying which has impacted my mental health). I feel I should complain to HR (even though I have left) to stop this happening to others. Can they treat me like this just because I’m on a zero hours contract ?

  8. Kira says:

    I am working as bank staff/ 0 hours contract. Is there a legal limit for the minimum amount of shifts you have to do in order to keep on the 0hrs contract? For example, would I need to be doing a minimum of 4 shifts a year in order to follow the contract guidelines? I thought it was accepting at least once a month but I’ve been told I’m wrong.

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Kira, the UK law covering zero hour or bank contracts is not very detailed in terms of legislating for this type of situation. This is something that should be mentioned in your employment contract, so your first step should be to check what is mentioned in there. If you are still uncertain, a chat with ACAS might help you understand your rights.

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