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 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
- 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.
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.
Further Reading on Zero Hours Contracts & Rights
For further information, we recommend the following information sources:-
UK Gov guide to contract types and employer responsibilies.