Reforms To Zero Hour Contracts

Zero hour contracts have come under a significant amount of public scrutiny in recent years with fears over the gradual erosion of workers rights. But what exactly are zero hour contracts, and how did the coalition government, in the last few months of its tenure, aim to reform this area of employment law?

A zero hour contract is effectively an arrangement where the worker is not guaranteed a minimum number of hours by the employer. It is a scheme that has certain benefits, especially for young people seeking varied employment hours on a casual, part time basis. From an employer’s perspective as well, zero hour contracts provide a flexible way of dealing with seasonal work flow. Problems begin to emerge however, when such a scheme is used for individuals seeking a more stable course of employment, and are not given the necessary work guarantees that they require. Indeed, these worries could well be justified when, according to the Office of National Statistics, the use of zero hour contracts grew by 100,000 last year.

In response to these growing concerns, the coalition government introduced a number of measures that, whilst not prohibiting zero hour contracts, created limitations to control their use. One of the most substantial changes was a ban on exclusivity clauses, which restricted workers under the contract seeking additional employment elsewhere.

Other changes introduced include the right for zero hour contract workers to bring a claim in the employment tribunal if they suffer a detriment on the ground that they have worked for another business. Details of compensatory awards were also drawn up, should such a claim be successful, along with civil penalties imposed on employers where aggravating factors are taken into account.

Despite no prohibition therefore, the coalition government’s plans have potentially redressed the balance by introducing calculated limitations on zero hour contracts. Employers reap the benefits of fluctuating seasonal workflows with flexible worker contracts, but are also under a strict duty to ensure that these powers are confined to within the realms of the law.

At Seatons, our team of highly trained legal professionals have a wealth of experience in employment claims and provide clear, easy to understand legal advice at low sensible fees. If you are an employee or employer and need advice on your rights and responsibilities, feel free to give us a call on 01536 276300.