What Is A Zero Hour Contract?

There has been much discussion in the media recently surrounding the concept ‘zero hour contracts’. Individuals that do not know the employment industry may have been shocked and confused as to why employees would be tied into a zero hour contract; does this mean that they do zero hours?!

The definition for a zero hour contract is a flexible contract of employment with no limit on the number of hours worked. Now, you would think that employers would take advantage of this resulting in employees completing a ridiculous amount of hours; but this is prevented under the Working Time Regulations (unless the employee opts out).

However, employees use this method of employment with the opposite effect resulting in employees completing short shifts (to avoid being given ‘paid’ breaks) which are decided on a weekly basis. If an employee cannot complete a certain shift, say due to child care or studying, then the employer can then refuse to give hours for the foreseeable future. The employer is under no obligation to provide work. In essence, it means that employees are ‘on call’ ensuring that they are available for work when needed, but no obligation to provide work.

Zero hour contracts are very popular and the use has now spread to the public sector. It was recently revealed that Sports Direct employ 90% of their employees on a zero contract basis. There is of course a great advantage for the employer as they can require a higher number of employees to work during seasonal periods without having to go through a lengthy recruitment process.
The issue with the concept of a zero hour contract, is that the employee is not guaranteed a certain number of hours so they cannot ascertain how much, if any, they will get paid. It further raises difficulties if an employee is claiming benefits. Parents will struggle to commit due to arranging child care leaving the employment to the younger generation, usually with less responsibility and ultimately, more vulnerable to be taken advantage of. It has further been discovered, that many organisations are employment individuals as ‘workers’ rather than ‘employees’. In essence, if an individual is employed as a ‘worker’, their employment rights are severely restricted.

Due to the recent publicity surrounding the zero hour contract, the Government has requested that the use of the zero hour contract is reviewed. Due to the rising popularity of zero hour contract, it is likely that the Government will regulate and control their use rather than remove them.

If you believe that your employment rights have been breached on the grounds of unfair dismissal or discrimination, then please get in contact and we will be happy to assist.