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Zero Hours Contracts

February 2024

What are zero hours contracts?

A zero hour contract is a form of casual contract. There is no definitive definition of what constitutes a zero hour contract but, on the Simply-Docs site, a zero hour contract is used where there is an ‘on call’ arrangement between employer and employee, where the employer is under no obligation to offer an employee work but, when it does, the employee is required to accept the offer. The Simply-Docs Zero Hours Contract template is available here.

Employment status

Individuals have different statutory rights depending upon their employment status and those working under zero hours or casual contracts are likely to be employees or workers. This is because there will normally be a requirement for the individual to provide their services personally and there will often be mutuality of obligation.

Employees have more employment rights than workers, but workers still have the right to the National Minimum Wage/National Living Wage, the right to paid annual leave and rest breaks, protection from discrimination and whistleblowing protection. Workers may also qualify for statutory sick pay.

Why use zero hours contracts?

Zero hours contracts are most commonly used in industries where there is a variable need for staff, such as hospitality, catering and healthcare, in order to provide more flexibility in a company’s workforce.

Reform to zero hours contracts

Although some workers welcome the flexibility offered by zero hours and casual contracts, zero hours contracts generally get a bad press and, following various consultations, a new statutory right to request a predictable working pattern is due to come into force towards the end of 2024. This will allow workers to apply for a change to terms and conditions in order to obtain a more predictable working pattern if there is a “lack of predictability” in respect of any part of their working pattern, e.g. hours or days worked. 

Further details will be announced later in the year. 

In the event that a Labour government comes to power following the next General Election, the reform to zero hours and casual contracts is likely to go even further. 

The Labour Party is strongly opposed to the “one-sided flexibility” of zero hours contracts and has made the following proposals:

  • banning zero-hour contracts and any other contracts without a minimum number of guaranteed hours;
  • ensuring individuals working regular hours for 12 weeks or more will attain a right to a regular contract to reflect the hours normally worked; and
  • ensuring all workers receive reasonable notice of any change in shifts, with payment for any shifts cancelled last minute without appropriate notice.

The contents of this Newsletter are for reference purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Independent legal advice should be sought in relation to any specific legal matter.

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