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11 January 2016

New rights for zero hour workers

2 mins

New legislation came into force today (11 January 2016) giving individuals employed on zero hour contracts new rights not to be dismissed or subjected to detrimental treatment in relation to breaching ‘exclusivity clauses’.

The Exclusivity Terms in Zero Hour Contracts (Redress) Regulations 2015 has been brought in to deter organisations from including exclusivity clauses in their employment contracts. Exclusivity clauses are designed to prevent staff from carrying out work for another employer. They have been widely criticised for grossly disadvantaging individuals with zero hour contracts who have no contractual guarantee of being given hours.

The new legislation gives employees and workers on zero hour contracts two new rights:

  1. If the employer dismisses the individual because they have failed to comply with an exclusivity clause, the dismissal will be automatically unfair. This means the individual can claim compensation for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal regardless of how long they have worked for their employer;
  2. If the employer subjects the individual to detrimental treatment (including acts as well as failures to act) because they have carried out work for another employer in breach of an exclusivity clause, the individual can claim compensation in the Tribunal (again regardless of their length of service).

With both types of claim the individual can also request a declaration from the Tribunal regarding their rights and the subject matter of the claim.

While this new law contains the promise of protecting workers and employees on zero hour contracts, it will only affect those whose contracts contain exclusivity clauses, which is a small portion (125,000) of the estimated total 1.4 million people on zero hour contracts (ONS, 2014). In addition, Tribunal fees (introduced in July 2013) are likely to deter the majority of potential claimants from enforcing their rights because of limited means.

There is no question that the new law represents a step in the right direction. However, its application may be limited and further work will need to be done, including by employers, to improve the treatment and conditions for staff employed on zero hour contracts.

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