Pimlico Plumbers appeal dismissed by Supreme Court

October 4, 2018

In the English case of Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith, the Supreme Court has held that a plumber who worked under a contract as an independent contractor was a worker as defined in S.230 (3) (b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Working Time Regulations 1998 and in employment for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

• Mr Smith suffered a heart attack in January 2011 and sought to work three days per week instead of five.
• His request was refused, and his branded van was taken away.
• Mr Smith claims he was later unfairly dismissed in May 2011 and issued proceedings in the employment tribunal.

Employment Tribunal Decision:
Mr Smith won the Employment Tribunal challenging the firm’s view that he was self-employed; it was held that he was a worker, but not an employee. This means that he is entitled to minimum wage, paid annual leave, rest breaks, employer pension contributions and other entitlements that self employed contractors are not. Pimlico brought an appeal against the decision, which was dismissed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the same basis as the Employment Tribunal. Pimlico then appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal Decision:
The Court of Appeal agreed with the tribunal’s findings, dismissing the appeal. The court noted that Mr Smith had to work a certain number of hours per week, and found that this was inconsistent with self-employment. The court also noted that Mr Smith’s personal provision of his services was relevant.
Pimlico then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Decision:
The court held that the foundation of Mr Smith’s claim to be a limb (b) worker was that he had bound himself contractually to perform work for Pimlico, and that while he was working on assignments for Pimlico he was doing so pursuant to a contractual obligation.

In agreement with the tribunal, it was agreed that there was an umbrella contract between Mr Smith and Pimlico, so it was unnecessary to consider the relevance to limb (b) status of a finding that contractual obligations continued during assignment only.

Lord Wilson upheld judgments from the Employment Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, dismissing Pimlico’s appeal. The court held that Mr. Smith should be considered as a ‘limb (b) worker’ and therefore entitled to certain rights. ‘Workers’ do not enjoy the full range of employment protection rights that full-time staff do, but they are entitled to rights such as holiday pay.

The Supreme Court’s decision paves the way for Smith to take action against Pimlico Plumbers as a worker.
Although a successful outcome for a ‘limb (b) worker’, many employment solicitors are not viewing this decision as ground-breaking, simply because employment cases centre on very specific and unique facts. It is therefore as yet unclear how this case will impact future gig economy and worker status cases, as this will not be a multi-purpose precedent.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Employment Law Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.

Michael Black, Employment and Immigration Director, Employment Law Team, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, Solicitors.