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What is a zero hour contract? If you run a small business, you might only need to employ extra staff on an ad-hoc basis. A zero hour contract, therefore, is a type of casual contract that you can use if you need staff but can’t offer them a set number of hours.
A zero hour contract is a type of contract you can use if you can’t offer staff constant work, or only need them on an ad-hoc basis.
If you have an employee on a zero hour contract, you don’t have to give them a minimum number of working hours – but they don’t have to accept work you offer them.
In practice, this means that if you have no work for someone on a zero hour contract, there’s no need to pay them for a set number of hours just because they’ve got a contract. They’re paid only for the hours they work.
Your employees (including those on a zero hour contract) can be classed as either employees or workers depending on their contract and how they work in practice, including frequency of hours and type of work undertaken.
Workers are people contracted to do work personally for a company and sit somewhere between employees and the self-employed in terms of employment rights.
Employees work under an employment contract and have more employment rights than workers, including protection against unfair dismissal and time off for emergencies.
There’s no fixed answer to the issue of employment status of someone working on a zero hour contract.
It’s best for you to consider the terms of the contract and how your staff member works in practice, and get professional advice if you’re not sure about anything.
As mentioned, rights depend on employment status – employees have more rights than workers. But every worker on a zero hour contract is entitled to:
You can’t stop a staff member on a zero-hours contract from working for someone else and you can’t treat them unfairly if they do work for someone else. If they’re legally classed as an employee, you can’t dismiss them for this either.
People on zero hour contracts have the same rights to rest and rest breaks as other employees and you’re responsible for their health and safety. You’ll also pay them through PAYE, deducting income tax and National Insurance.
A zero hour contract has advantages for both employers and staff.
It lets you set out a clear legal framework for ongoing employment, including performance reviews and grievance procedures. It can also help you establish a longstanding relationship with a worker, which could be beneficial over the long term.
For workers, they have rights and legal protections, so it might be more appealing than freelance or other temporary work.
The disadvantages of a zero hour contract for employers include the fact that staff don’t have to accept work that’s offered to them. You’re also unable to stop them working for someone else.
The staff member doesn’t have stability as they’re not being paid a regular income, and they can’t predict when work might come along next.
As explained above, employees on zero hour contracts are entitled to holiday pay but working it out can be difficult for employers. This is because holiday entitlement is usually based on a five-day working week, with a set number of hours.
Zero hour contracts don’t have fixed hours, so you can’t calculate holiday entitlement on a monthly basis because the employees' hours vary month-to-month.
To work out how much holiday your employees are entitled to, you’ll need to calculate how many hours they’ve worked. The standard 28 days’ holiday (including bank holidays and public holidays) is 12.07 per cent of the 52 week year.
Put simply, for every hour an employee works, they accrue seven minutes of holiday.
Employees are entitled to their normal hourly wage whilst on holiday but not all employees are on an hourly rate. Using this holiday entitlement calculator will help if you’re struggling to work out holiday pay for your employees on zero hours contracts.
Zach Hayward-Jones is a Copywriter at Simply Business, with six years of writing experience across entertainment, insurance, and financial services. Zach specialises in covering small business and landlord insurance. He has a particular interest in issues impacting the hospitality industry after spending a number of years working as a pastry chef.
We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer
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