Zero Hour Contracts – not as clear cut as you might think

31st March 2016

Zero hour contracts can be beneficial to both employees and employers; employees may not be able to commit to a full-time position due to other responsibilities, whilst employers may want the flexibility of having the minimum number of staff working that are needed to cope with varying levels of demand. As a result they are very popular in businesses such as restaurants, pubs and those in the hospitality industry. However issues can arise when an employer doesn’t use zero hour contracts in the right way.

The trap that employers can fall in to is thinking that the employment contract is the ‘final letter of the law’. In reality, however, an employment contract must reflect the true nature of the employment. Therefore even if an employee’s contract states that zero hours are guaranteed, if that employee has been regularly working the same number of hours for a long period of time, the employee could be right in saying that their contract is not a zero hour contract.

To explain this with an example, if an employee has been working at a restaurant for a number of years, and they have worked at least 25 hours every week, one could argue they shouldn’t be on a zero hour contract because that doesn’t accurately reflect their employment. If that employee was then given zero hours one week, you could understand why they would complain.

In summary, the important point to remember is that an employment contract must reflect the true nature of the employment. The nature of employment can also change over time, and therefore contracts should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they represent reality.