If you have got a zero hour contract with your employer, the latter doesn’t need to state how many hours’ work he/she will give you. Additionally, he/she can’t stop you from working for another employer. Thus, you can say these are employment contracts with no guaranteed hours. In the U.K., zero hour contracts cover almost 2.3% of the nation’s workforce and this number is increasing steadily.
Zero hour contracts are closely connected to low guaranteed-hour contracts such as those that offer less than 20 hours per week. Had these been included in the statistics, the figure mentioned above would be significantly higher. It’s important to notice that depending upon what time of the year it is, the number of zero hour contracts would fluctuate considerably. Thus, you’ll find them peaking around Christmas and in mid-summer.
Your employment rights when you’ve a zero hour contract
Several industries and sectors like the care industry, warehouse work and couriers, hospitality sector, etc. are increasingly using zero hour contracts. Such contracts would be ideal for start-ups; businesses with seasonal work or peaks in demand; those handling special events (such as an event management firm, wedding venue, etc.); or companies considering testing a new service before rolling it out. But no matter who your employer is, your contract should mention clearly if it’s zero hour. Often, such a contract would state you must be ready to work, as and when asked for. It would also clearly mention that your employer is under no legal obligation to offer you specific hours of work.
Even when you’ve got a zero hour contract, you’re classified as a ‘worker’ or ‘employee’. Thus, you’ll be entitled to statutory employment rights and basic in-work benefits. This includes the national minimum wage, rest breaks, paid annual leave, and protection from discrimination. If you want to know more about employment statuses and all the rights related to them, you can check the employment status guidance.
In case you have any issues with the salary you’re receiving (say, where it’s below the national minimum wage) or the way you’re being treated at work, you need to talk about it with your employer to resolve the issue. If you’re in Scotland, England, or Wales, you can also get in touch with the ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) helpline by dialling 0300 123 1100. This will help you to know your options for settling the dispute without going to court. Remember that the ACAS won’t give you an opinion or legal advice.
In case you’re in Northern Ireland, you can reach the LRA (Labour Relations Agency) at 028 9032 1442.
Best practices for employers to follow
If your employer offers you a zero hour contract, he/she should consider including information like the ones mentioned below:
- Whether you’re a worker or an employee and what employment rights you’re entitled to
- In case you’re an employee, the statutory employment entitlements – such as redundancy pay – that will be applicable, where appropriate
- How you’ll be offered work and the assurance that your employer isn’t obliged to accept work on each occasion, should they wish so
- The process of ending your contract, say at the end of each task assigned or through a notice that’s given by either of the parties involved
Workers/employees with zero hour contracts often have other responsibilities like caring for a senior or children, studies, etc. Thus, it helps if your employers are transparent with their work process, especially the way they offer you work. This means if there’s a rota or roster, for instance, they should state it. Additionally, they should give you as much notice as possible when they offer you work.
Ideally, your employer should have a policy that explains the circumstances under which work might be cancelled, ways they may try to avoid this, and whether the employee/worker can expect to get any compensation for caring costs he/she might have incurred. Unless it’s really unavoidable, cancelling work when you have arrived at your workplace or by giving a late notice is unacceptable.