Zero-hour workers are not guaranteed fixed hours of work nor are they obliged to accept a particular number of hours. Unless specifically written in the contract, businesses cannot suspend a zero-hour employee for disciplinary reasons without suspension pay.
In addition, zero-hour workers cannot be prevented from getting other work when employed under the contract. If they are not paid during the suspension period, the workers may sue the business for not providing statutory employment rights.
A Tribunal Case regarding Zero-hour Work
A recent case in the UK highlights the importance of businesses to ensure the provision of statutory rights to zero-hour workers.
A zero-hour worker had sued an Indian restaurant named Rice Shack for not providing her suspension pay. The worker had worked in the food outlet from December 2015 until she was suspended for disciplinary reasons in March 2016.
Although zero-hour workers are not guaranteed fixed hours, she normally worked around 15 hours per week at the rate of £6.70 per hour. After an altercation, she was suspended without any disciplinary hearing.
Despite the fact that her employment contract did not contain any provision for suspension without pay, the owner suspended her without paying the suspension pay.
The worker submitted a grievance with the company on May 2016 protesting against not being given the suspension pay and also not being offered work even when she was willing. While a hearing was held, the matter was not resolved in the meeting.
The worker got another job in August 2016 in a call centre company that she joined without informing Rice Shack. On December 2016, Rice Shack offered the worker further shifts, but she had turned down the offer as she was already employed.
The Employment Tribunal (ET) heard the case and concluded that the end date of employment was December 2016 when the worker had turned down the offer, and not March 2016 when she was suspended. So, Rice Shack was ordered to pay for 40 weeks average pay from March to December 2016.
According to the ET, the zero-hour worker’s suspension duration had continued since Rice Shack did not contact the worker regarding the disciplinary process.
Rice Shack had made an appeal that the worker should not be given any pay as per section 13(3) Employment Rights Act 1996 as she had started work on August 2016 without informing the company.
However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) rejected the appeal stating that under the terms of the employment agreement, the worker had the right to accept other offers without notifying the employer. The restaurant was therefore ordered to give suspension pay to the worker.
Business needs to be aware of the obligation of suspension pay to workers. The workers need not inform the company of joining another firm in case no clause is present regarding this matter in the contract. The worker can also seek and accept other work during the disciplinary suspension period.
The disciplinary issue of zero-hour contract should be dealt with in a manner similar to dealing with regular employees. Suspending a worker indefinitely will not be considered a dismissal. The worker will have to be paid average pay during the duration of the suspension until a definite conclusion is reached.
Not taking care about this slight yet important point regarding zero-hour workers could cost thousands of pounds for the company as was the case with Rice Shack.