Zero-hours contracts

Zero-hours contracts can be a flexible option for both employers and workers. For example, if the work is not constant or is 'as and when'.

If you have a zero-hours contract:

  • your employer does not have to give you any minimum working hours
  • you do not have to take any work offered

Types of work that might use zero-hours contracts include:

  • bank work (for example, for the NHS)
  • casual hours (for example, students who only work during holidays)
  • care work
  • delivery driving
  • gig economy work (for example, delivering takeaway food or giving car rides)
  • hospitality work
  • warehouse work

Your rights under a zero-hours contract

If you're on a zero-hours contract you can be classed as an employee or a worker. By law, this means you have employment rights including:

Depending on your contract and circumstances, you might be legally classed as an employee and have more employment rights. It's a good idea to check your employment status matches with your contract.

If you're an employee, you also have protection from being dismissed or experiencing any 'detriment' if you:

  • reasonably believe being at work or doing certain tasks would put you in serious and imminent danger
  • take reasonable steps over a health and safety issue, for example complaining about unsafe working conditions
  • inform your employer about your health and safety issue in an appropriate way

You could have a case for automatically unfair dismissal if you're dismissed in these circumstances.

Detriment means treatment that leaves you worse off, for example:

  • your employer reduces your hours
  • you experience bullying or harassment
  • your employer turns down your training requests without good reason

If you're legally classed as a worker you also have protection from experiencing any 'detriment' if you:

  • reasonably believe being at work or doing certain tasks would put you in serious and imminent danger
  • take reasonable stepsĀ over a health and safety issue
  • inform your employer about your health and safety issue in an appropriate way

Working for more than one employer

If you're on a zero-hours contract, by law, your employer must not:

  • stop you working for another employer by putting an 'exclusivity clause' in your contract
  • treat you unfairly if you do work for another employer
  • dismiss you for it if you're legally classed as an employee

This law still applies even if your employer says you've broken your contract by working for another employer.

Rest breaks

Under zero-hours contracts, you have the same rights as other employees and workers to:

  • rest breaks at work
  • rest between working days or shifts
  • weekly rest periods

Find out more about rest breaks

If your employment contract ends

A zero-hours contract could be an ongoing contract or a series of short contracts each time you do work for your employer.

It's important to know which type of contract you have because if your contract ends, your employer must pay you:

  • any holiday you've built up and not taken
  • outstanding wages and notice pay (if you were employed for more than a month, or if your contract says so)

Continuous employment

When your employment has been continuous, with no break, you build up more employment rights. For example:

  • for workers, after your first year of continuous employment you might not have to build up holiday before you can take it, but this would reset if there was a break in employment
  • for employees, you have the right to make an unfair dismissal claim after 2 years service, but this could reset if there was a break in employment

It's important to know if your employment has been continuous or if there has been a break. It might not be clear if there has been a break if you have short contracts each time you do work for your employer, or if you leave a job and return back to it. If you're unsure, you should check with your employer.

What counts as a break in employment

If you're not provided work for a full calendar week (7 consecutive days from Sunday to the following Saturday), this usually counts as a break in employment.

In some situations, it may not count as a break in employment. For example, when:

  • you're off work for up to 26 weeks with sickness or injury
  • your seasonal or academic work regularly stops temporarily
  • you and your employer have an agreement, such as a career break

If you're unsure, you can ask your employer how it affects your contract.

The employer's responsibilities for zero-hours workers

The employer is responsible for:

  • zero-hours workers' health and safety at work
  • paying their wages through PAYE, including tax and National Insurance (NI) deductions

Find out more about PAYE, tax and NI from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)

If you think your employer is not following the law

If you think you're not getting what you're entitled to, for example rest breaks or pay, you should first raise the issue with your employer.

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