News Updates

Supreme Court agrees that Pimlico plumber was a worker

Thursday 14th June 2018

The SC has confirmed, in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and anor v Smith, that a plumber, although self-employed for tax purposes, satisfied the definition of worker.

Mr Smith was engaged as a plumber by Pimlico from August 2005 until his contract was terminated in May 2011, following a heart attack in January 2011. At the initial ET hearing, it was held that the financial risk involved in the arrangement was incompatible with employee status. However, the ET found that Mr Smith was a worker, enabling him to bring claims for holiday pay and unlawful deductions from wages and that he met the extended definition of employment in the Equality Act, so could bring disability discrimination claims.

The ET held that the main purpose of Pimlico’s agreement with Mr Smith was for him to personally provide services, although Pimlico were not obliged to provide him with work. Mr Smith had to comply with Pimlico’s manual and was required to rent a van from Pimlico. He was essentially prevented from undertaking any other work while working for Pimlico and for 3 months following termination.

Mr Smith was required to work a minimum number of hours per week and while he did have flexibility regarding which jobs he accepted and when he worked, he was required to agree his hours. He did not have an unfettered right to provide a substitute and was only able to enlist the help of, or trade jobs with, other Pimlico staff. The ET considered that Mr Smith was not carrying on a business on his own account with Pimlico being a customer or client but was providing services personally for an undertaking carried on by Pimlico and was therefore a worker.

The EAT and the CA upheld the ET’s decision. The SC held that the ET had been entitled to conclude on the facts that the limited right to provide a substitute was not inconsistent with the obligation to personally perform services, required to satisfy the definition of worker. Therefore, Mr Smith satisfied the definition of worker unless Pimlico could show that it was Mr Smith’s customer or client. 

The SC found that the level of control exercised by Pimlico, together with the “severe” terms relating to pay “demonstrated a grip on his economy inconsistent with his being a truly independent contractor” and Pimlico his client. Therefore, the ET had been entitled to conclude that Pimlico was not a customer or client and that Mr Smith satisfied the definition of worker.

All information in this update is intended for general guidance only and is not intended to be comprehensive, or to provide legal advice.