There has been a further stir in the so-called “gig economy” as the Court of Appeal decides that a plumber in the case of Pimlico Plumbers & Charlie Mullins v Gary Smith is a worker, and therefore should be entitled to basic worker rights despite being technically self-employed.

The case is one of many to have analysed the well-publicised distinction between whether someone is a worker or a self-employed contractor. What is important in this instance is that this is the highest court to have considered a case relating to the working practices in the “gig economy”, and is therefore likely to have longstanding implications on other businesses in the future.  

Charlie Mullin, the founder of the London-based company, considered the plumber to be self-employed on the basis that he provided his own materials, did not have worker benefits and was engaged on a self-employed basis. The plumber’s argument differed however. After suffering a heart attack the plumber made a request to reduce the days he worked in a week which was refused, and he argues he was therefore subsequently dismissed. The plumber asserted he was entitled to basic workers’ rights including the right to sick pay. 

The Court of Appeal has decided, agreeing with the judgement of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, that the plumber of Pimlico Plumbers was a worker. This, therefore, gives him various rights that he would not have been entitled to if branded as having self-employed status. However, the Court of Appeal stopped short of finding that he was an employee which would have given him even greater rights including the right not to be unfairly dismissed.

Despite the argument of whether someone is a worker or self-employed being heavily down to the sensitive facts of the case, this is likely, amongst other judgements concerning the “gig economy”, to be a leading case on employment status. 

Employers should, however, exercise some caution as to how they approach employment status following this ruling. It was acknowledged in this case, that care needs to be exercised to avoid any general conclusions being drawn from the outcome and employers should recognise that each case will have to be considered on the facts.

It is likely that the case could be remitted to the Supreme Court meaning this may not be the end of the status battle over whether someone is a worker or self-employed. 

We have previously looked at the outcome of a similar and well-publicised case in relation to the Uber taxi phenomenon- the link to which can be found here- and we can only anticipate that there will be more cases to come as a result of the ever-growing “gig economy”!