• International Workplace
  • 13 June 2018

Pimlico plumber verdict – a watershed moment?

In February this year, we reported on the case of Pimlico Plumbers Ltd v. Smith, which raised a critical question of who was a worker and who was categorised as self employed.  The Supreme Court has ruled on the case today, providing clarity on this point.

Details of the case are as follows:

Mr Smith originally took his case to Tribunal in 2012, claiming that he had been unfairly or wrongfully dismissed by Pimlico Plumbers in May 2011 following a heart attack in January 2011. He had worked exclusively for Pimlico Plumbers for six years between August 2005 and April 2011 on a ‘self-employed’ basis; he was VAT registered and paid tax on a self-employed basis. 

Following a heart attack, he asked to reduce his days from five to three and this was refused by Pimlico, who instead took away his van, citing this to be a work tool not required by Mr Smith as he was not available to provide his services for work. 

Mr Smith claimed to have been dismissed and in 2012, the Tribunal found in his favour.  As a result, it was deemed that he was entitled to worker rights and benefits, including access to sickness and holiday pay, unlawful deduction of wages and reasonable adjustments.  Pimlico appealed, first to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, and then to the Court of Appeal – the appeal was refused by both.

Pimlico then raised an appeal at Supreme Court level.  For Mr Smith to qualify as a worker, the Supreme Court had to consider several case-specific facts:

  • He had to perform the work himself or provide a substitute, but only from other Pimlico Plumbers and no one else;
  • He had to wear a Pimlico uniform;
  • He had to drive a Pimlico branded van;
  • He carried a Pimlico ID card; and
  • The amount and frequency of his pay was controlled by Pimlico.

In short, the Supreme Court has found that Mr Smith was deemed to be an integral part of the company’s operations, and therefore his relationship with Pimlico was more than self-employed contractor and client.  Today, the Court ruled that Mr Smith is a ‘worker’ as originally ruled back in 2012.

So, is this an important ruling with far reaching consequences?  Tar Tumber, Director, Employee Relations, says:

"In my opinion, it’s not.  Whilst this case may mean that other ‘gig economy’ workers question their employment status and challenge the organisations they work with, the focus of the Supreme Court was on the specifics of the Pimlico case, and how closely Mr Smith worked with that organisation. 

"That said, the fact the highest court in the land has upheld the original decision should be seen as a clear warning for companies to really look at the relationship they have with self-employed contractors.  If you direct them, manage them, control them, and have done over several years, it might be time to consider how you ‘engage’ them, before a claim goes in!"