How to go from zero to hero

Zero hours contracts have proved controversial but can be used responsibly, say Rocket Lawyer’s Mark Edwards and Olivia Sinfield.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe debate surrounding zero-hour contracts is back on the news agenda, this time due to recent survey findings by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development that such contracts are being ‘unfairly demonised’.

The controversial arguments are well known due to the balance of power being weighted in favour of the employer but when used responsibly, these flexible contracts can benefit both parties, particularly during peak business periods.

The most important thing about using zero-hour contracts is to have it appropriately drafted so it accurately reflects the relationship between the employer and the worker.  The worker does not need to obtain employment status or build up any continuity of service, therefore, there is no risk of unfair dismissal claims upon termination for the employer.

No pressure

It can be easy to ask more of your workers, especially during busier periods, but it is important that arrangements with your zero-hour workers do not diverge in practice from the terms of the contract. You must not oblige or pressurise the individual to accept work whenever it is offered and there should be no come-back on them should offers be declined.

To allow the worker the same flexibility that the contract allows you, do not place any restrictions on them only being allowed to work for your company exclusively. Staff should be allowed to seek jobs elsewhere should there be no available work at your company.

You may have noted the use of the word ‘worker’ over employee as it is important to keep a clear distinction between zero-hour workers and your employees. For example, do not label them as employees for internal purposes and avoid offering them an entitlement to the usual benefits afforded to your employees e.g. mobile phone allowances.

Finally, you may want to consider how best to manage the risk of reputational damage should an argument be brought up against your company for use over zero-hour contacts. There has been a lot of consumer backlash against the unethical use of these contracts so it is important to ensure that you have drafted your contracts properly and use them responsibly.

Mark Edwards, general manager at Rocket Lawyer and Olivia Sinfield, PJH Law (an on call lawyer at Rocket Lawyer)

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dunechaser/

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