Employment rights extend to temporary staff too.
Many employers take on workers on a 'casual' or 'as-required' basis and do not expect them to gain protection under UK employment law. There have been a number of important changes to the law, however, which mean that employers could get caught out. Further changes are also on the way.
Recently, in the Court of Appeal, the judges decided that tour guides working for National Power on an 'as-required' basis, were employees with all the normal employment rights because there was an implied right to give, and take, a reasonable amount of work.
Other employers have been caught out in the courts because they have failed to provide 'self-employed' sub-contractors with the health and safety protection that the employers are required by law to give to employees.
The Government is increasingly adopting the EU idea that employers should take greater legal responsibilities for a wider category of 'workers', rather than just 'employees'. Rights under the new Working Time Regulations (effective from 1 October 1998), the whistleblowers legislation (the Public Interest Disclosure Act) and the National Minimum Wage legislation will apply to most casual workers.
Further, the Government is gauging industry reaction to suggestions that the unfair dismissal waiver option on fixed-term contracts should be removed; whether other employment protection rights should be extended to what the press has dubbed 'virtual employees'; and whether further protections are needed for workers on zero hour contracts.
The message is clear. All employers will need to re-examine the basis on which they engage casual/temporary staff, and employers should take advice on specific possible problem areas. It is risky to be casual about it.
Nikki Duncan is an employment law partner at Bond Pearce, 01752 266633.