Self-employed plumber’s worker status upheld by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has dismissed Pimlico Plumbers’ appeal against the Employment Tribunal and Court of Appeal decisions that Mr Smith was in fact a ‘worker’ rather than self-employed.

In Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and Mullins v Smith, Mr Smith was engaged as a plumber for roughly five and a half years, which came to an end four months after Mr Smith suffered a heart attack. He brought a multitude of claims in the Tribunal in 2011, including unfair and wrongful dismissal, holiday pay, unlawful deduction of wages and disability discrimination.

As a preliminary matter the Tribunal concluded that Mr Smith was not an employee but that his work for the company met the definition of ‘employment’ under section 83(2)(a) of the Equality Act 2010. This meant that Mr Smith would be entitled to certain employment protections including holiday and sick pay.

After unsuccessfully appealing the Tribunal decision in the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal, Pimlico Plumbers’ appeal has also been unsuccessful in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had to consider whether Mr Smith had undertaken to perform work personally and whether the company was his client or customer and it concluded the Tribunal was entitled to find Mr Smith was in fact a ‘worker’.

Despite being VAT-registered and paying self-employed tax, the main feature in his contract required Mr Smith to perform the work personally and there was no unfettered right to give away work in his contract. His ability to swap shifts with another Pimlico Plumber and reject work was balanced against Pimlico Plumbers’ control of Mr Smith’s uniform, administrative duties and payment which showed that the company was not a client of Mr Smith.

With this decision, Mr Smith can now take action to enforce his rights and pursue his claims against Pimlico Plumbers Ltd as a worker.

If you have any questions relating to this article or require any advice, please contact Emelie Vardon, Trainee Solicitor in the Employment team, on 0191 226 7874 or at

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