Companies operating zero hours contracts of employment should review them amid growing concern over their controversial terms and conditions, warn solicitors Coles Miller.
Zero hours contracts are in the firing line again after it was revealed that more than half a million UK employees have now signed them - at least double the government’s estimate.
There are now 582,935 zero hours employees in the UK - treble the number listed in 2010, according to latest data from the Office for National Statistics.
The latest ONS report has reignited the political debate over these controversial contracts amid concerns that workers may be being exploited.
Britain’s biggest trade union Unite believes the number of workers on zero hours contracts may be as high as a million, based on research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Zero hours contracts are designed to be flexible for both employers and their employees. There is no obligation for companies to offer hours or for workers to accept them.
But there has been confusion - among both employers and employees alike - with regard to rights such as annual leave, the National Minimum Wage, holiday pay and maternity pay.
There have also been incidents of workers travelling to their place of employment only to be told there were no hours for them that day.
Coles Miller employment law solicitor Neil Andrews said: “Employers typically use zero hours contracts to cover last minute events or peaks in demand.
“For this reason they tend to be associated with the hospitality and care industries which need regular access to flexible workers and would otherwise have to employ more expensive agency staff.
“But it looks as if the social tide is turning against zero hours contracts because they are perceived to be a less secure form of employment.”
Zero hours contracts were already illegal in France, Belgium and Spain - and the UK could follow suit, she added.
Companies or organisations that were considering zero hours contracts should bear this mind before introducing them.
Any employers already operating zero hours contracts should review them immediately, along with all their HR practices.
“Zero hours contracts may seem like a cost effective option but they are not without their pitfalls,” said Mr Andrews.
Some employers are planning to move away from zero hours contracts because of the controversy surrounding them and to switch staff to fixed hours contracts.
But that is not without difficulties: “Any change in contract terms has the potential to create loopholes or trigger unintended consequences so it makes sense to get expert legal advice,” said Mr Andrews.
“Employers should always review employment contracts regularly as a matter of good practice to ensure they are keeping up with legal changes and still fit the business model.”
Coles Miller’s specialist team of solicitors helps companies to cope with the rapidly changing area of employment law.
They help firms to minimise the risk of unfair dismissal and discrimination claims when they need to terminate a member of staff’s employment.
They can also assist business people involved in director or partnership disputes arising from issues such as personality clashes or conflicts of interest.
Dorset solicitors Coles Miller LLP have five offices in Bournemouth, Poole, Broadstone, Charminster and Wimborne.
The firm’s commercial law department is one of the largest in the Bournemouth and Poole area and carries out work across the south.
For expert advice on employment law, contact Coles Miller solicitor Neil Andrews, 01202 673011.