When is an employee not an employee? Jane Farrell from our Singer Street office gets to the bottom of the Supreme Court’s latest findings…
Peter Stringfellow is renowned for many things. He would no doubt prefer if one of them wasn’t putting into practice a recent decision by the Supreme Court.
In July 2011, the Court ruled on the case of Autoclenz Limited v Belcher. A group of car valets had contracts with Autoclenz describing them as ‘self-employed’. So they weren’t entitled to certain rights of employed workers, including National Minimum Wage and paid annual leave under the Working Time Regulations. They brought an Employment Tribunal claim against the company seeking these rights on the basis that, in reality, they were actually employees.
After a series of appeals, the Supreme Court concluded that when deciding if a worker is genuinely self-employed, it was necessary to look at how the contract functioned in practice, not just what it said on paper. And confirmed the tribunal’s decision that the car valets were actually employed by Autoclenz.
Lap dancer Nadine Quashie’s position is similar. She decided to expose a dispute she’s had with Mr Stringfellow’s business and try to beat him in court. She claims she was unfairly dismissed by Stringfellows. They, however, defended the claim on the basis that she’d signed a contract agreeing that she was self-employed and that, by law, self-employed people cannot bring unfair dismissal claims.
The Employment Tribunal accepted Stringfellows’ defence, but Ms Quashie appealed its decision. She claimed that Stringfellows had an obligation to offer her work on set dates, and that she had to carry out these shifts in order to receive her pay. She was neither permitted to get another dancer to work in her place nor work at any other similar clubs to Stringfellows. So she was, effectively, an employee.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal agreed that she had a viable argument on this point, and has agreed to hear Ms Quashie’s full appeal against the Tribunal’s decision next year
If Ms Quashie wins her case, it could extend employment rights to other people working as lap dancers and strippers. Which would be one in the eye for Stringfellows… and a great victory for workers’ rights.