Written agreements and employment status
A recent decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has confirmed that a taxi driver who was free to work as and when he liked was not an employee. Professional Support Lawyer Elizabeth Stevens and Trainee Solicitor Laura Tanguay report.
The claimant in this case, Mr Knight, worked as a taxi driver with Fairway & Kenwood Car Service. Under the terms of their written agreement, Mr Knight was free to work or not work as and when he pleased.
Mr Knight brought a claim for wrongful dismissal, which was rejected by the employment tribunal on the grounds that he was not engaged under a contract of employment. He appealed against the tribunal’s decision to the EAT.
The EAT reviewed the relevant case law in this area which has established that, for a contract to be a contract of employment, it must infer an obligation to work and enable the employer to exercise some degree of control.
The EAT considered whether Mr Knight was under any obligation to work for Fairway & Kenwood and concluded that he was not. There was no contractual requirement for him to work a minimum number of hours or accept a minimum number of jobs. So long as the weekly ‘rent’ was paid to Fairway & Kenwood, Mr Knight was not in fact obliged to work at all. The fact that the taxi driver actually worked seven days a week in reality was not, in itself, sufficient to say that an employee-employer relationship should be implied by the tribunal.
Mr Knight’s appeal was therefore dismissed by the EAT and his claim for wrongful dismissal rejected.
This case is a useful reminder that tribunals will not infer an employee-employer relationship where there is clear evidence (in this case a written agreement between the parties) that a worker is not required to work – even if in reality he or she is working seven days a week. There was no suggestion in this case that the agreement was a sham and did not reflect the true arrangement between the parties. It is important when engaging such workers to make sure that any written agreement is an accurate reflection of the working arrangements.
A copy of the EAT judgment is available here.