Supreme Court ruling confirms self-employed plumber was a worker

The Supreme Court recently delivered its ruling on the Pimlico Plumbers case, a case which has attracted media attention in recent years, regarding workers' rights. Our experienced Employment Solicitor, Chris Brown, discusses the decision.

The Supreme Court has held that a plumber who, despite his contract labelling him as an independent contractor of Pimlico Plumbers (PP), was, in fact, a ‘worker’ therefore entitling him to various employment rights such as holiday pay and protection from unlawful deductions from wages.


PP engaged Mr Smith between 2005 and 2011 but his position was terminated approximately four months after Mr Smith suffered a heart attack as he was unable to work the hours he was contracted to do. His termination led Mr Smith to issue proceedings in the employment tribunal claiming entitlement to a number of employment rights.


The court had to determine Mr Smith’s employment status. Despite finding that Mr Smith was registered for VAT, submitted invoices to PP, filed tax returns on the basis that he was self-employed, and was under no obligation to accept work, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the employment tribunal that he was a worker. Significant factors in its decision included:

  • While Mr Smith had the right to substitute work in his contract, the court regarded this right as so insignificant as to not be worthy of recognition.  Although Mr Smith could swap work, the substitute had to be a plumber of PP and was bound to PP by an identical suite of heavy obligations.
  • PP exercised a great degree of control over Mr Smith which is inconsistent with being truly ‘self-employed’. The court highlighted that Mr Smith had to drive a PP branded van (which had a tracker in it), wear a PP uniform and carry an identity card. He was also subject to restrictive covenants which prevented him from being a plumber for three months following termination.


Although this is a Supreme Court decision, it does not provide much further legal clarity in determining employment status. As is often the case in worker status claims, the decision is highly fact-specific and each case will ultimately have to be decided on its facts. 

Nevertheless, it does highlight the continued importance of contractual terms seen in the context of the reality of the parties’ working practices. Worker status is also a hot topic so this decision is likely to be of concern for “gig economy” employers.

Our experienced employment team at AMD solicitors are always delighted to hear from Companies or Employees regarding changes to employment laws. To speak to our Employment Solicitors in Bristol and to find out more call 0117 923 5562 or email Chris Brown.

This article is provided for general information purposes only and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at the date of uploading. This article should not be relied upon as legal advice pertaining to any specific factual situation. Legal decisions should be made only after proper consultation with a legal professional of your choosing.

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