New restrictions on zero hours contracts come into force

From today, employers using so called ‘zero hours’ employment contracts will no longer be able to require such staff to work exclusively for them. Any provision in a ‘zero hours’ employment contract which prohibits the worker from working for another employer, or requires the employee to first get the employer’s consent shall be unenforceable.

Zero hours contracts have formed one of the most contentious topics of employment law in recent years. Those in favour argue that they provide employer and employee with necessary flexibility, as the employer is not obliged to offer the employee work nor, if offered, is the employee obliged to accept work. However, others worry that zero hours contracts leave some of the poorest workers without guaranteed work or income, leaving them in a precarious financial position.

It is likely that employee groups will welcome the coming into force of this new legislation which will give zero hours employees the ability to supplement their incomes by undertaking work for other employers without being in breach of the terms of their employment contract.

However, critics of the new legislation have argued that it does not go far enough. Employers can easily get around the legislation by giving employees a minimal number of fixed hours per week (say 1 hour per week) meaning that the contract no longer meets the legal definition of a ‘zero hours’ contract. In this way employers may, with little trouble, still attempt to bind employees whose contracts are, in all but name, zero hours contracts.