There has been much talk recently about the rise of zero hours contracts. On the one hand they provide flexibility to both the employer and the employee. On the other it is often said that they make the employee very vulnerable to the need for their services and unable to rely upon a regular income stream. The case of Southern - v - Britannia Hotels Limited and Another suggests that employers need to be alert to the fact that Tribunals may take a view that employees working on a zero hours contract are more vulnerable than those working on standard fixed hour contracts.
Ms Southern was a waitress for Britannia Hotels; she was employed under a zero hours contract. She alleged she had been harassed by her line manager. She made it clear to her employers that she did not wish to pursue the matter as a formal grievance because she was afraid that her shifts might be reduced as a result of her complaint. However the situation became intolerable and eventually she reported the matter to the manager. An investigation was carried out but it was found in the investigation that there was no clear evidence to support Mr Southern’s claims. She lodged a claim in the Employment Tribunal. Britannia Hotels tried to defend the claim saying they have robust policies and that they have followed them. However the Tribunal indicated that they were not satisfied that the investigations were implemented in accordance with their own policies.
Perhaps of greater importance is the fact that the Tribunal made several references to the vulnerability of the Claimant and her fear that any allegations against her line manager or her employers generally might result in a reduction of the hours she worked. It follows that whilst a zero hour contract might have some commercial benefit employers need to be very careful to ensure that employees under such contracts have no reason to fear the consequences of loss of shifts as a result of complaints made in the workplace.