Legal briefing

Do casual workers have the status of employees and the rights that go with it?

In a controversial ruling in 1998, the Court of Appeal stated that two women hired to work on a 'casual as required basis' as tour guides at a power plant were employees.

This seemed to cast doubt on a 1997 case, Clarke v Oxfordshire HA, in which the court held that a bank nurse was not an employee because there was no obligation to accept work when it was offered.

In the power plant case, Carmichael v National Power plc, the Appeal Court held that there was an implied obligation that the plant would offer the women a reasonable amount of tour guide work, and that they accept a reasonable number of stints. That w a s sufficient to create an employment contract, the court said.

Now the House of Lords has overturned that ruling, holding that there was in fact no minimum obligation on each side, either to provide or to accept work.

Therefore there was no employment contract - the decision the employment tribunal had reached in the first place.

The case is a lesson for employers to make sure that letters making an offer of work are vetted by lawyers.

That did not happen in this case and there was much wig-scratching over the meaning of 'a casual if required basis'.

So, a case brought by two casual workers who were paid£3.75 an hour went through an employment tribunal, the employment appeal tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the highest court in the land - the House of Lords - running up vast amounts of money in legal fees, in order to come back to square one.