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Sourcing seasonal staff over the festive period will be high on the agenda for many employers, but there have been some changes to the law in the last year regarding employing casual staff on zero-hours contracts. Employers should be conscious of these as they embark on their Christmas recruitment campaigns, says Tina Chander, head of employment law at Midlands law firm Wright Hassall

For many years, zero-hours employment contracts have received a lot of negative media attention, as commentators argue they are unfair and offer employees little security in the already competitive employment market. 

That being said, many employers and employees enjoy the flexibility these types of contracts provide, as they allow individuals to take work when they want, whilst enabling businesses to better manage irregular workloads during seasonal peaks. 


Individuals working with zero-hours contracts have numerous basic entitlements under UK law, which include:

• Those aged over 23 are entitled to the National Living Wage, whilst those aged under 23 will be eligible for the National Minimum Wage

• Many of those on a zero-hours contract will still be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they meet particular criteria, including whether they’ve previously worked for the employer, and if they’ve earned at least £120 per week for the past eight weeks

• They are entitled to the same rest breaks/days as other employees with more traditional contracts. 

Most recently, a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court made it clear that any employee or worker in the UK who has a permanent contract but works part of the year, including those on zero-hour contracts, is entitled to 5.6 weeks’ of annual leave. In addition:

• The amount of leave cannot be pro-rated based on the portion of the year when work is actually done

• Annual leave must be calculated and paid using the method set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA)

• The average earnings of those on zero-hours contracts (over the previous 52-week period) must be used to calculate holiday pay.

When calculating pay for these persons, if there are any weeks within the 52-weeks prior to the period of leave in which the individual did not work and therefore did not earn, the employer must discount this and calculate the pay based on a full 52-weeks before leave in which the individual worked. 

Consider the long-term impact

Although zero-hour contracts have become progressively more popular as business owners look to reduce their costs and improve dexterity in an ever-challenging commercial environment, it’s still important to properly consider how working in this way can affect long-term sustainability and stability. After all, they don’t adhere themselves well to succession planning, particularly for small businesses.  

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