| Commentary

(a) Employee or worker?

| Commentary

C.     Workers

(1)     The technical meaning of 'worker'

(a)     Employee or worker?

The word 'worker' of course has a normal dictionary meaning of one who works ('workers by hand or brain') and sometimes it may be used in this sense in the employment context, as a relatively neutral term for anyone earning their living by their labour, rather than by property or investment. However, in employment law it also has a technical legal meaning, in which sense it is used as a deliberate alternative to the term 'employee'—both deliberate and deliberately wider. Whereas the term 'employee' is restricted to a person under a contract of employment (thus excluding not only the clearly self-employed, but also anyone whose status is ambiguous and who fails to establish the necessary contract of employment), the term worker is designed to be more inclusive, covering potentially the ambiguous middle ground and only excluding those clearly self employed.

The exact delineation of the 'worker' category as an intermediate stage between employment and self-employment has been fought out in several contexts over the years. One particularly sensitive area recently has been its application in what is referred to as the 'gig economy' of informal and highly flexible engagements, where employers wish to avoid both employee and worker status for their staff. The issues here can be seen well in two decided cases. The first is the high profile decision in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd v Smith [2018] UKSC

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