Zero-Hours Contract Music Teacher Triumphs

The teacher was not a casual worker, but worked only during school terms under a zero-hours contract. The trust that ran the school was not required to provide her with a fixed minimum amount of work. The number of hours she worked was dependent on the level of pupil demand for her tuition.  She was paid monthly at an agreed hourly rate.

Being a worker within the meaning of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), she was entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave. The trust calculated her holiday pay by reference to a formula recommended by ACAS that was apparently directed at casual workers who are not retained between periods of work. Application of that formula resulted in a pro-rata reduction in her holiday pay that reflected the fact that she did not work throughout the year.

Outline of the Case

The teacher claimed at Employment Tribunal that that approach amounted to an unlawful deduction from wages. It was argued that the formula bore no relation to the calculation of holiday pay required by the WTR and produced a lower figure. Her holiday pay should have been calculated on a straightforward arithmetical basis by taking her average weekly remuneration during the 12 weeks prior to the calculation date and multiplying that figure by 5.6. Her claim, though initially unsuccessful, was subsequently upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

In challenging that decision, the trust pointed out that the teacher worked in the region of  32 weeks per year and on her case, was entitled to holiday pay calculated on the same basis as if she worked 46.4 weeks. If correct, she would receive 17.5 % of her actual earnings in holiday pay, whereas she would only be entitled to 12.05% if she worked all the year round. Parliament could not have intended such an anomalous result and a pro-rata reduction was justified.

In ruling on the appeal, the Court noted that the case raised an issue of general public importance on which there was no prior authority. It acknowledged that it might seem surprising that the holiday pay to which part-year workers are entitled represents a higher proportion of their annual earnings than in the case of full-year workers. That had the potential to produce odd results in extreme cases. For example, an exam invigilator who worked under a permanent contract, but only for one week a year, would in principle be entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave.

Outcome of the Case

Dismissing the appeal the Court found that there was no requirement of EU law to pro-rate the holiday pay entitlement of part-year workers to that of full-year workers. The WTR made no provision for such pro-rating. The method of calculating holiday pay contended for by the teacher might produce anomalies in some atypical cases, but had the advantage of simplicity and did not lead to unprincipled or obviously unfair results. Referring to the exam invigilator example, the Court noted that those who work for only a few weeks a year would normally be expected  to engage on a freelance basis, rather than having a permanent contract.

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The Harpur Trust v Brazel. Case Number: A2/2018/0825


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