May 23, 2014

Employers ‘want zero hours exclusivity clauses banned’

The Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) called for government action in April to tackle confusion about zero hours contracts (ZHCs), whether through guidance or legislation.

David Widdowson, chair of the ELA legislative and policy working party on the issue, said ZHCs meant "different things to different people" and a clear definition was essential.

The survey, carried out by a London law firm, found that only 21% of employers thought exclusivity clauses in ZHCs should not be banned, the rest were not sure. Three quarters of those surveyed said they would like more guidance on exclusivity clauses and 71% wanted more guidance on ZHCs generally.

Only one in 12 employers who took part in the survey used exclusivity clauses within their ZHCs, while more than a third thought they could never be justified.

It was thought that some employers pointed to "specific, limited projects undertaken by senior employees or directors, particularly where there is a need to protect commercial confidentiality or trade secrets, as occasions where such clauses may still be necessary".

Research suggested that ZHCs were used to recruit specialists, where there was a "genuine ad hoc requirement" for their skills. The issue at the heart of a long-running debate concerns the extent of their use and possible abuse by UK employers.

A 12 week consultation was launched in December 2013 by Business Secretary Vince Cable following a review of evidence on the extent of the use of ZHCs. The consultation received a high level of interest, with over 30,000 responses, among them were various proposals for change.

The proposals ranged from potentially doing nothing to banning exclusivity clauses entirely, while statutory codes of practice, guidance, model clauses and better provision of information were also suggested."

Employers should review the transparency of their zero hours arrangements and look at any exclusivity clauses in use to consider whether they are justified in the circumstances.

They should also ensure zero hours workers' employment status and rights are fully understood by all - applicants and internally - and make sure there is clarity around the terms and consequences of the contracts.

At Royds, our experts can advise on all areas of employment law, including preparing zero-hours contracts and other forms of employment contracts. For more information, please visit or contact Richard Woodman, Gemma Ospedale or Caroline Doran.

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