Casual workers and unfair dismissal: Mrs M Wright

The issue of the employment status of people who perform casual work – and its complexity – has come up yet again, this time in Mrs M Wright v St John the Evangelist Parochial Church Council (England and Wales: Breach of Contract) [2018] UKET 3200595/2017.

The facts

In 2004, Mrs Wright began assisting the daytime cleaner of the church halls run by the Parochial Church Council of St John the Evangelist Church. She had a job description for the cleaning work but no written contract and the PCC treasurer paid her in cash. Neither party paid NICs or tax on the payments because they were below the threshold [8]. When the daytime cleaner stood down in about January 2005, Mrs Wright took over all the cleaning of the halls at night, seven days a week. The PCC accepted that member of her family would accompany her and assist with the cleaning: the job description recorded that “job sharers are welcome” [9] – and her husband sometimes did so. In practice, Mrs Wright did the cleaning on her own initiative and used her own judgment as to which parts of the building required particular attention. [10] The PCC provided the cleaning equipment and reimbursed her for the cleaning materials she bought. She did not take out any form of insurance. [11] Initially, the time allowed for the work was “nominally” eight hours [12]. She received some holiday pay [13] and if she was unable to do the cleaning, the PPC asked her to arrange cover and paid those individuals directly [14].

In 2017, after various vicissitudes too complex to retail here, the PCC voted not to continue using Mrs Wright’s services – and she claimed unfair dismissal.

The judgment

Employment Judge Moor concluded as follows:

  • there was no written contract [82] but there was “an oral agreement (i.e. contract) between the parties that Mrs Wright undertook the tasks set out in the job description in exchange for remuneration” [85];
  • the PCC had sufficient control over Mrs Wright for the agreement to be consistent with employment. That she chose when to do the work, and what rooms required particular attention, did not undermine the level of control but was simply a feature of different usage of the different rooms at different times [87]; and
  • she could not be regarded as in business on her own account: she did not pay anyone; she did not provide her own equipment, she did not pay for materials and she took no financial risk [88].

However:

  • she was not an employee because there was no agreement between the parties that she personally had to do all the work – which was inconsistent with there being a contract of employment [101];
  • she was not a worker because there was no requirement of personal performance [102]; and
  • the alternative argument, that the arrangement was a job share and that, in effect, there was a contract of employment with both Mr and Mrs Wright did not stand up, because Mr Wright did not always attend and was not paid: “This was not a team of two employed cleaners” [103].

The case was therefore dismissed because Mrs Wright was neither a worker nor an employee. However, EJ Moor clearly took a very dim view of the way in which the church had behaved:

“St John’s made money out of its church halls. Without a cleaner, the church could not have made this income nor community groups used its halls. Regardless of her legal status, it seems to me that, on a human level, Mrs Wright deserved to be heard and it does the Respondent and the diocese no credit that it did not do so” [109.3].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Casual workers and unfair dismissal: Mrs M Wright" in Law & Religion UK, 5 April 2018, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2018/04/05/casual-workers-and-unfair-dismissal-mrs-m-wright/

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