Zero-hours contracts guide: Everything you need to know


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Zero-hours contract guide Front cover
Zero-hours contracts guide

Zero-hours contracts overview

What are zero-hours contracts?

Zero hours-contracts are a type of contract. It effectively means an employer doesn’t have to guarantee any set amount of working hours to the worker.

This also means that the worker doesn’t have to accept any work offered by their employer.

It’s against the law for employers to prevent staff on zero-hours contracts from working  for other employers, with an exclusivity clause.

For example, employers aren’t allowed to include a clause in the contract of zero-hours workers, stating they can only work for them.

Workers also shouldn’t be treated unfavourably if they do work for other employers.


What is the employment status of a zero-hours staff member?

Zero-hours staff are classified as employees or workers and should refer to their employment status as such. According to Acas, your rights are based on your employment status.


What are my rights under a zero-hours contract?

Your rights are determined by your employment status, not having a zero-hour contract. This means you should receive the same employment rights by law as full-time workers, including but not limited to

  • National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage
  • Paid holiday
  • Rest breaks
  • Protection from discrimination
  • Receiving payslips


When might employers use zero-hour contracts? 

You might engage staff on a zero-hours contract basis if you need additional flexibility in parts of your workforce, or extra hands on deck at certain times of year. 

Some examples of sectors that might use zero-hours contracts are:

  • Casual hours work (e.g. for students working during holidays)
  • Care work
  • Delivery driving
  • Warehouse work
  • Hospitality during seasonal peaks 

Can you refuse hours on a zero-hours contract?

Zero hour contracts, by nature, do not guarantee you'll receive work from your employer, however, you're also under no obligation to accept the work offered. For example, if for some reason you can’t work a shift being offered to you, you don't have to accept it while on a zero-hours contract.


Zero-hours holiday pay and entitlement

An important part of hiring zero-hours workers is understanding how holiday entitlement and pay are calculated. 


Do zero-hours contracts get holiday pay?

Zero-hours workers are entitled to take paid holiday, although they have limited legal rights. (We cover how to calculate holiday pay for those on zero-hours contracts in a later section of this guide). 

An employer can insist a worker take a holiday, as long as they provide twice as much notice as the holiday the worker is being asked to take. For example, 4 days’ notice would need to be provided for 2 days’ holiday.


How do you calculate holiday entitlement for zero-hours contracts? 

Zero-hours workers with an ongoing contract are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid leave a year. This starts from day one of employment. 

Whether or not public holidays are included in holiday entitlements or are paid in addition to the basic holiday entitlement is at the employer’s discretion. 

To determine your potential zero-hour contract holiday entitlement, Breathe’s Holiday Calculator can help work out your allowance in a few simple steps. 


How do you calculate holiday pay for zero-hours contracts?

Holiday pay for people without regular or fixed hours should be calculated by working out the average pay they’ve received over the previous 52 weeks. This should only include the weeks in which they were paid. 

If there have been weeks with no pay at all during the 52-week period, an earlier week (than the 52-week period) should be used instead for calculating holiday. This also applies to weeks where a small amount of pay has been received, such as Statutory Sick Pay. 

ACAS advises this is because pay should be the same when staff are on holiday as when they’re working. 

If 52 weeks isn’t long enough, employers can look at pay received over the previous 104 weeks, but this is the furthest point that can be reviewed for calculating holiday pay. 

If the worker hasn’t worked for 52 weeks, the average should be taken from the full weeks they have worked.


Zero-hours sick pay and entitlement 

Are staff on zero-hours contracts entitled to sick pay?

Workers on zero-hour contracts are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay providing they meet the eligibility criteria.

They will need to:

  • Have been off sick for at least 4 qualifying days in a row. (The first 3 days are ‘qualifying days’ and this needs to be when they usually would be required to work. Statutory Sick Pay can be paid from day 4)
  • Earn at least £123 a week (on average, and before tax)
  • Have informed their employer they’re sick within the employer’s deadline, or within 7 days 

Whilst the weekly rate of Statutory Sick Pay applies to all employees and workers, the amount employers should pay workers for each day they’re off work depends on the number of qualifying days they work each week.

The government offers a Statutory Sick Pay calculator to help work out rates of sick pay for your workers.


Zero-hours contract - notice periods

How do notice periods work for zero-hours contract workers?

If you have a genuine requirement for a flexible pool of workers, or a business where demand fluctuates, then zero-hour contracts can work extremely well.

It’s important that SMEs understand notice periods for zero-hours workers – or essentially, the lack of them. 

There are no statutory rights regarding notice periods for zero-hours contract workers.

Theoretically, a zero-hours contract gives your worker the ability to ‘leave’ without ever giving notice. Since they don’t have to accept any work that you offer, nor give a reason for doing so, they could simply and permanently continue to turn work down.

Even where notice is given, your worker could still turn down any work offered during their notice period. Effectively, they can ‘leave’ as soon as notice is given. In practice though, every employer seeks a good working relationship and wouldn’t want this sort of situation to occur.

From an employer’s perspective, the issues are the same. Although you may give notice to a worker, provide a leaving date and follow the process (as per the zero-hours contract notice period you have outlined) you don’t then have to offer them any work during that time. 


Zero-hours notice periods & contracts

Employers need to be aware that a zero-hours contract will continue, even without providing work, until the contract is terminated either by themselves or the worker.

If no paid work has been completed within x number of weeks, the contract will come to a natural end. This clause will need to be stated in the contract. If that time does come, the employer must pay any accrued holiday that is owed.


Do you get a p45 on a zero-hours contract?

All workers, no matter the type of employment they undertake, should receive a P45 at the end of their employment contract.


Final considerations for SMEs & zero-hours contract notice periods

So, there are a couple of things to be aware of with zero-hours contract notice periods. 

Firstly, you shouldn’t rely on a zero-hours contract worker being available during their notice period. Secondly, you can’t expect that they’ll even give notice that they’re resigning. 

If you bear those points in mind, these contracts can be very useful for calling on ad-hoc workers as and when you need them.

Simple holiday calculations with Breathe


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