Sheep tending to Lamb in a field

Rural employment: Casual worker claims unfair dismissal

A recent tribunal case (Mr A Brown v Nodewell Farm Partners: 1401723/2022) highlights the need to agree and document a worker’s status clearly.

The Claimant, Mr Brown, had worked for Nodewell Farm Partners (a sheep farm) as a casual worker for 25 years during lambing season.

Following a restructure, the Claimant was told in January 2022 that his services would no longer be required, and his employment would terminate on 28 January 2022. The Claimant did not work after 21 January claiming that he felt too anxious and was paid up until 21 January, his last day of work.

The Claimant brought a claim for unfair dismissal including £9,650 made up of lost earnings, loss of statutory rights, unpaid holiday, redundancy pay, and unpaid notice pay. He asserted that he was an employee rather than a worker.

Nodewell Farm Partners argued that the Claimant had never been employed by them but worked on a casual basis only. This, therefore, was likely to become a significant dispute regarding the Claimant’s employment status.

Unfortunately, for future clarity, the claim was dismissed on the basis that the Claimant had brought his claim one day outside the claim period.

Whilst this frustratingly does not provide clarity on the employment status of farm workers, it is an important reminder to farm businesses to be clear about the status of all individuals working on the farm. Where an individual is expected to be an employee of the farm, this should be clearly set out and documented. The individual should receive the benefits of an employee, such as holiday entitlement and sick leave. However, if the intention is that the individual is simply a casual worker (such as a zero hours’ worker or even a contractor), then there are certain steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of the individual being classed as a worker. These steps include:

  • Allowing the worker to work for others and reject work offered by the farm business;
  • Allowing the worker to set their own rates or fees;
  • Requiring the worker to use their own equipment; and
  • Providing a substitute to carry out the work when the worker is not available.

If you have any concerns or questions regarding the employment status of your workers, please get in touch.