A typical workforce will be made up of a variety of working arrangements. From permanent employees, who form the core of an employer’s workforce, to genuinely self-employed contractors, who work on one-off projects and invoice for fees. The types of working relationship which lie in between include: office-holders; fixed-term employees; agency workers; purchased/managed service staff; and interns.

These are all forms of atypical working, which is effectively any pattern of work which is outside the scope of the traditional set-up of a full-time employee working under an employment contract for a single employer.

Working under a casual labour contract is also a form of atypical working, although this in itself covers many different types of working arrangement. For example, “casual labour” could refer to people working on short-hours contracts, annualised hours contracts and zero-hours contracts. This guidance addresses zero-hours contracts only. Zero-hours contracts have come under criticism from worker organisations who claim that the lack of security they provide is detrimental to workers or employees working under them.

CIPD research into zero-hours contracts highlights the wide range of working arrangements that fall under this broad umbrella term. One reason for this is that “zero-hours contract” is not a legal term. The CIPD's research and this guide define a zero-hours contract as:

“An agreement between two parties that one may be asked to perform work for the other, but there is no set minimum number of hours. The contract will provide what pay the individual will get if he or she does work and will deal with the circumstances in which work may be offered (and, possibly, turned down).”

Organisations considering using zero-hours contracts should think carefully about the business rationale for doing this, including whether there are other types of flexible working or employment practices that would deliver the same benefits.

This guide, produced in collaboration with law firm Lewis Silkin, is designed to help employers ensure that they are using zero-hours contracts responsibly and understand the legal issues surrounding them.

Definition of a zero-hours contract and overview of the law

Employment status: where do zero-hours contracts fit in?

The pros and cons of status

How to decide what contract to use

Difficult issues

This section looks at a number of difficult issues that arise specifically in the context of zero-hours contracts.

Terminating zero-hours contracts

Case law examples

Examples of cases where individuals who appeared to be self-employed were held by the courts to be workers


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