The government has gone some way to clarify the use of zero hours contracts by publishing guidance on their use. The guidance, published last month, also details the alternative options employers have when wanting to take on staff on a flexible basis.

According to the document, available via the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the circumstances in which it might be appropriate to employ a member of staff on a zero hours contract include:

  • new businesses, where demand might be fluctuating and unpredictable;
  • seasonal work to manage surges in demand, for example around Christmas;
  • employers needing staff to cover unexpected sickness in critical roles, such as a lifeguard at a leisure centre;
  • catering companies calling on additional experienced staff when a special event is booked; and
  • a company testing a new service that they are thinking about providing, needing staff on an ad hoc basis.

Zero hours contracts have been a bone of contention for many due to the lack of guaranteed work afforded to employees. Despite this, many employers have continued to favour their use due to the flexibility they afford. In fact some statistics suggest the use of zero hours contracts has increased by fifth in recent months, with an estimated 744,000 employed on a contract without guaranteed hours.

So far as employers are concerned, although controversial, zero hours contracts remain a legitimate way to take on new staff. So long as there is no exclusivity clause in the agreement (such clauses were banned in May this year), and employees are fully aware of the lack of guaranteed hours at the time they take the job, zero hours contracts are appropriate for use in certain circumstances.

For more help and advice on taking on new staff or any aspect of employment law, please contact our team of employment law solicitors.