Zero Hours Workers in Retail

Written by Kevin Murphy
1 July, 2022

Zero Hours Workers in Retail

Almost every member of the FRA uses zero hours workers but are they being used correctly?  Are the workers given the correct contract?  Can the workers claim that they are no longer zero hours? 

Read on to find out more about zero hours workers in retail.

We provide one hour free advice per calendar month to FRA members.  Call the HR Helpline on 01270295296 

What is a zero hours worker?

A zero hours worker is someone who usually does not work for you!  It is someone who is available for work when offered but who also has the right to turn work down.  They are usually casual workers and most often are university students.  

A zero hours worker can be an employee or a worker (more of that another time) but the most important point for FRA members to know is that if used correctly, they will be workers.  Members should be careful not to create an employment relationship by way of the promise of continued work (for example) but should try to use zero hours workers as workers.

 Workers have slightly fewer rights than employees but are the most common form of status for those contracted to zero hours. 

When should you use zero hours?

Zero hours workers should be used as and when unexpected work becomes available, such as:

  • sickness cover,
  • annual leave cover,
  • a temporary increase in work due to seasonal stock changes or other seasonal changes,
  • trialling new events or ideas

They are not intended to provide regular cover for predictable patterns of work.

How should you use zero hours workers

Zero hours workers should be used as a bank of people who could complete shifts for you.  When work becomes available it should be offered to workers on the list.  They have the right to refuse to offer of work and the retailer can then offer it to the next person on the list.

There is no legal guidance as to how to proceed through the list of workers on the bank, save for not to discriminate through selecting people of/with certain characteristics only.

At the end of each assignment, you should make a record of the completion of that assignment and refrain from making any promises of future work.

Does a zero hours worker need a contract?

Yes!  Contact the FRA HR Helpline for a free Zero Hours Worker Contract.  Do not issue a standard contract of employment but with ‘zero’ hours entered.   The contract should stipulate:

  • The agreements in terms of offering work
  • The workers right to refuse work
  • How much notice will be given of the offer of work
  • The rate of pay
  • The arrangements as to holiday (either 5.6 weeks or 12.07% at the end of each assignment)
  • Sickness rules if sick once the worker has accepted an assignment
  • Pension eligibility
  • Termination arrangements to remove that person from bank of zero hours workers
  • GDPR policy details

Is there anything else to know?

Zero hours workers cannot be restricted to exclusivity.  If a Farm Retailer wants to benefit from using a zero hours worker, they cannot be limited to working for that retailer only.  If two local farm shops are local to one another and there is genuine concern about a zero hours worker working between both sites, we recommend members not to issue zero hours contracts.

Employers who continuously use university students (for example) during each vacation period should exercise some caution.  If by arrangement or custom, the employee is regarded by the employer as continuing in employment continuity (i.e returning every holiday) there could be an argument for on-going employment, holiday accrual and unfair dismissal rights after 2 years of purportedly being on a bank of zero hours workers.

If you use zero hours workers, you should: 

1. Call the FRA HR Helpline on 01270295296 or email

2. Check the recent hours which your zero hours workers have completed

3. Review how you make and end offers of work

4. Check your current contracts or use the FREE template – just ask the team on the HR Helpline.

Members of the Farm Retail Association are entitled to 1 hour free telephone and email advice every calendar month.


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