David Greenhalgh: Should employers follow Hermes’ lead with ‘self-employed plus’ status?

The ‘self-employed plus’ model appears to work well for Hermes, but is not necessarily a solution for other employers.

The issue for Hermes, as it may be for other businesses, could be that if an individual does not take the ‘self-employed plus’ option, there would be nothing to prevent them from later making a claim for worker status, relying on the availability of the newly agreed status as proof that Hermes accepts that its couriers are indeed workers.

If such a claim were successful, those couriers might be able to take advantage of the additional benefits afforded under self-employed plus status, while retaining the freedom and premium hourly rates under the old self-employed model, getting the best of both worlds.

Other employers might consider following Hermes’ lead, offering contractors a choice on status which might help to avoid a costly tribunal case and potentially unfavourable decision. There is also a reputational advantage to granting rights to workers voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by the courts.

However, employers must consider whether such an approach will work for them in practice. In some instances, the workforce might genuinely consist of self-employed contractors, in which case organisations will not want to unnecessarily implement costly measures, such as paid holiday and a guaranteed hourly rate.

Ultimately, the self-employed plus model might be a good option for some employers, particularly within the gig economy. However, it will not work for everyone and is not a universal answer to the issue of workers’ rights.

More cautious employers might prefer to sit back and see how these early experiments are treated by the Employment Tribunal and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), before choosing whether or not to follow Hermes’ lead.

David Greenhalgh is employment partner at law firm Joelson