The Negotiator has uncovered an Employment Tribunal hearing that took place 18 months ago and that, unnoticed at the time, handed down a judgement that Purplebricks self-employed LPEs were employees in the eyes of the law.
Held in September 2020 at a Scottish tribunal court, it was prompted by former LPE Euan Martin’s claim that, because he was in reality an employee of Purplebricks, he was due £30,284 in holiday pay and pension contributions.
He also said he should have the ‘fines’, deducted from his pay when customers complained about his service, returned to him.
Purplebricks, which claims it was not notified about the hearing at the time and therefore did not defend itself, was told to pay Martin the money after Judge Lucy Wiseman said that she found the claimant was “employed by the respondent as a worker and accordingly is entitled to pursue the claims set out in the claim form”.
Key arguments put forward by Martin’s solicitor at the hearing, and taken on board by Judge Wiseman, included that he was “under the control of the respondent” in terms of the business he did, had to follow prescribed marketing and advertising rules, was heavily monitored, was given equipment including a laptop and camera, and was not able to get other people to do viewings – i.e. he had to do them himself.
“I concluded that the claimant was not in business on his own account [and] I reached that conclusion having had regard to the fact the claimant was an integral part of the respondent’s business,” the judge said.
Following the judgement, Purplebricks swung into action. Its lawyers asked that the hearing be re-run but, before it could be concluded, it is claimed that Martin was reminded that his contract stipulated he must pay the company’s legal costs, which came to more than his claim.
At this point Martin withdrew, and Purplebricks has shown The Neg a clause from his contract which says: “By withdrawing my claim, I fully accept that the issues and allegations raised by me as part of my claim have no merit whatsoever. I fully accept that at no time during my relationship with Purplebricks was I ever a worker or an employee of Purplebricks.”
Readers may make their own conclusions about Martin’s change of mind, but the legal team currently preparing a ‘group action’ against Purplebricks had noted the outcome of the first tribunal.
A spokesman for Contractors for Justice (C4J) tells The Neg that the judge’s comments, which clearly reveal that she thought Martin was an employee of Purplebricks in everything but name – and in terms of section 230(3) Employment Rights Act (and the Working Time Regulations and Pensions Act) too – were instrumental in persuading C4J to launch its group action.
It is expected to get to court later this year.
The Neg has put all these points to Purplebricks, which has pointed out that Martin withdrew from the second hearing “on the first day and stating that he fully accepted the case had no merit whatsoever”.
In August last year Purplebricks’ then CEO Vic Darvey, who will step down at the end of this month, revealed the company was ditching its self-employed model for its LPEs and territory owners, and bringing them all in-house.