Paperboys, young workers and illegal contracts

Reports of a 15 year paperboy finding he had no employment rights make most intriguing reading. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6041259.ece

There are legal limits on not only the hours a school age person can work, but the actual start and finish times. Some free spirits may view this as discrimination against young workers, others as protection against being exploited when school should be a priority. Either way this young worker sought to enforce his rights but found himself not having any!

The case is at tribunal level and be subject to appeal. It would seem that most paperboys/girls are really young part time employees and I am not at all clear how the tribunal found – no mutuality. Like any other part time worker this boy was supposed to turn up at a certain time, do a certain number of hours of work and get paid a certain sum. It is not obvious where the lack of mutuality arose!

On the basis of the reports, the ’employer’ plainly required this young person to turn up at an illegal time. There is a long history of employment rights being affected by whether or not the contract is ‘tainted with illegality’ and few ordinary individuals seem to understand how it works.

  • If I commission you to steal a car and you do so and deliver it to me, you cannot sue me if I don’t pay you, since the courts will not enforce a contract tainted with illegality – think of it as an outlaw clause – if you are outside the law it won’t protect you.
  • If I employ you and we both agree there will be no tax and deductions payable (where they would normally be due) ‘cash in hand’ then you will find an employment tribunal will not give you any unfair dismissal rights since the contracted is tainted with illegality – although what you did may have been legal, the way we arranged to pay you was not and this has the same effect.
  • If your employer gives you itemised pay statement showing deductions for tax and NI but does not make them, this does not have the same effect since you would have no way of knowing.

This has had an interesting effect when it comes to illegal immigrants employed in breach of immigration rules. Unscrupulous employers have managed to use the ‘taint’ clauses to get out of unfair dismissal claims. This does mean confessing to another breach or crime – so this is not a ‘get out of jail’ clause for employers but nonetheless it can leave employees without any rights. Recent cases have suggested the race discrimination (and by other implication other forms of discrimination ) rights exist whether there is ‘taint’ since these rights to not rely on a contract of employment. Perhaps age discrimination rights also exist in this way and the young paperboy can find a way to show a contract of employment or failing that that he was discriminated against on the grounds of his age?

Meanwhile if you want employment protection in the fullest sense, check you get itemised pay statements and that you are ‘paying into the club’ that gives you admission to full employment rights – eg tax and national insurance where you earn enough to need to pay it.

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Filed under discrimination, young workers

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