Labour Research March 2012

Law Queries

Fixed-term contracts

Q. Our member has been employed on a succession of fixed-term contracts. Each fixed-term contract has run straight on from the last. Although they haven’t always carried out the same work (sometimes covering for a colleague on maternity leave, sometimes carrying out work specific to their skillset), they have been working at the organisation for five years. Are they now entitled to a permanent contract?

A. The position of a worker who has been employed on a series of fixed-term contracts collectively lasting for four years or more is dealt with in section 8 of the 2002 Fixed-term workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations. Under this provision your member would appear to be entitled to be treated as a permanent member of staff.

Your member should apply to the organisation to have their status recognised. However, bear in mind that the employer can in some limited situations avoid having to approve the member’s request. Firstly, if there is a workforce agreement which permits them to do so and, secondly, if refusing to do so is objectively justified.

The relevant test for determining whether to decline to give your member a permanent contract is whether the employer has, applying identifiable objective and transparent criteria, an objective need to use a fixed-term contract. A tribunal will need to assess whether the employer’s use of a fixed-term contract is appropriate for achieving the objective pursued and necessary for that purpose.