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Cyclist failed to prove she was an employee or worker

View profile for Julie Temple
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There has been an increasing number of high-profile cases in recent years considering whether individuals are employees, workers or self-employed. Most have gone in favour of the individual, lending some weight to the idea (which has increasing support in my experience) that the odds are stacked against ‘employers’. The Jess Varnish case, however, demonstrates this is not the case.

Jess Varnish was a professional team GB cyclist. Jess first entered into an “Athlete Agreement” with British Cycling in 2005 and throughout the relationship she received training, use of facilities and support with equipment. Funding, however, was provided to Jess by a different organisation called UK Sport, through means tested Athlete Performance Awards. The Athlete Agreement was ended by British Cycling in March 2016 and she brought claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination against both British Cycling and UK Sport. To succeed she had to be either an employee or a worker. She failed on both counts.

Establishing employee or worker status is complex, as is evidenced by the 42 page judgment. Jess failed at the first hurdle (no pun intended). She was unable to establish that either British Cycling or UK Sport provided her with work and that she agreed to undertake that work in return for a wage. She agreed to train and British Cycling supported her in that endeavour, as did UK Sport, who awarded her a grant. 

These are fairly unique facts, but the case is important for sports and other organisations who will have been worrying many individuals to whom they provide training and support about whether they were an employee or worker. The other findings in the case reiterate the factors an employment tribunal will consider when weighing up status cases. They are important to consider if you have any uncertainty at all about your own status or that of any individual(s) you engage. The factors include any requirement to personally perform obligations, any control by the ‘employer’ and tax treatment. 

If you would like more information on how we can help, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217318 or julie.temple@birkettlong.co.uk.

Read more about employee and worker status in sports here. 

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