The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by plumbing company Pimlico Plumbers in a decision that should have wide implications for workers’ rights.

Giving the lead judgment this morning in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith, Lord Wilson upheld judgments from the employment tribunal and the Court of Appeal. The decision clarified that plumber Gary Smith’s work for the company met the definition of ’employment’ under section 83(2)(a) of the Equality Act.

Wilson said Smith should be considered as a ‘limb (b) worker’ and therefore entitled to certain rights. So called ‘workers’ do not enjoy the full range of employment protection rights that full-time staff do but are entitled to elements including holiday pay.

The case was closely watched by employment lawyers and those who operate in the so-called ‘gig-economy’.

During his time at Pimlico Plumbers, Smith paid tax on a self-employed basis though he worked solely for Pimlico, was required to wear the company uniform, rented a branded van and was required to work a minimum number of weekly hours. However, he could choose when he worked and which jobs he took. He was required to provide his own tools and equipment.

After a heart attack in 2010 Smith wanted to work three days a week rather than five. Pimlico refused his request and took away the van.

An employment tribunal ruled that Smith was a worker, but not an employee. Pimlico appealed that decision but both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal backed the tribunal’s finding.

The Supreme Court’s decision paves the way for Smith to take action against Pimlico Plumbers as a worker, including a claim that he was unfairly dismissed.