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The Pantomime Case: a case summary

13 May

Slights & Others v Crossroads Pantomimes Ltd & Others: A Case Summary

Slights & Others v Crossroads Pantomimes Ltd and Others is a recent employment tribunal case looking at the legal definition of workers. It has linked my legal and creative worlds and opened up a window into the pantomime business. Equity, the British Actors’ union, has successfully brought a tribunal claim against Crossroads Pantomimes. Crossroads is the largest pantomime company in the world. Here is a case summary on this crucial case.

Case Overview

An Employment Tribunal has made significant findings for the pantomime theatre industry in the case of Slights & Others v Crossroads Ltd & Others. The case focuses on the definition of limb “b” workers. The case was heard in the London Central Employment Tribunal on 10th to 12th January 2022 by Employment Judge Norris. Read the case itself here.

The individuals who brought the claim (the Claimants) held various roles in pantomime productions. Their roles include being performers, stage managers, and part of the technical support for the production. The case centred on the Claimants’ capacity as performers. Via Equity (the British Actors’ Union), the Claimants brought a group claim against their employer, Crossroads Pantomimes (formerly QDos Pantomimes). They argued that they were workers and therefore entitled to certain protections under UK law. In particular they were seeking holiday pay. 

Crossroads Pantomimes is the largest pantomime production company in the world. It was arguing that the Claimants’ were self-employed and not workers, which is also what was written in their contracts. 

The Employment Tribunal has ruled that pantomime performers are workers. This means that the Claimants (and perhaps others in similar situations) are entitled to holiday pay from their employer.

A case summary on the Slights & Others v Crossroads Pantomime & Others Case by solicitor and actress Ayesha Casely-Hayford

Dan Leno as Widow Twankey in “Aladdin” at the Drury Lane Theatre, 1896. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Legal Issue: Limb “b” Workers

To get technical on what happened, we need to look at what the legal issue was. The legal issue considered in this case was: are the Claimants ‘limb “b” workers’? 

‘Limb “b” worker’ refers to section 230(3) subsection (b) (or limb “b”) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the Act). The Act says:

’In this Act ‘worker…means an individual who has entered into or works under (or, where the employment has ceased worked under) – 

  1. a contract of employment, or
  1. any other contract, whether express or implied and (if it is express) whether oral or in writing, whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract whose status is not by virtue of the contract that of a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual.’ 

Therefore, in definition if the Claimants were workers the main focus was on the client/customer categorisation of the employer. If Crossroads is a client or a customer receiving services from the Claimants, the Claimants would be self-employed and not workers.  The relationship would be on a more equal footing and not one of subordination and dependency. Judge Norris decided that as far as the Claimants are concerned Crossroads was not a client or a customer of the Claimants, and therefore the Claimants were workers as defined under limb b of section 230(3) of the Act – they are limb “b” workers. The nature of pantomime theatre and how it works in practice, provides the reasoning.

The Nature of Pantomime Theatre in Defining Workers

The Tribunal decision highlighted factual elements of pantomime theatre explaining why they are limb “b” workers. These factual elements can be summarised as follows:

  • pantomimes are seasonal productions, and by their nature do not run for the entire year. However, this does not preclude individuals from being workers or lessen their dependancy on an employer
  • individuals commit to rehearsals from late November, with a run of performances from early December to sometime in January and it is unrealistic to say they could work elsewhere during the season
  • Once they have committed to the season’s production, likely to be in or around August of that year, they have no further autonomy or independence whether in relation to that production or otherwise from the date rehearsals start until the date the run ends
  • once engaged for the pantomime season, they do not have the power to influence the production or negotiate their own fees

In addition to the above factors, a respectful definition clarified that the Claimants were considered to be ‘Artistes’ as opposed to ‘Key Artistes’ – Key Artistes being the headline celebrities or pop stars, featured and employed by the pantomime companies for its publicity. 

Taken together as a whole, these factual elements meant that the Claimants were sufficiently subordinate and dependent on the pantomime company to deserve the protection of the law and the protection of worker status and be classified as workers. Judge Norris said:

‘…it is entirely unrealistic to suggest that the Respondents [the pantomime company]… are the ‘client or customer’ of the Claimants’

A case summary of the landmark employment tribunal case for the theatre industry written by Ayesha Casely-Hayford

Shropshire Council’s Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury. Mother Goose. Photo: Pamela Raith

Why It Matters

The tribunal decision is fact specific and by looking at the facts of the case, you can see whether it applies to your own employment situation. It will be helpful to read the case in full and so have a detailed understanding of the facts of the case so that you can observe any similarities as to whether you are a worker. Many issues and legal rights go unprotected particularly in industries like the creative industry, where connections and getting along with others is central to obtaining work. Equity exists so that individuals may remain anonymous. It is rare for a case like this to make the headlines and became mainstream news. The fight for protection of vulnerable workers is real and on-going. This case matters because it has raised awareness of legal issues happening in the pantomime business that have left individuals unprotected for a considerable amount of time.

If you have any questions on any employment matters, you can contact me at Wainwright & Cummins Solicitors LLP.

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