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28 January 2019 | Comment | Article by Louise Price

Ex-GB cyclist was not an employee of British Cycling

Ex-GB cyclist, Jess Varnish, has failed to convince an Employment Tribunal that she was an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport.

Ms Varnish had brought claims against the body including for wrongful dismissal and sex discrimination after failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and claiming she had been told to “go and have a baby”.

Currently, UK Sport gives more than 1,000 athletes up to £25,000 a year tax-free, but does not offer benefits such as holidays, sick pay and pensions.

Ms Varnish had argued that the level of “extreme” control that British Cycling exerted over her (including constant monitoring by coaches while on training camps, regular blood tests and the fact she had signed a performance contract) meant that she was in fact an employee.

The decision by the Employment Tribunal means that Ms Varnish is unlikely to be able to pursue the claims for wrongful dismissal and sex discrimination that she had attempted to bring.

The case highlights that arguments over employment status can affect individuals and organisations across the board and that disputes on this point can arise outside of what might be considered the more “typical” types of workplace. The case will also have repercussions for other athletes who may have attempted to bring similar cases against UK Sport and their respective governing bodies and could now be discouraged from doing so.

For questions on employment status and for any other Employment Law queries, please do contact a member of the Employment Team on 02922 675610.

Author bio

Louise Price


A highly specialised lawyer, Louise is a Partner and Head of Employment and HR services. Her expertise includes corporate support work, TUPE, pensions and employee benefits advice. She regularly advises private, public and third sector clients regarding large scale TUPE transfers of staff including drafting indemnities and warranties, advising on potential employment and pension liabilities, information and consultation obligations, and providing best value guidance.

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