Are pay as you play contracts acceptable under Employment Law?

Legal problems for clubs who employ players who are continually injured

When a football clubs signs a particular player they will often pay a transfer fee and in most cases will pay large amounts of money to the player for his wages. This is all done on the basis that the player will recoup some of that money the club has spent on them by performing on the pitch and hopefully bringing some success to that particular club.

However, in certain circumstances a player will not do this and the club will lose out on huge amounts of money.

In what situation will this occur?

The most common situation whereby this will occur is when a player suffers bad injury problems and is unable to play.

Is it legal for a club to simply terminate the contract with the player due to the injury problems suffered by that player?

It would be illegal for a club to terminate a contract with a football player simply due to the fact that the player is injured. This would constitute an unfair dismissal under employment law.

What can the club do in this situation?

In most cases all the club can do in this situation is to pay the player while his contract runs out and do not offer him another contract. In certain situations if the player is a high earner and has not played for a long period of time where it looks like he will not return the club may wish to encourage him to retire and effectively terminate the contract himself. Whether a football player still being paid vast amount of wages would accept to do this is an unlikely position.

What happens if the club wishes to retain the services of a player?

In some situations where a player has suffered many injury problems but still retains some level of fitness or he has reached a certain age but in both cases he can still have some effect on the football team the club will offer him a pas as you play deal.

What is meant by a pay as you play deal?

Under a pay as you play deal the player will be contracted to the club for a certain amount of time under a standard FA Premier League contract. The only difference to the make-up of that player’s contract than other players in the team is that player will be paid when he makes an appearance for the club.

Often the player will be on a very low base salary and has the option of increasing that by working hard and making appearances on the pitch.

Is this a desirable position for a player?

In many cases this is a desirable position for a player to enter into as it may enable him to get a contract at the same club or another club when due to his age or injury problems he would not otherwise have been able to. If the player believes that he does have the fitness to play regularly then he will believe that he will be able to play enough to still be paid enough.

In most cases this will apply to players who are entering the twilight of their career and so it can be assumed that they have earned enough during their high profile career to be able to justify being on a pay as you play deal.

This will certainly be the case of high profile Premier League players but may not be so for players playing in the lower divisions of English football where retirement may be a better option.

Is this a desirable position for the club?

This is often a desirable position for the club as it will enable them to either retain the services or gain the services of a player which they may not otherwise have been able to afford. If the player does well and makes many appearances the club will be hoping that this will increase the success of the team which in turn will increase the income generated to pay the players wages.

If the player does not do well and does not play then the club will only have to pay a small amount in a base salary.

Is it legal for football clubs to do this?

Under the employment laws of England and Wales it is legal for football clubs to do this as the player will still be signed under an employment contract giving him the same rights as any other employee in England and Wales. The player will sign a standard Premier League contract as is the same for all players plying their trade in that league.

When the player does play he will be paid and the low salary which he will get anyway will clearly take him above the national minimum wage.

Furthermore, the agreement will have been agreed by both parties and often will be the suggestion of the player as a way to prolong their football career.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.