An hourly paid lecturer has won her legal fight to be recognised as an employee by her university, giving her pension and holiday rights in a case that her union said could have ramifications across the sector.
Although Kaye Carl's contract with the University of Sheffield expressly stated that she was not an employee, an employment tribunal said it had been persuaded to "look at the reality not the label".
All hourly paid staff counted as self-employed by their institutions should reassess their situations in the light of her win, the University and College Union said.
UCU policy officer Jane Thompson, who appeared as a witness for Ms Carl, said: "The arguments put forward by her employer are ones we've heard before. We suspect that there are a lot of people in her situation, who have been told they are self-employed but who are employees (based) on the facts."
Ms Carl started work at Sheffield in 2002 as a tutor in shorthand teaching 20 hours a week.
Her contract described her as a "contractor" and included a clause stating that nothing in the document "may be interpreted to make the relationship of employer and employee between the university and the contractor".
She was told at interview that the post would be on a self-employed basis and that she would have to submit invoices to the university.
However she later submitted claim forms and the university deducted national insurance, at the employee rate, at source.
In 2006, Ms Carl became aware of legislation aimed at protecting part-time workers and complained to the university that she was being treated less favourably than a full-time tutor with regard to pay, holiday entitlement and pension.
At a pre-hearing to decide employment status, the tribunal found that Ms Carl had "had the trappings of self-employment thrust upon her".
There were no negotiations at her interview over rate of pay, it pointed out, as one would expect if it had really been a meeting about a business arrangement.
Ms Carl's right to use the university car park, her inclusion in the university handbook, the payment of her expenses and sick leave and her use of the grievance procedure all pointed to her being an employee rather than someone conducting her own business, the tribunal concluded.
The university has now accepted that Ms Carl has pension rights and that she is entitled to holiday pay.
Ms Carl represented herself after lawyers employed by the UCU, Thompsons Solicitors, advised that she was unlikely to win.
"Many universities now are in the process of regularising casual workers, and I am sure many individuals are employed in the way that I was," Ms Carl said.
A judgment on the substantive part of the case, which will decide whether or not Ms Carl was unfairly treated compared with the university's full-time employees, is expected shortly.
A spokeswoman for Sheffield said that the university is committed to all its employees and is "currently leading the way on the regularisation process of atypical workers".
She said that the university strongly denies claims that Ms Carl was treated less favourably on the grounds of her part-time and fixed-term contractual status.