Employment Status - The Uber Case

Author: Keith Potter

The employment tribunal’s decision in the case relating to the Uber taxi drivers was given in late October 2016 (Aslam and others v Uber BV and others). The drivers claimed that they were “workers” under employment legislation. If true, this meant that they were entitled (a) to the national minimum wage for hours worked, (b) to paid annual leave and (c) to protection against unlawful deductions from wages.

The tribunal heard from witnesses about how Uber’s taxi service operated in practice and carried out a detailed examination of the documents relating to the relationship between Uber and its drivers and between Uber and the customers who were transported by its drivers. Uber claimed that each of its drivers was self-employed. The tribunal concluded that this was not the reality of the situation and that the documents did not reflect a genuine relationship of self-employment.

The case was widely seen as a test of the status of people working as part of the so called “gig economy”. To some extent the decision hinged on its particular facts but it was thought by many that the drivers were likely to succeed in their claims, and so it turned out. The tribunal expressed the view that Uber could probably have devised a business model which would have led to a different conclusion and it is true that there have been previous cases involving taxi businesses where the drivers have been found to be genuinely self-employed. However, the Uber case is consistent with decisions in previous cases where contractual documents governing the relationship between a business and its workers were drawn up in a way which was intended to create self-employment status but where the tribunals decided that the documents did not reflect the reality of the relationship. Merely stating in an agreement that a relationship is not intended to be one of employment or to confer any rights under employment legislation will be of no effect if in practice the characteristics of an employment relationship are present.

If you have any queries relating to this topic or any other employment law issues please contact Keith Potter at k.potter@downslaw.co.uk or on 01306 502329 or your usual contact in the Employment team.