Valerie Bond
Posted on 23 Feb 2021

Supreme Court Ruling – Uber drivers are workers

On Friday 19 February, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment concluding that Uber drivers are workers. This follows from years of battles throughout the Employment Tribunals and Court of Appeal. Lord Leggatt, reading the summary of the judgment on Friday morning, explained the reasons why the Court had unanimously concluded the employment status of Uber drivers.

Background

Uber BV and others v Aslam and others UKSC 2019/0029

This case arrived at the Supreme Court after being heard in both tiers of the Employment Tribunal, as well as the Court of Appeal, all of which found that the Claimants were "workers", and that they were "working" whenever they (a) had the Uber app switched on; (b) were within the territory in which they were authorised to work; and (c) were able and willing to accept assignments.

Uber has been arguing that it is simply a booking agent, which enables self-employed contractors to find passengers. Uber also argued that the Employment Tribunals were wrong to disregard the written agreements between Uber and the drivers, due to drivers accepting those terms and, as a result, creating binding contract.

The Supreme Court applied the Autloclenz case to this situation and held that the rights of the drivers were not contractual rights, but were created by legislation. As such, the Courts will always look beyond what is stated in the contract. The court will consider the true nature of the relationship, as well as the relative bargaining power of the parties.

Supreme Court Judgment

Lord Leggatt set out in his summary judgment the five main factors behind the Court's decision. These were:

  1. Uber sets the fares and drivers cannot charge higher rates at any rate. As a result, Uber dictates how much the drivers are paid;
  2. The terms under which drivers work, are imposed by Uber;
  3. The choice given to drivers to accept jobs is monitored by Uber. If drivers do not accept a certain number of jobs, they will be given a warning and potentially suspended from the app;
  4. Uber controls how drivers deliver their services. This includes, the rating system on the app. If drivers consistently have a low average rating, Uber will provide them with a warning and could eventually dismiss them; and
  5. Uber restricts communications between drivers and passengers to the bare minimum. This means that drivers cannot build rapport with passengers.

As a result, the drivers are in a subordinate position. They are not able to increase their pay through entrepreneurial methods, such as building relations with certain clients, they can only do so by working longer hours.

What this means

Uber drivers will now be entitled to claim minimum wage for their entire working day, not just for the time they are transporting customers. Drivers will be entitled to 5.6 weeks' paid annual leave and by provided with whistleblowing and other such protections.

Companies such as Uber have founded their business model on the hiring of "flexible" workers, the engagement of whom has ensured relatively low workforce overheads to date. However, the Supreme Court's decision means that individuals working within the "gig economy" could be entitled to various benefits, such as holiday pay, sick pay and entitlement to the National Minimum Wage.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that employment law protection should be extended to workers who are substantially and economically in the same position as employees, whatever the written agreements state. Could it be that the workers in your business are in a similar position? There has never been a better time to consider the status of those individuals and to review their contractual arrangements, whether you regard them as employees, workers or self-employed contractors.

This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Please contact Valerie Bond or Kate Gardner to discuss any issues you are facing.