Valerie Bond
Posted on 15 Dec 2020

Health and safety protections for "gig" workers

The High Court in the case of The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain v The Secretary of State for Work & Pensions and others [2020] EWHC 3050 considered whether workers, in particular those in the "gig economy", should be provided with the same protections as employees when it comes to health and safety at work.

"Gig Economy" Workers

Some workers are classed as "limb (b)" workers as they fall within section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This means that they are not employees and therefore do not benefit from the same rights as employees. This includes the right to paid annual leave, statutory sick pay, parental leave and redundancy pay, as well as the right to bring unfair dismissal claims.

Workers in the gig economy fall within the scope of the "limb (b) worker" definition, with many also being classed as self-employed. Gig economy workers famously include individuals who work for Uber, Deliveroo or Amazon. The line between worker and self-employed status can often become blurred, which has resulted in an increase in cases concerning those in the gig economy coming before the Employment Tribunal. Employers need to be wary of classing individuals as self-employed when they are, in fact, workers, as this can often give rise to these individuals bringing successful claims in the Tribunal for arrears of payments such as holiday pay.

The Facts of the Case

The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) represents various members, including those who fall within the "gig economy", and migrant workers. IWGB sought a judicial review, arguing that the Government had failed to adequately apply EU health and safety provisions to UK law. IWGB argued that UK law only protected "employees", when the Framework Directive (on health and safety at work) and PPE Directives applied to a broader definition of worker.

If UK law properly implemented the EU provisions, such that it applied to those within the gig economy, then employers would need to ensure that such individuals were protected from serious danger and that the necessary steps were taken to avoid such danger. Furthermore, gig economy workers should be provided with the necessary personal protective equipment they require to carry out their work in a safe manner.

What the High Court Held

The court found in favour of the IWGB and held that 'gig economy' workers should be entitled to the same health and safety rights as employees. The High Court found that the current legislation does not give the same level of protection to workers as employees and granted a declaration for this to be changed.

The Court concluded that workers should be protected, which includes being provided with the necessary PPE by the business for which they are working.

What this means for Employers

Employers need to ensure that they have all the relevant Health and Safety procedures and precautions in place to protect their workers, not just their employees. A breach of health and safety regulations is a criminal offence, which can result in the employer being fined.

Gig workers need to be provided with the required PPE and can refuse unsafe work.

This also serves as an important reminder to ensure that all contracts between businesses and their workers clearly reflect the true nature of the relationship.

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 to discuss any issues you are facing.