Supreme Court confirms that Uber drivers are workers

This case, Uber v Aslam, concerned a claim from two London-based Uber drivers who argued that they should be classed as ‘workers’ and not ‘self-employed contractors’, despite being labelled as the latter within Uber’s contractual documentation. If the drivers were ‘workers’ they would be entitled to numerous employment rights from Uber – such as paid holidays, the national minimum wage and whistle-blower protection. Importantly, they would still not have certain rights such as unfair dismissal protection nor many other rights that are exclusive to ‘employees’.

The Employment Tribunal (ET), Employment Appeal Tribunal, and the Court of Appeal all decided that the drivers were ‘workers’ despite Uber’s argument that it simply acted as an ‘intermediary’ for the drivers and their passengers. The courts found that whilst it could be possible for an organisation to operate in the way that Uber claimed it did, on analysis of its operation, statements, and systems, this was not the case here.

Uber took the case to the Supreme Court who also unanimously dismissed their appeal, emphasising five aspects of the findings made by the ET which justified its conclusion that the claimants were working for and under contracts with Uber. These are:

  1. Where a ride is booked through the Uber app, it is Uber that sets the fare and drivers are not permitted to charge more than the fare calculated by the Uber app. It is therefore Uber which dictates how much drivers are paid for the work they do.
  2. The contract terms on which drivers perform their services are imposed by Uber and drivers have no say in them.
  3. Once a driver has logged onto the Uber app, the driver’s choice about whether to accept requests for rides is constrained by the company (it can, for example, impose what amounts to a penalty if too many trip requests are declined or cancelled by automatically logging the driver off the Uber app for 10minutes).
  4. Uber also exercises significant control over the way in which drivers deliver their services including by the use of a ratings system whereby passengers are asked to rate the driver after each trip. Any driver who fails to maintain a required average rating will receive a series of warnings and may have their relationship with Uber terminated.
  5. Uber restricts communications between passenger and driver to the minimum necessary to perform the particular trip and takes active steps to prevent drivers from establishing any relationship with a passenger capable of extending beyond an individual ride.

What does all this mean?

This judgement affects all of Uber’s drivers who work in the same way. The company has since given all 70,000 of its UK drivers a guaranteed minimum wage, holiday pay, and pensions. This is in addition to the free insurance to cover sickness, injury, maternity and paternity payments already in place.

That said, it is imperative that employers correctly categorise those who work for them – the terms of a contract should align with the reality of the relationship between the parties.

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