UK Supreme Court rules Uber drivers are workers - what employers need to know
Over the last decade, the gig economy has been the subject of much commentary in the press as well as numerous court cases, seeking to legally define the status of those working in the sector, and their entitlements. Those cases have included Pimlico Plumbers, CitySprint, Addison Lee, Deliveroo and Hermes. Now the Supreme Court has handed down judgment in one of the most anticipated cases surrounding this issue – the private hire vehicle booking service Uber.
In 2016, two Uber drivers brought a case to an Employment Tribunal, claiming that they were workers rather than self-employed and therefore were entitled to workers’ rights including breaks, the Minimum Wage and holiday pay.
The Employment Tribunal agreed with them, as did an Employment Appeal Tribunal a year later and then the Court of Appeal in 2018.
The Court described the employment contracts Uber used as “complex and artificial”, said that there was a “high degree of fiction in the wording”, that they “did not correspond with reality” and could be disregarded.
The Court of Appeal’s decision was not unanimous, however; one judge dissented and Uber were given permission to take their case to the Supreme Court, so from the point of view of employers, who had been waiting for a definitive answer on the matter, the issue had been delayed rather than decided.
In July 2020, the Supreme Court heard the appeal, and today, they handed down their judgment, which effectively rejected Uber’s case and ruled that the drivers were workers and not self-employed.
It’s likely that on first glance, the judgment may encourage other claimants to bring cases of their own, hoping to get a similar outcome.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this particular case revolved around a certain set of facts, and those facts won’t apply to all gig economy employment. Trying to apply this judgment to other companies and cases may well prove ineffective and should not be relied upon, by either employers or claimants.
This will, of course, not stop such claims and no matter how far they progress through the tribunal and court system, they may serve to further define the way that employment status and the gig economy interact. Therefore, even though this particular case has been settled at last, employers operating in the gig economy should be prepared for further claims.
rradar Employment Solicitor Nkolika Oraka comments:
"The key thing for employers is to ensure that any paperwork/written agreements in place matches up to the reality of the working situation. As can be clearly evidenced from the numerous cases on this, it is not enough to simply refer to someone as self-employed or to stick that tag on something - they have to be self-employed in all senses of the word."