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The Supreme Court has ruled that Uber drivers are workers and not self-employed, granting them various worker rights, such as holiday pay and the national minimum wage.
This was the final decision in the high-profile case that has worked its way to the very top of the court system over the course of five years. Uber, defeated in their appeal, are now left picking up the bill for backdated payments to drivers and are forced to provide the drivers in question with the rights that come with worker status.
Below, we delve into the Supreme court's decision, which could have important implications for other Uber drivers and the wider gig economy.
Like many other high-profile cases involving companies such as Deliveroo and Pimlico Plumbers, Uber v Aslam and others centred on the issue of whether the drivers were 'workers' (which is a more casual form of employment, entitling them to basic rights like the minimum wage, paid holiday and whistleblower protections) or 'self-employed' (which gives them minimal statutory rights).
The third and final employment status (which was not considered in this case) is 'employee', which carries all of the above rights and more, including the right to redundancy pay and to claim unfair dismissal after two years' service.
To determine whether an individual is self-employed or not, an Employment Tribunal will look at a wide range of factors beyond simply the contract's written terms. Some of the key factors focused on are how much control the company has over the individual, whether the individual is free to determine when, where and who does the work, and how they are integrated into the company.
Uber operates by connecting private taxi drivers with passengers via the Uber app. Uber drivers use their own cars and can choose when they make themselves available to accept bookings.
Uber has long argued that its drivers do not have worker status because they work for themselves as self-employed contractors, performing services under contracts made with passengers. Uber had claimed that it was merely an intermediary platform for these transactions and held no employer/worker relationship with drivers. This was the basis on which it appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court dismissed Uber's appeal, confirming that the drivers in question were workers and entitled to the associated rights under the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Act 1998.
The Supreme Court's focus was on what the law said and on the practical day-to-day realities of the working relationship between Uber and its drivers, rather than on whatever written terms Uber had in place.
The Supreme Court said that the purpose of the legislation was to protect vulnerable individuals in a subordinate position with an organisation that controls their work. In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court highlighted five key factors that established worker status:
In terms of when Uber drivers were considered to be working, the Supreme Court concluded that working time for the drivers included not only time spent carrying passengers but also any time spent logged onto the app and ready to accept trips.
The Uber case highlights that the legislation is in place is to protect individuals under the control of businesses, and judges will not hesitate to dismiss fictitious written terms in favour of applying a fact-specific analysis of the true relationship.
It remains to be seen what the wider impact of this case will be, with Uber already stating that it has since changed its practices for its thousands of other drivers. However, as Uber has learned, employers engaging self-employed contractors cannot afford to be complacent on employment status as the consequences can be costly.
If you need any information or assistance with policies and procedures, our Employment Solicitors would be happy to help. You can contact us on 0161 941 4000 or email The Employment Team for more information.