Uber employment issues
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was recently asked to decide the status of drivers operating under the Uber app. Are they workers, employees or independent contractors (i.e. self-employed)? The category in which they fall determines the statutory rights they enjoy.
What is Uber?
For those unaware, customers use the Uber smartphone app to say where they are, and where they would like to go. The app locates the nearest driver and provides a price to the customer. Details of the taxi (number-plate, car type, driver name etc) are then sent to the customer and the customer can track the location of the taxi and the driver and customer can contact each other through the app. Customers pay via the app and can also rate their driver.
Employee, worker or self-employed?
Uber has held throughout the hearing that the drivers are self-employed and that Uber just generates the leads for the drivers and agrees contractual terms between drivers and passengers as their agent.
However, Uber does exercise some control over the way in which services are provided by drivers, such as de-activating them if their customer ratings fall below an acceptable level and instructing drivers to log out of the app if they do not wish to accept journey bookings. Fees for journeys are set by and paid to Uber, the journey route is prescribed by Uber and generally the customer and driver never agree any separate terms. Once the app is on, they are at Uber’s beck and call and therefore at these times they are “workers” with the associated rights. In particular this gives rise to statutory holiday entitlement.
The EAT also considered whether drivers were workers in between these assignments. This issue was crucial to determining the drivers’ entitlement to National Minimum Wage in the time between assignments. The EAT said that this would be a question of fact in each case as to whether in between assignments drivers were available for driving jobs for other operators.
Uber intends to appeal the decision and so employment lawyers will be looking forward to the Court of Appeal hearing which is likely to occur sometime this year.
Rebecca McCarthy is a solicitor at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.