With a smartphone app which lets you order a taxi, Uber are a symbol of our modern age and the ‘Gig Economy’. Uber has always argued that its taxi drivers are self-employed. Not so said the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) this month when Uber lost its latest appeal on worker status.

Uber considers itself to be a technology platform. The taxi service, Uber says, is provided by the drivers who are all self-employed. Drivers, they believe, enjoy all the flexibility of self-employment while not having the rights of workers.

Why is this important? Some of the keys rights of workers include:

  • Entitlement to receive the National Minimum Wage;
  • Entitlement to paid annual leave;
  • Protection from unlawful deduction from wages.

Uber hit a serious bump in the road last year when it found itself in the Employment Tribunal facing drivers claiming worker status. The Employment Tribunal agreed with the drivers. With reference to the number of drivers Uber had in London alone, the Employment Tribunal found the notion that Uber was a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common platform was “faintly ridiculous”.

On appeal, the EAT said the overall question was: “when the drivers are working, who are they working for?” The EAT concluded that the original Employment Tribunal judge was entitled to conclude that the drivers were integrated into Uber’s business and operated under Uber’s control. The EAT was mindful of: (a) the scale of Uber’s operation; (b) drivers could not grow their own business and could not establish business relationships with passengers; (c) drivers could not negotiate better terms with passengers; and (d) drivers had to accept Uber’s terms.

The case is interesting but fact sensitive. Gig-economy businesses which operate the same model as Uber may be engaging workers whereas businesses which operate much less control over their people may be dealing with the genuinely self-employed.

If you have any concerns about your business model or the important differences between the rights of employees, workers and the genuinely self-employed, please call one of our Employment Solicitors on 01924 387 110.

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