It's not over 'til it's Uber

Posted on 14th November 2017

The taxi firm Uber is in the news again, although Uber would argue that it is not a taxi firm but a technology platform facilitating the provision of taxi services.

Fine distinctions such as this came under the consideration of the employment tribunal last year when it heard claims brought by Uber drivers and concluded that they were ‘Workers’ and therefore entitled to the national minimum wage and paid holiday.

Under employment law, employees are entitled to a range of employment rights that do not apply to the genuinely self-employed. There is however, another type of worker that does not fit into either category. These ‘Workers’ do have some statutory employment rights (such as the right to the national minimum wage, statutory holiday and the right to claim for unlawful deductions from wages), but do not have the full rights of employees. Assessing which category applies is not always straight forward and involves the consideration of various factors including the level of integration and degree of control exerted over the worker.
Uber considers that its drivers are self-employed. In disagreeing, the employment tribunal noted that that Uber customers use a smartphone app to order a taxi and pay the fare. When the driver signs in to the app, he/she is effectively coming on duty. The drivers supply their vehicles and are responsible for running costs. However, if a driver fails to accept bookings it could lead to their access to the app being suspended or blocked. The app also calculates the fare and provides directions which the driver is usually expected to follow.

Uber appealed against the decision of the employment tribunal and the recent judgement of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has upheld the original decision that Uber drivers are ‘Workers’. The EAT noted that the drivers had to be able and willing to accept assignments and were required to accept at least 80% of trip requests. They would further be subject to a penalty if they cancelled, once a trip was accepted. The EAT felt that these circumstances were not consistent with the drivers being genuinely self-employed.

Although the Uber case was decided on its own particular facts, there is a risk that other organisations operating under similar business models may also receive legal challenges.

It is unlikely that this is the end of the matter and probable that Uber will appeal. And so, Uber’s legal difficulties continue. On the other hand, being in the news does have has its compensations.
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