Lara Murray, an Associate Solicitor at South Essex-based law firm Palmers, has said that she is “not surprised” after an Employment Tribunal in London found in favour of two Uber drivers who argued that they should be considered to be workers and not self-employed.
The drivers said they were unlawfully denied holiday and sick pay, arguing that they should be considered employees of Uber.
Lara Murray said: “I am not surprised that the drivers were found to be workers, since I would imagine the amount of hours they were driving under the brand of Uber meant that many were not working for other clients, in which case it would be hard to see how they were in business on their own account.”
But she cautioned that Uber drivers, and people who have similar arrangements with other firms, should be careful not to celebrate the ruling too soon.
“There may well be some drivers who are operating their own businesses and I don’t think this ruling can be assumed to have a blanket application, save for reminding businesses that the label they place on working relationships is not considered to be determinative by tribunals”, she said.
The implications of the ruling for individual Uber drivers may be more complex than it appears at face value as there is now the potential for retrospective claims for entitlements including holiday sick pay and the National Living Wage. Uber claims that its drivers earned an average of £16 per hour in September after its service fee and Lara says this could be important. She said “The amount they are paid will have a bearing on claims for the National Living Wage.”
Some drivers who work for Uber have expressed disappointment with the ruling, saying that they prefer to be considered as self-employed and wish to protect their existing lifestyles. Lara says they may still be able to do so. She said: “Drivers can provide evidence that they are in business on their own account, for example by demonstrating that Uber is just one of their clients.”
The decision raises some important issues around whether the law as it stands is effective in balancing the rights of workers, employers, consumers and companies in the so-called “gig economy”. There have been some suggestions that new legislation is needed to enable this kind of flexible self-employment for those who want it, whilst protecting those who need the protection of employee status.
Lara said: “While it would be preferable to have a clear test for identifying employment status, this has so far proved to be elusive and I expect that tribunals will continue to prefer to have the flexibility to judge each case on its own merits.”
Another element of the case that will have caught the attention of many companies is the citing by the Tribunal of a tweet issued by Uber as evidence against the firm. Lara said: “This underlines the importance for businesses of regulating the content they share on social media.”
Palmers, which has offices in Basildon, Thurrock and South Woodham Ferrers, has produced a free guide on employment statuses here.
Businesses and self-employed individuals who are concerned about issues around employment status can contact Palmers for specialist legal advice.